Wed
Jun 2 2010 3:03pm
Facts universally acknowledged, being a review of Robin Hobb’s Dragon Haven

If Dragon Keeper, the first installment of Hobb’s new Rain Wilds Chronicles series, was long-winded for what it accomplished, the second volume corrects that fault. Often, Book Twos are bridges, but in this case felt as if Book Two was where the story actually kicked into gear, and what had been past was merely prologue. Here, at last, is significant character development. Here is exploration of the world, and progress towards a goal beyond merely identifying it. And here are some developments in the central mysteries of the world.

Most of Dragon Keeper was devoted to establishing protagonists and villains and getting the quest fantasy show on the road, but Dragon Haven opens with the primary conflicts firmly in place and the characters struggling to run alongside the plot long enough to grab hold and swing aboard. This makes for much better momentum and a more interesting narrative, overall.

Thematically, this book also exhibits more unification and arc. At the core of this book are a series of romances and potential romances. There’s someone for everyone, apparently, including the carrier-pigeon keepers whose scribbled messages to one another remain one of the more enchanting aspects of the work. As characters work toward adulthood, they also pair off—or fail to pair off—in fairly predictable manners. And they finally—finally!—begin talking to one another.

As these various love affairs are commenced and hidden truths spoken, the villains are dealt with more or less summarily. While they serve to introduce some conflict, the bad guys are barely the point of this book. Rather, the narrative focuses on the efforts of the rag-tag band of dragons, dragon keepers, and escorts as they continue their search for the lost Elderling city of Kelsingra, which represents their only chance to survive and eventually flourish. Society itself is far more the enemy than the petty power-plays of those who would exploit the dragons for riches, or set themselves up as leaders.

The series still maintains its curiously young-adult atmosphere (I said of Dragon Keeper that it felt like a book I would have loved unreservedly at age fourteen), with a relatively direct thematic arc in which all of the main characters are groping toward some sort of adulthood. Alise, the bluestocking dragon expert, continues to grow in courage and self-determination; Thymara, the mutated child of the Rain Wilds, moves towards self-acceptance; Sintara, the egotistical and defensive dragon queen, gropes after a more nuanced understanding of the world; and Sedric, the treacherous fop, evolves from treachery toward integrity.

Of the point of view characters, the only one who feels like a strong adult is Leftrin, the captain of the liveship Tarman, who is a sensible and mature presence necessary to balance the more childish perspectives of the other characters.

Meanwhile, external changes in the various main characters mimic their internal growth, as the Rain Wilds continues to work its mutagenic magic on dragons and humans alike. This, too, was one of my favorite aspects of the book—the sheer inventiveness with which Hobb brings the threads together is not revelatory, but it’s deft and delightful.

There is some actual external conflict in the narrative, but it’s mostly cursory. There’s a vast flood which serves to separate the party for a while; there’s the ongoing threat of those who would like to see the dragons parted out for sale (a clever little ecological fable). There’s a Boromir-esque party member who would be king, and another who is Not What He Seems. All in all, however, this is a book about character development, and a highly successful one at that.


Elizabeth Bear is a writer who has not yet quite been cured of wanting a dragon of her very own, although Sintara is trying.

4 comments
SRB
1. SRB
I read an ARC of this and loved it. On the plus side, it had a more substantive ending than the first book. Clearly it's not finished - its part of a three part set or possibly more.

Some great characterizations in this 2nd book and 100% of it take place with our major characters - no side trips to Bingtown or other cities. There was a lot of depth & change in the characters - the stage is set for the 3rd part which should be amazing.
Jamie Watkins
2. Treesinger
I just finished this book yesterday. I have seen Robin's name elswhere and I wanted to find out if she is a good writer. I hesitiated to read this one because next to vampires, dragons are just getting too over done. I enjoyed the book and it's interesting take on dragons but I think some of the romances are a bit too "adult" for the young adult market. As a father of several teenage daughters, I would feel uncomfortable recommending this book to them. That being said, I liked the book and will probably read the next one when it comes out --if only to find out if Thymara learns to fly.
Ty Margheim
3. alSeen
2. Treesinger

If this was your first exposure to Hobb's Elderling world, then you really should read the previous trilogies, not to mention the previous book in this one.

Don't read the Tawny Man trilogy until you read the Farseer one. I would just read them in order. Farseer, Liveship, Tawnyman and then the current Rain Wild one.

The 11 books written so far are some of the best fantasy out there.
Rob Munnelly
4. RobMRobM
I'm a Hobbs fan. Recently read both Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven and liked them a lot. Interesting characters, interesting doings. Agree with the point that the first book is focused on setting up the story where the second one executes it.

Note that this is designed just as a two book series, contary to some of the above comments. It originally was one book but it proved too long so Hobb split it in half. She certainly could add more on its own or as an adjunct to other stories in this world, but it is not designed to go further.

@2 and 3. Absolutely read the other Hobbs trilogies. Start with Farseer and make sure you like them. Bravura and brilliantly creative writing centered on the POV narrator, Fitzchivarly Farseer. Then you can either go to Tawny Man (which picks up the story of Fitz many years later and is excellent but not quite as good as the first one) or Liveship - which focuses on Bingtown and Rain Wilds and points far south of where Fitz lives in the years between the Fitz series, is told in a multiple POV format and is also excellent (but I had problems with some of the character arcs that diminished my enjoyment of them).

Rob

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