City of Dragons by Robin Hobb

This third novel in Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles is my favourite of the series so far – although it doesn’t really have a lot of competition, as I was disappointed with the previous two books. If you’re new to Robin Hobb, don’t start with the Rain Wild quartet; they are part of a larger sequence and not only are they not as good as the earlier books, they also fall towards the end of the sequence. You need to begin with the Farseer Trilogy, the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy, all of which are excellent!

Anyway, getting back to City of Dragons, it continues the story where the previous novel, Dragon Haven, left off: with our band of stunted, poorly formed dragons and their human keepers within reach of the fabled Elderling city of Kelsingra at last. Separated from the city by the swollen, fast-flowing waters of the Rain Wild River, the group need to make their way across – but only one of the dragons, Heeby, has successfully learned to fly. The magical properties of Kelsingra could restore the dragons to their former glory, but first they need to find a way to get there…

I think the fact that I enjoyed this book more than the first two in the series is mainly due to the wonderful, atmospheric descriptions of Kelsingra. Although most of the dragons and keepers are stranded on the opposite banks of the river, a few of the characters do manage to make trips back and forth to explore the abandoned city. Different characters hope for different things from Kelsingra. Historian Alise Finbok tries to leave the buildings and treasures untouched, determined to make a careful record of everything she finds before word of the discovery begins to spread and traders and scavengers from Bingtown descend upon the city. Rapskal and Thymara, however, part Elderling now themselves, know that Kelsingra is not quite the dead, empty place it may at first appear, and they are able to connect with the memories it holds in a way that Alise cannot:

“Some of the streets she [Thymara] ran through were dark and deserted. But then she would turn a corner and suddenly be confronted by torchlight and merrymakers, a city in the midst of some sort of holiday. She had shrieked the first time, and then she recognized them for what they were. Ghosts and phantoms, Elderling memories stored in the stone of the buildings she passed.”

Although the Kelsingra sections of the book interested me most, the action moves away from the city now and then so that we can catch up with some of the other characters and subplots from earlier in the series: Alise’s estranged husband, Hest, waiting in vain for Sedric to return to Bingtown with dragon parts to cure the invalid Duke of Chalced; Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, who is heading back to Cassarick to claim the keepers’ payment for the expedition; and Malta and Reyn Khuprus, expecting the birth of their first child at any moment. There’s a lot going on in this novel and the way the various storylines begin to converge towards the end sets things up nicely for the fourth and final book, Blood of Dragons, which I hope to read soon.

This is book 6/20 of my 20 Books of Summer.

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb

This is the second book in Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles series, part of a larger sequence of fantasy novels set in a world known as the Realm of the Elderlings. I have been reading through the sequence in order of publication, beginning with the Farseer Trilogy and then moving on to the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy. I started the Rain Wild Chronicles (a quartet rather than a trilogy) earlier this year and so far, after loving all of those previous series, I am quite disappointed with this one. In comparison with the others, I think these books feel less mature and less emotionally powerful, and although they are good enough for me to want to persevere and read all four, I am looking forward to being finished with them so I can start the final trilogy, Fitz and the Fool.

This second Rain Wild novel picks up the story exactly where the previous one ended, which is not surprising as I’m sure I read somewhere that they were originally supposed to be two halves of one long book. At the end of Dragon Keeper, we left our group of dragons and their keepers making the long and difficult journey up the Rain Wild River in search of Kelsingra, the legendary Elderling city now lost in the mists of time. In Dragon Haven the journey continues, with our characters facing a new set of trials and challenges. Who will survive and who will not? Will the dragons ever grow strong enough to fend for themselves? And will they ever find Kelsingra?

To start with the positives, I found myself enjoying the storyline following Sedric and the little copper dragon, Relpda. This surprised me because, based on the first book, Sedric was not a character I had imagined ever liking, but he undergoes a transformation in this book, largely due to the bond he forms with Relpda. And he is not the only one who changes as a result of spending time with the dragons. Without wanting to spoil too much for anyone who hasn’t got this far in the series yet, we learn a lot in this book about the connections between dragons and Elderlings – and are introduced to the intriguing idea that if dragons are coming back into the world, why not Elderlings too? I also enjoyed seeing Leftrin’s liveship, Tarman, take on more personality of his own.

Mainly, though, this book is concerned with the romantic relationships between the various characters and I have to admit, none of this interested me very much, particularly where the teenage dragon keepers were concerned. I didn’t really care whether Jerd was sleeping with Greft and whether Thymara would choose Tats or Rapskal or resist being forced to choose at all. And although I was pleased with the way Alise’s story played out, I found it quite predictable which meant I didn’t become as emotionally invested as I would have liked.

The book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger which has left me feeling more enthusiastic about reading the third book, City of Dragons. I’m hoping it will concentrate more on the dragons, Elderlings and Kelsingra rather than on trying to pair off every character regardless of whether it feels necessary or natural. I will also be interested to see, when I finally move on to Fitz and the Fool, whether I’ll be glad I read the Rain Wild novels or whether I could have missed them out.

