City of Dragons

by Robin Hobb

Reviewed by Adria Laycraft

If you love dragons, then Robin Hobb's Rain Wilds Chronicles will delight you. Starting with Dragon Keepers (2009) and Dragon Haven (2010), the latest book City of Dragons surprised everyone by not completing the tale. After three sets of three in the same world (Farseer, Tawney Man, and Liveship Traders) the Rain Wilds Chronicles will end with a fourth book, Blood of Dragons, due in May of 2013.

This is the world where we first met the Fool, the Bingtown Traders, the liveships, and Tintaglia. Because Tintaglia is the only known living dragon, the hatching of the dragon cocoons found in Trehaug brings great excitement. Unfortunately, these dragons are deformed and flightless, marred by the delayed birth and lack of proper care they would normally receive from the fabled Keepers from ancient times.

A group of young unwanted teens are charged with bringing these dragons upriver before they destroy the hunting around Trehaug. Despite being set up to fail and facing uncounted challenges, these new Keepers discover Kelsingra, the ancient city of dragons and Elderlings. Each teen also undergoes changes brought on by the dragons, which some of them think will make them true Elderlings.

We come to know many delightful characters along the way, most especially the adults that accompany the Keepers. Alise is a rebellious collector of ancient scrolls and knowledge, and has left her abusive husband to explore the Rain Wilds. She falls for Leftrin, the gruff captain of the sentient dragonwood barge called Tarman. Alise is desperate to catalogue Kelsingra before the Bingtown Traders arrive.

"I know they'll come," Leftrin agreed. "But they think all they'll face is a band of half-grown kids and some crippled dragons. But when they reach Kelsingra, what they'll get may not be at all what they were expecting."

For those of us who follow her stories, the Rain Wild Chronicles offers a feeling of coming home while still giving the reader a fabulous new cast of memorable characters to enjoy. Hobbs' works are referred to as 'social fantasies'--as opposed to quest fantasy--because her stories evolve out of the characters and their culture while avoiding being formulaic. Hobb gives us romance without predictability, fantasy without a McGuffin, and mystery without crime scene investigations.

While Hobb can sometimes take a bit to settle in to, once the reader is hooked the characters linger in memory for long after. It is a mark of genius when these characters are remembered in random moments as if they were real people.

The fresh take on dragons in general is much appreciated, and the effect they have on their 'bonded mates' is truly innovative. Bonding with a dragon is no new idea but Hobb has the Keepers slowly morph the longer they are with their dragons, gaining colored scales, frills, claws, and sometimes even wings.

What's really intriguing is that the changes are different for each character, and these changes resemble what happens to all Rain Wilds people. Hobb uses this opportunity to explore themes of bigotry, intolerance, and prejudice. She also tackles tough topics such as abusive relationships, reproduction laws, and the disposing of 'mutant' children. She does it all without flinching from the truth of how people justify what they feel must be done...or how they disregard such laws in the name of love.

Interwoven are the larger world politics, including the ongoing tale of Tintaglia and her mate Icefyre as they hunt and fly and make their way back to the Rain Wilds where much has changed in their absence. There is no telling what role they will play in the final book, and that mystery is delicious.

The conflicts look ready to converge on Kelsingra for the promise of a fine resolution in Blood of Dragons, due in May of 2013. There are so many mysteries still to be solved--the city's magical ways, the way it seems to be waking up, the influx of treasure seekers, and how far the dragons and their Keepers will go to protect it all. Perhaps those who haven't had the pleasure of reading Robin Hobb can catch up while the rest of us impatiently wait for the final book of this series.