Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Over the last few years, I’ve read and loved Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy and Tawny Man Trilogy, but I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading Dragon Keeper, the first in her four-book Rain Wild Chronicles series. Although I found the dragon storylines in the earlier trilogies quite enjoyable, I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to read a series in which the dragons would be the main focus – and also, after coming to the end of the Tawny Man books, I just wanted to continue Fitz’s story rather than have to get used to a whole new set of characters. It was tempting to go straight to Hobb’s final and most recent trilogy, Fitz and the Fool, but I knew I should keep reading in order of publication as the books do all form part of one larger sequence and it’s possible that things could happen in the Rain Wild series that I need to know before returning to Fitz.

Anyway, Dragon Keeper picks up the story that was set into motion at the end of the Liveship Traders. Guided by the dragon Tintaglia, a group of sea serpents have made the long journey up the Rain Wild River to the shores of Cassarick, where they have formed the cocoons where they will await their transformation into dragons. When the day of the hatching finally arrives, the people of the Rain Wilds – among them eleven-year-old Thymara and her father – gather round to witness this historic moment: the moment that will mark the return of dragons to the world for the first time in generations.

The dragons that emerge from the cocoons, however, are weak and malformed due to the inappropriate conditions they had lived in as serpents and the difficult circumstances surrounding their cocooning process. These creatures are unlikely ever to fly like their ancestors and can barely even manage to feed themselves. It seems that their only hope of survival is to make their way to Kelsingra, the ancient city of the Elderlings, but if they are to get there safely they will need some human help. Thymara, born with claws and scales – a more extreme example of the mutations that affect many of the Rain Wild people – is chosen to be part of a team of dragon keepers who will escort the dragons to their legendary homeland.

And there’s not really much more to the plot than that. There’s a sense that, with this first in the series, Hobb is setting things up for the three that will follow and the story is just beginning to get started when the book comes to an end. I liked it enough to want to continue, but it is certainly my least favourite of Hobb’s books so far. Maybe because so many of the dragon keepers are children (they are seen as more dispensable, not having families who rely on them), it felt almost as though this book was aimed at younger readers than the others.

There were several characters who intrigued me, though, and I’ll look forward to seeing how their storylines develop in the next book. One of these is Alise Kincarron, a young woman from Bingtown who looks destined for spinsterhood before entering into a loveless marriage with a local trader, Hest Finbok. The dragons hold a special fascination for Alise and the chance to accompany them on the journey to Kelsingra is both a dream come true and a way to escape from her husband. Hest has no interest in the dragons himself, so asks Alise’s childhood friend Sedric to chaperone her – but we, the reader, know something about Sedric that Alise doesn’t and that makes us think of him more as a villain than a friend.

As a setting, I prefer the Six Duchies of the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, but I did enjoy the descriptions in this book of Trehaug, the city built in the treetops above the Rain Wild River. We did visit Trehaug and the Rain Wilds at several points throughout the Liveship Traders trilogy, but they lose some of their mysterious aura in this book as we learn much more about them and the people who live there. In case you’re wondering, we do meet some of the Liveship characters again (I was particularly pleased to see Paragon) but their appearances are very brief and the focus is definitely on Thymara, Alise and the other new characters. And the dragons, of course! Part of the story is told from the perspective of Sintara, a blue dragon who is not quite as weak and stunted as some of the others, and it was interesting to see things from her point of view now and then.

Although I couldn’t quite love this book, I did find it a relatively quick and easy read, in comparison to some of Hobb’s others which are usually much longer and more emotionally demanding. I’ll continue the series soon with the second book, Dragon Haven.

The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

This is the second volume of Robin Hobb’s The Liveship Traders trilogy. I read the first one, Ship of Magic, earlier this summer and enjoyed it so much I couldn’t wait to move on to this one. As it’s a trilogy that really needs to be read in order, I have found it impossible to write about this book without spoiling the previous one, so be warned!

The Mad Ship continues to develop storylines begun in the first novel. When we last saw the Vestrit family’s liveship, the Vivacia, she had been captured by pirates far from her home port of Bingtown and her captain, Kyle Haven, had been defeated and injured. Captain Kennit, the pirate leader, is delighted to have taken possession of such a valuable ship, particularly as he is already beginning to bond with Vivacia, the liveship’s sentient figurehead. Also on board is Kyle’s son, Wintrow, who has Vestrit blood and finds himself competing with Kennit for the ship’s affections.

When news of Vivacia’s capture reaches the rest of the family, they must find a way to work together to rescue her and to bring home Kyle and Wintrow. This is easier said than done given the divisions and tensions within the Vestrit household! Althea Vestrit still believes that the Vivacia should rightfully belong to her rather than to her sister (and Kyle’s wife) Keffria, while spoiled, selfish Malta continues to cause trouble for her mother and grandmother. However, Malta is forced to grow up very quickly and through her relationship with Reyn Khuprus of the Rain Wilds, she has a chance to redeem herself in the eyes of her family.

