The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince, I'm having a go at Hobb's latest novel Blood of Dragons now. I tend to avoid reading works by the same author back to back but just this once I did anyway. Blood of Dragons is the fourth and concluding installment of The Rainwild Chronicles, a series that started out as a standalone and, as Hobb puts it herself, grew in the telling. The fact that story grew so much is reflected in the structure of the novels and usually not to their advantage. That being said, I have enjoyed a return to the Rainwilds in the previous three novels so I was quite eager to start reading the final volume. The Dutch version has been available since September2012, I've been sorely tempted to pick it up. If I'd had more time to read this winter I might have.
Blood of Dragons picks up the story shortly after the end of City of Dragons. The dragon keepers have settled near the famed city of Kelsingra with a fast flowing river between them and the comforts of the ancient city. One by one, the dragons make the plunge and start using their wings, allowing the keepers to move into the city start exploring Kelsingra. In the mean time the Tarman is on its way back from the Rainwilds cities with a cargo of much needed supplies. It is being followed by ships of Chalcedean traders and mercenaries and a mixture of Jamalian and Bingtown captives. They are looking for dragons to kill and take back to their ailing Duke. Only the magic of dragons can save him from death and he is determined to hang on to life by any means. As the outside world encroaches on Kensingra is becomes clear an new understanding between the city of dragons and the human nations around it will have to be found.
For some reason I always have issues with the final book in a trilogy or series by Robin Hobb and this book is no exception. It continues the story of the set of characters we've been with for three books already and many of their trials and problems are familiar with the reader by now. Although characterization has always been Hobb's forte, I think many readers are not eager to go over the details of the main characters' challenges again in this novel. At 535 pages it is a quite substantial book and much of it is given over to the personal struggles of the characters. It makes Blood of Dragons a fairly slow moving and at some points (the love triangle between Thymarra, Tats and Rapskal) repetitive novel. It is a book that requires more than a bit of patience of the reader.
One might argue that Hobb's style has never favoured a fast moving plot but in this case I feel the author has let the characters overshadow the larger bigger story that she has been trying to tell. A war and a heads on collision with the Trader Council, both of which had been brewing for quite a while, are dealt with in the final fifty pages of the book, with quite a lot of the action taking place off screen. It makes the end feel rushed and downplays the importance of some events. After all that careful worldbuilding it is a shame not to employ it to full effect. The role of Chalced in particular is underexposed. Hobb tries to drag the nation out of the role of the perpetual bad guy in the Realm of the Elderlings but in the end there is only one Chalcedean character we can feel any sympathy for.
Another resolution that felt rushed is the final confrontation between Sedric, Alise and Hest. Without spoiling the story here, the resolution is both abrupt and unsatisfying. Frankly, I feel Hobb took the easy way out here, although I must admit Hest's behaviour stays consistent until the very end. Still, for a story line that has been going on since the very beginning of the Rain Wilds Chronicles I thought it was too neat a solution for the threat Hest poses to Sedric and Alise. The fall out of their actions among the Trader communities in the Rain Wilds and Bingtown is also mostly glossed over. By the end of the novel, it feels like the Traders are still mostly in denial, pretending it is business as usual. With such, to their conservative society, shocking affairs taking place that doesn't seem like a very likely outcome to me. It is almost like Hobb is playing this part of the story down to prevent adding even more pages to the story.
One aspect of the novel were Hobb does keep things moving is the dragon's development. From the stunted little creatures they were in Dragon Keeper they transform to the confident yet immature dragons we get to see in this novel. Although the effects from their less than optimal youth are still being felt, they reach the point where dragons once again become a force to be reckoned with in the world. The keepers, highly influenced by dragons' glamour as they are, feel this is the setting right of an ancient wrong. Of those keeping a little more distance from the dragons, many will regret the day that Tintaglia crawled out of her cocoon on the banks of the Rain Wilds River. As always, Hobb's characters are many shades of grey, the dragons included.
In the end I thought Blood of Dragons was a decent novel but not an exceptional one. It suffered from the set up of the series as a whole and . Hobb feels the story grew in the telling. That might be true but I think that with a bit more rigorous editing many of the annoyances in this series could have been avoided. The abrupt cut that was necessary to split Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven into two books for instance. Or the somewhat dragging middle section of this book. The split between City of Dragons and Blood of Dragons is handled a lot better than with the previous two books but the novels feel too long anyway. City of Dragons turns out to be the strongest novel in the series. I feel it is a shame that the conclusion has so many problems. This series deserved a stronger ending.
Title: City of Dragons
Author: Robin Hobb
First published: 2013