Category Archives: Literature
A fantasy-reader’s choice of literary beverage. ‘Natch.
Anyway, just finished the book and wanted to get my thoughts out as soon as possible.
The Dragon Haven
Some things work well in two parts. I can’t imagine trying to condense Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ into one blood-curdling film, nor would you want to split a game of football into three parts, because you’re essentially giving the players more of a breather between running around with a false limp, or rolling on the floor clutching their face when someone has grazed their shins. So when it comes to ‘The Dragon Haven’ by Robin Hobb, part two of a duet of novels, I am understandably left feeling a little confused by the end of the book on how I feel.
I have mentioned previously when reviewing the first book ‘The Dragon Keeper, in what is collectively known with part two as‘The Rain Wild Chronicles’, that Hobb is famed for writing brilliant trilogies and some standalone novels that don’t cross paths with the worlds and characters of the trilogies. This tale indeed intended to just be a standalone novel, following on directly from the second of Hobb’s trilogies, known as ‘The Liveship Traders’. The manuscript unfortunately became too large and would have been just over one thousand pages in length. The decision was made to split the books, but I am not sure if that aided the tale, or hindered it.
In ‘The Dragon Keeper’ we met our four principle characters. Firstly Sintara, a young girl “tainted” from birth by the traits of those touched by the Rain Wild River that flows through the cities of Trehaug and Cassarick; scales, claws and sharpened teeth all being associated with those who are more touched by the river than other. Captain Leftrin, a man with a ship crafted from Wizardwood, a substance known for it’s special ability to not be chewed up and damaged by the acidic water of the Rain Wild River, is drafted by the council in Trehaug to traverse the river to find a home for the dragons that hatched in the city five years previously, stunted, shameful creatures that can barely look after themselves, a far cry from the creatures of lore once spoken of with high regard. Two passengers aboard his boat from Bingtown, the trading capital of the southern regions in which these novels are set, include Alise Kincarron Finbok, a self professed dragon scholar, and her husband’s secretary Cedric, a strange fop of a man sent to accompany Alise on her journey as punishment for his support to her husband to allow her to make such a trip.
Without obviously spoiling the events of the first book, the second follows almost directly from the first, including the little sub-story at the start of each chapter, in the form of carrier pigeons messages sent from to bird keepers, one in Trehaug and one in Bingtown. Now in the first book it seemed unclear as to the purpose of these little chapter starters, as they didn’t really cross over at all with the main story, and acted more as just a date and time for us to know how much time passed between chapters. This is developed more in ‘The Dragon Haven’ and actually is truly enjoyable to see how things develop, link in a little bit to the main story, and how their story ends. This was strangely more satisfying to read than the ending, or the feel of the ending, to the main story itself.
The problem I think I have is, that, if this were a single novel, and it had been slightly shorter to make such a thing happen, I think the ending would have been more satisfying, or indeed if what ended up being two books had been fleshed out further and made into three books, a full trilogy, again I think I would have felt better after finishing it. However something in me just felt that how the book ended didn’t seem to fit right. The characters who remained with us all got to where they were going, and it was set up that obviously they had done their best to complete whatever objectives they were going for, personal and professional, and it just ended. I don’t know if I was expecting the ending to be more magical, or more fantastical, but the distance travelled and the changes experienced by the characters present just seem to be bigger and far more interesting than how it was all wrapped up in the last few pages.
Imagine the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but instead of getting the third film, we get an extra ten minutes at the end of the second film, in which Frodo and Sam find a way to teleport to Mordor, chuck the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom, and make it back to The Shire in time for a quick pint and a merry jig.
I don’t think I can class it as disappointment. Not at all. I loved the story that was told and the characters added to the Robin Hobb universe are all brilliant in their own right. And upon concluding the novel I decided to check out some fantasy literature forums I belong to scouring down info and other readers opinions. Much of the thoughts were along the same track as my own, loved the characters and the continuation of the previous trilogies works, but not entirely certain on that ending.
And then something else cropped up, much to my surprise at first, and then about five nanoseconds later all sense of surprise fled my body and was replaced with a mixture of knowing and anticipation. There was, upon Hobb’s decision to split the manuscript into two parts, the possibility for her to add a third novel, continuing the story of the voyage of the Liveship Tarman, previously mentioned as the ship captained by Leftrin, following on from the events of ‘The Dragon Haven’. Not two comments later, I found out that this volume of the story was ALSO now to be split into two parts. So what started off as a standalone novel, will now span four books, the third and fourth of which will be released a few months apart in 2012, likely to be sometime in April, and then late summer to early autumn, for what have been titled ‘City of Dragons’ and ‘Dragon Blood’ respectively.
So am I happy in knowing that the story, perhaps, is not entirely over? Yes, absolutely. Knowing that now, this book feels more like the an unfinished part of a whole mass of dragons, Liveships, serpents, love and tragedy, as well as a novel that itself has a start, middle and end. It just so happens that the end of this book is just the beginning of another. I’ve just got the nagging problem that the next part is going to be some ten months away…
Expect a few more book reviews in the coming weeks ladies and gentlemen.
This was from my radio show today, alongside the Pirates4 and Lady Gaga reviews I have already posted in the past week, so please enjoy.
