Tuesday, April 20, 2010

dragon haven, the second book in robin hobb's the rain wilds chronicles is as wonderful as expected

Robin Hobb is one of my all-time favourite fantasy authors. The world she has created in her long-running series The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders, The Tawny Man and The Soldier Son, has returned in the latest series The Rain Wild Chronicles. Dragon Haven is the second book in the series so far, and, as always, it does not disappoint.
The dragons that hatched from the dismal clutch of sea serpent cocoons in the first book, The Dragon Keeper, have found themselves forced to travel up the dangerous Rain Wild river in the company of a group of young Rain Wilders – humans who have lived too long in the inhospitable jungle and have begun to change into something else.
The Rain Wilders are themselves outcasts, having been keep alive as babies when tradition dictated that any child born already bearing the growths and scaled skin of the Rain Wilds be exposed to the elements.
Luckily for the dragons – damaged, demented and dumb in some cases – these youngsters are around to help feed them, protect them and clean them, whether the dragons are grateful or not.
Alongside the dragons and their keepers travels the barge Tarman, a ship that is definitely more than he should be, his captain Leftrin and the Bingtown trader Alise – who is a misfit herself.
Alise is accompanied by her husband's secretary, Sedric, who's managed to get himself involved in the shady practice of dealing in dragon parts, only to find that something is making him terribly sick.
As the dragons make their way up the river, the motley crew of Rain Wilders, sailors and Bingtowners discover that being exiled may be just what they all needed.
This novel sees friendships made and broken, lives lost and lovers found. It's also a stepping stone in the on-going explanation as to what happened to the dragons. Why did they not cocoon themselves hundreds of years ago when they should have? What happened to the magical cities of the Elderlings, once the dragons' keepers? And why are the new dragon keepers becoming more and more like their charges everyday?
Hobb answers some of these questions, but it is obvious that she is leading the reader on to the next book in the series. There is a denoument of sorts; the dragons finally reach a place they recognise but it may, or may not, be the mythical city of Kelsingra - the place the dragons are searching for.
Twisting through the main story of the dragons and their keepers is that of Bird Keepers Detozi and Erek. These two Keepers of the Birds - which are used to send messages - keep the story tied to the outside world, so to speak, of Bingtown and Trehaug. The pairs' messages open each chapter and over the course of the two novels so far have developed from friends into something more.

Robin Hobb's fantasy is literature
It is details like the Keepers of the Birds - a whole second plotline and story running in tandem with the main action - that makes Hobb's novels so good. These are the details that ensure her fans keep coming back again and again, and are why she is a best-selling novelist.
A basic run-down of Hobb's plot isn't enough to explain why these books are so very special in the over-populated world of fantasy literature. It's not just the storylines, but the characters and their stories, the creatures and their foibles, the grandeur of dragons!
Hobb has that rare ability in a fantasy author to create a connection between the reader and an unreal world. She manages to make one care about what happens to not only the human characters of her books, but also the non-human; the dragons, the liveships and the sea serpents.
The detailed descriptions of each fantastical animal and plant, the odd society mores and the relationships of characters to the inimical jungle as enormous depth to Robb's novels.
Hobb has been described as a modern Tolkien, which is somewhat true, only her works have more warmth and emotion, and less highbrow posturing.
Am I preaching to the converted yet? I read all 570 pages of Dragon Haven in one sitting, through the night, and when I finished I wished I had the next book to read right away.
For lovers of adventure, romance and fiction – even if you aren't usually a reader of fantasy – Robin Hobb's books are a must read. If you're going to read one fantasy series in your life, try one of hers.

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb is published by Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins, and is available in good book stores and online. 

Read my review of The Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb.


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