Meanwhile, Brashen Trell and Amber the bead merchant have come up with a plan of their own to help Vivacia – one which involves relaunching Paragon, the old, abandoned liveship who is believed to be mad, having killed his crew many years earlier. Will their plan succeed or is the Vivacia lost to them forever?

Despite loving the first book, it took me a while to really get into this one, but I think it was simply suffering from being the second in a trilogy – there wasn’t the novelty of discovering a new world or the excitement of following the story to its conclusion. Halfway through, though, several of the storylines took a more dramatic turn and I found that I was absolutely riveted! So much happens in this book that I can’t possibly mention everything here; instead, I have just picked out a few of the things I found most notable.

* Dragons and serpents – What I loved most about this book was that we learn much, much more about the dragons and sea serpents and how they are connected with the wizardwood used in the construction of the liveships. In Ship of Magic, all the talk of ‘tangles’, ‘silver providers’ and ‘She Who Remembers’ had me completely mystified, but now the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. Some links with the dragons from Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy are also emerging and bearing in mind how much I loved those books it’s great to come across anything that ties the two together.

* Amber – There continues to be an aura of mystery surrounding Amber; so far we know almost nothing about her origins or how she came to be in Bingtown. Remembering a certain character in The Farseer Trilogy, I’m starting to have my suspicions about her, but I will wait and see if anything else is revealed in the next book.

* Magic – The magical elements in this book are particularly strong. Not only do we have dragons, sea serpents and talking figureheads, but with the dream sequences and the abilities of certain beings to enter the thoughts of others, I was reminded of the Skill and the Wit from The Farseer books. I also loved the descriptions of Trehaug, the Trader city on the Rain Wild River where the Khuprus family live.

* Malta – I didn’t like her at all in the previous novel and in the first half of this one she continued to annoy me, but later in the book there are signs that she is growing and developing as a person. She is just one of several strong female characters in the trilogy; I have already mentioned Amber, but Althea, Keffria, Ronica and Etta all interest me too.

There is so much more I could say about this book but, to be honest, I just wanted to get this post written quickly so that I could move straight on to the final volume, Ship of Destiny, in which I hope some more of my questions will be answered!

This is book 13/20 for my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Temeraire Temeraire (also published as His Majesty’s Dragon) is the first in a series of nine books and is set during an alternate version of the Napoleonic Wars. This alternate world is exactly like our own in almost every detail, but with one very important difference – the existence of dragons. These dragons are intelligent creatures, capable of human speech and independent thought, and are used by both the British and French to provide aerial support to their navies. This first novel explores the beginning of a very special relationship between Captain Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire.

When we first meet Laurence he is a Captain in the Royal Navy and has just captured a French ship which happens to be carrying an unhatched dragon egg. The egg is very close to hatching and Laurence knows that if the dragon is to be tamed (and therefore of use to Britain’s Aerial Corps) it’s essential that it is harnessed and made to accept a human handler as soon as possible. The thought of becoming an aviator is not something that appeals to Laurence – as well as requiring total dedication, leaving little time for a family life, aviators are treated with scorn and contempt by the rest of the military. Unfortunately, the newly-hatched dragon refuses to accept any other handler so Laurence, after naming him Temeraire, reluctantly resigns himself to his new career and new way of life.

The rest of the novel follows the adventures of Laurence and Temeraire as they begin their training with the Aerial Corps in Scotland, learning all the flying manoeuvres and formations they will need to know before being called into service. This does feel very much like the first in a series and although Laurence and Temeraire do have the opportunity to take part in some action towards the end of the novel, the main purpose of the book seems to be to set the scene and introduce us to the concept of dragon warfare. This doesn’t mean that I thought the book was boring, though – quite the opposite: I found all the details of dragon training fascinating and now that I know how things work in the world of Temeraire I’m looking forward to continuing with the series.

I particularly enjoyed meeting all the other aviators and dragons who form the Aerial Corps including Captain Harcourt and her Longwing dragon, Lily (the presence of female aviators is something Laurence has to adapt to, having been used to the male-dominated Navy), Berkley and his Regal Copper, Maximus, and the training master, Celeritas, who is himself a dragon. One of my favourites was Levitas, a little dragon who has been neglected by his selfish captain and is desperate for some love and affection.

Most of all, I loved watching the relationship develop between Temeraire and Laurence as they come to trust and understand each other. There are some intriguing revelations about Temeraire at the end of the novel that make me want to pick up the second book in the series, Throne of Jade, as soon as possible!

I read Temeraire for Week 1 of the Forgotten Histories Reading Challenge.