WARNING: Don’t normally have to do this, but this follows on from a number of books in the same universe/world, so while I have tried to make it spoiler free(ish) as possible, for the sake of explaining the plot of this book like a real review, I have to address some things from previous books which obviously lead to this one.
“The Dragon Keeper”- Robin Hobb
Now, as far as fantasy novelists go, there are few better than Robin Hobb in my estimation, whom is the author of three particular trilogies of fantasy novels that all take place in the same universe (amongst many other works of course), but each one is normally a different set of characters or situation and time period, but they all follow on loosely from each other (usually references to events and persons of note) and some characters do leap across from one to another.
The 1st and 3rd sagas, The Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy, take place in the realms of the Six Duchies, and follow bastard prince FitzChivalry and his mysterious companion, and lifelong friend, The Fool. The 2nd trilogy, set between the 1st and 3rd, take place in the land far to the south of the Six Duchies, and is set around the sailing merchants that live along the coast and trade to the varying far off locations in Robin Hobb’s world. The 2nd trilogy, The Liveship Traders, takes a different approach to the narrative than the 1st and 3rd, which take us through the story exclusively first person from the point of view of FitzChivalry. In The Liveship Traders novels, we follow a selection of characters important to the plot, all of whom are linked and cross over at various points during the plot of the three books. It is this area of the Robin Hobb world we return to, the land of the Live Ship Traders.
The Dragon Keeper was originally intended as a stand-alone novel, advancing us a little further through the timeline and following on from the events of both the second and third trilogies. But with the manuscript becoming too long for a single conventional novel, and the story she wanted to tell not expansive enough (at the time) to try and spread across a trilogy, it was decided the book was to be split in to two halves, The Dragon Haven being released the following year (which I still haven’t read yet, and will start soon, as my mountain of books has subsided slightly).
Without spoiling too much plot of the relevant trilogies, this follows on closest from The Liveship Traders, and the first few chapters introduce us to the new focal characters, seeing snippets of each of them over the course of about five years. Dragons have been guided to a new home, having swam upstream the Rain Wild River, a long, coiling body of water thick with poisonous and toxic particles, lethal to most ships, humans and animals, and not even entirely safe for dragons. The dragons have hatched but are miserable, malformed creatures due to the events of the second trilogy which brought them to be in this state. After some years of feeding them, the people of Trehaug, a lush and green city along the Rain Wild River which is populated with those “touched” by the river, whose attributes are sometimes small scaly growths or warts from the waters effects, who live not just on the ground, but in houses and buildings high up in the canopy and amongst the branches of the thousand-year old trees which dwell here. There are plenty of rich and vivid locations in here, from Trehaug right back to Bingtown, the setting for the Liveship Traders trilogy.
So the Dragon Keeper follows four main characters from their respective points of view, and the cast here is nicely sized and varied, as is always the case with Robin Hobb’s work. It isn’t as vast as the previous trilogies, but again you must remember this was originally a standalone novel which just became too big for a single book. I mean the two books together are about 1100 pages, which isn’t obscene but if just a little too much perhaps for one book, very few standalone books, even in fantasy, are more than 1000 pages, unless they are from highly established authors, so it made sense for this to be two books, collectively know as The Rain Wild Chronicles: Volumes One and Two.
I mentioned that some people are “touched” by the Rain Wilds, and one such character is Thymara, a young girl who lives with her parents amongst the braches of Trehaug. Thymara is marked more than most Rain Wilders, and at birth should probably have been exterminated, as is the case with those born as scaled or as “changed” as she was. The thinking being that those who are afflicted strongly at birth by the Rain Wilds should not be allowed to live, and certainly not breed, because who knows if the children will be more “touched” than human, more mutant than man. But Thymara has big dreams and wants to get out of the place and where people look at her in the street as if she is a monster, and treat her as nothing more than a mistake.
Then there is Captain Leftrin of the Liveship Tarmin, whose own interests in the dragons and their hatching will draw him into the fray to aid the dragons, as it is soon decided that the people of Trehaug will no long assist in the care of the stunted creatures that have blighted their land and caused them no end of troubles for nearly five years. And what will outsiders Alise Finbok and her husbands secretary, Sedric, makes of matters; she being a scholar in search of fulfilling her calling in life, despite the pressure from others to settle and just be a housewige, and he, an odd and misplaced fellow who doesn’t know where his life is taking him.
All paths converge to Trehaug, to dragons, and soon to the home that the former self-proclaimed lords of the land, sea and sky, are searching for. It is the home that, in their memories and the memories of their ancestors stored within them, they once lived and belonged, alongside the Elderlings; a vastly superior race of humans with slight traits of dragons to them. These poor creatures have an understanding, an inkling, of this former glorious home of theirs, known only as Kelsingra, and known only by rough idea that it is further upriver than anybody has ever been able to chart before, due to the nature of the river water.
The book sets everything up nicely for Volume Two- The Dragon Haven, which I will review in a few weeks time as and when I get it finished, but until then go out and find The Dragon Keeper, and in the future I may bring to you more of the Robin Hobb trilogies (but maybe working through them chronologically for you, which would have made more sense, but oh well).