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.

Thoughts on finishing The Tawny Man Trilogy (The Golden Fool and Fool’s Fate)

After reading Fool’s Errand a few months ago, I knew I didn’t want to wait too long before reading the other two books in Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man Trilogy; on the other hand, I didn’t want to read them too quickly because then it would all be over and I wouldn’t have them to look forward to anymore (I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way about long-anticipated books). Once I started reading The Golden Fool, though, I had to keep going until I’d reached the end of the trilogy. I cared too deeply about the characters to abandon them while I read other books.

Before I go any further, I will give my usual advice that if you are new to Robin Hobb, the place to start is the Farseer Trilogy, which begins with Assassin’s Apprentice. After that, you should read The Liveship Traders Trilogy – it’s not completely necessary but I strongly recommend it as it will give you a better understanding of the world Hobb has created – and then move on to Fool’s Errand. If you have not yet read all of those books, you will come across spoilers for them in the rest of this post (it would be impossible for me to avoid them).

First, The Golden Fool. As the middle book in the trilogy, this one is neither as tightly plotted as the first nor as epic as the third. Its main function seems to be to tie up some of the storylines begun in the first book (such as Laudwine and the Piebalds), while setting the scene for the quest that will form the basis of the final book. The foundations of this quest are laid during negotiations for Prince Dutiful’s betrothal to an Outislander princess, the Narcheska Elliania. Dutiful’s mother, Queen Kettricken, intends this marriage to form a lasting alliance between the Six Duchies and the Outislands, but it seems that things aren’t going to go quite as smoothly as she’d hoped. Before the Narcheska will agree to marry the prince, she insists that he will have to prove himself worthy…by bringing her the head of the black dragon Icefyre, who lies in a glacier on a distant ice-covered island.

To help Dutiful prepare for his mission, Fitz – still posing as Tom Badgerlock, servant to the nobleman Lord Golden (the Fool) – reluctantly agrees to take on the role of Skillmaster, tutoring the prince in the Farseer magic known as the Skill. The importance of creating a coterie for Dutiful – a circle of those gifted in the Skill who will offer support and strength to the prince – is clear, but at present Fitz has other things on his mind. His adopted son, Hap, is in love with a girl from Buckkeep Town whose parents strongly disapprove of the match, and Hap risks losing his apprenticeship as a result. Meanwhile, his daughter Nettle, with whom he is linked through the Skill, is being visited in her dreams by a blue dragon; Kettricken and Chade want her brought to the safety of Buckkeep Castle and raised as befits a Farseer heir, but Fitz disagrees…

Worst of all, the friendship between Fitz and the Fool, which has endured for so many years, comes under threat when a delegation from Bingtown arrives. Among them is a certain woman called Jek, who will be remembered by readers of the Liveship Traders, and who seems to be under a misapprehension about the Fool. And this is one of several points in the novel where I was glad I had resisted the temptation to go straight from the Farseer Trilogy to the Tawny Man – this particular scene would have made far less sense otherwise. Even with my understanding of what it was all about, I found this a difficult and uncomfortable scene to read – it’s never nice to see people who care so much about each other hurting each other so badly.

Fool’s Fate picks up the story in the middle of the preparations for Dutiful’s journey to the Outislands where he must hunt down and behead the dragon Icefyre. Along with his old mentor Chade, and the difficult but strongly-Skilled Thick, Fitz is accompanying the prince on his voyage but insists that the Fool, who has predicted his own death on the icy island of Aslevjal, must stay behind. Can the future really be changed as easily as that – or will fate refuse to be defied?

This is the book where the significance of everything we’ve learned in the previous eight novels regarding dragons, Elderlings, White Prophets and Catalysts finally starts to become clear and I found the ‘quest’ element of the novel more compelling than the one in the final Farseer novel, Assassin’s Quest – although, having said that, there are some direct links between the two and, remembering that earlier quest, I enjoyed the brief glimpses we are given of Girl on a Dragon and Verity as Dragon! This is such a visual book too; some of the scenes involving Icefyre, the glaciers of Aslevjal and the Elderling ruins beneath the ice are described so vividly, I almost felt as though I was watching them unfold on film. We also see both the Skill and the Wit being used in new and fascinating ways.

As the final book in the Tawny Man Trilogy and, until the publication of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy in 2014 (which I still have to look forward to), the final book about Fitz, there are a lot of loose ends to tie up and a lot of ongoing storylines to be resolved. I think whether or not you will be satisfied with these resolutions will depend on how you feel about the characters concerned. Although one of Fitz’s relationships is given a happy ending, it comes at the expense of at least two others – and because I had felt much more closely engaged with the latter two characters than with the former, I found it a very bittersweet conclusion to Fitz’s story.

As usual, coming to the end of one of Robin Hobb’s trilogies has left me feeling bereft. I’m planning to start her Rain Wild Chronicles soon, but I’m wondering where the novella The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince fits in and whether I should maybe read that first.

Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb

As regular readers of my blog will know, it’s not very often that I read fantasy, yet Robin Hobb’s books have been some of my favourite reads of the last few years. In 2014 I discovered the Farseer Trilogy and then, last year, I moved on to her second trilogy, the Liveship Traders – set in the same world, the Realm of the Elderlings, but in a different part of that world and with different characters and storylines. Fool’s Errand is the first book in yet another trilogy – The Tawny Man – which leaves the liveships behind and returns to the story of FitzChivalry Farseer.

If you haven’t read the Farseer trilogy yet, you really need to do so before starting Fool’s Errand. It’s important to understand Fitz’s background, his relationships with other characters, and the magic and history of the world he inhabits, otherwise I think you’ll be very confused!

Anyway, Fool’s Errand begins fifteen years after the events of Assassin’s Quest, with Fitz living in a remote cottage in the countryside, far away from his former home in Buckkeep, having made the decision to stay out of the politics and intrigues which continue to surround the Farseer family. He has taken the name Tom Badgerlock and is leading a quiet life with his adopted son, Hap, and his wolf Nighteyes, with whom he shares a special bond, as his only companions. Then, unexpectedly, he receives a visit from Chade, his old mentor and instructor in the art of assassination. Chade tries, but fails, to persuade Fitz to return to Buckkeep to teach the magic known as the Skill to the young Prince Dutiful.

This visit is closely followed by another: this time from the Fool, who has matured from the pale boy of fifteen years ago into an elegant young man with golden hair and skin. The two quickly settle back into their old friendship, but even the Fool is unable to convince Fitz to come back with him to Buckkeep. It is only when Fitz receives shocking news regarding Prince Dutiful that he agrees to return to court and offer his assistance. The Prince has disappeared, just days before his betrothal ceremony, and Chade believes that Fitz is the only person who can find him. Did Dutiful run away or was he kidnapped? Could he have become the target of a carefully planned plot? And how is all of this connected with the little hunting-cat the Prince received recently as a gift?

Although I did enjoy the three Liveship Traders novels I read last year, it was wonderful to be reacquainted with Fitz and the other Farseer characters again. I don’t regret having taken the time to read the Liveship Traders, as it means I picked up on a few things in Fool’s Errand – such as the name of the Fool’s horse and a visit to a certain island – which wouldn’t have meant much to me otherwise, but I definitely prefer the world of the Six Duchies. I think this particular novel might even by my favourite by Robin Hobb so far. It feels more tightly plotted than any of the others, with the focus on one mission – to find Prince Dutiful and return him to Buckkeep – and with a slightly smaller cast of characters too, concentrating mainly on the very close relationships Fitz has with the Fool and with Nighteyes. It’s also a very moving book, with one particular scene that made me cry – even though I’d known from the beginning that it was going to happen sooner or later, I still wasn’t prepared for it!

Now that I’ve remembered how much I love reading about Fitz and his friends, I’m sure it won’t be long before I pick up the second book in the trilogy, The Golden Fool.

This is book 10/20 of my 20 Books of Summer.

Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

This, the third of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders novels, brings the trilogy to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Having become quite attached to the characters and swept away by the story over the course of the three novels, I’m sorry to have come to the end – but I have to admit, I’m also happy that I’ve finished and can now move on to the Tawny Man books and rejoin old friends from Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. First, though, I need to post my thoughts on Ship of Destiny – and as this is a trilogy which really needs to be read in order, I can’t avoid spoiling elements of the previous two books here; if you think you might want to read them I would recommend going no further with this review until you’ve read both Ship of Magic and The Mad Ship.

Ship of Destiny picks up each of the trilogy’s many storylines from where they left off at the end of The Mad Ship. For much of the novel, our main characters are divided into small groups, each having separate adventures of their own, until fate eventually brings them together in a dramatic sequence of events which brings The Liveship Traders to a close.

First of all, there’s Malta, who has escaped from the aftermath of the earthquake in Trehaug and has found herself sailing down the hazardous Rain Wild River in the company of the childish and petulant Satrap of Jamaillia. Malta’s betrothed, Reyn Khuprus, is desperately searching for her, with the reluctant help of Tintaglia the dragon. Newly released from her cocoon, Tintaglia would prefer to be getting down to more important business, such as saving her species from extinction.

On board the liveship Paragon, Althea Vestrit, Brashen Trell and Amber the wood-carver are getting closer and closer to the Vivacia, the Vestrit family liveship which Althea has her heart set on reclaiming. But Vivacia has already bonded with her new captain, the pirate Kennit, and with Althea’s nephew Wintrow; Althea could be facing disappointment when she finally catches up with her beloved ship. Meanwhile, Ronica and Keffria are trying to rebuild and reform Bingtown following the Chalcedean invasion – but for this they will need the cooperation of Serilla, the Satrap’s Companion, whose priority seems to be to obtain power for herself.

When I wrote about The Mad Ship a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was particularly intrigued by Amber, as she made me think of another character from the Farseer trilogy. That character, of course, is the Fool, and I was pleased to find that my suspicions were confirmed in this book. Amber recarves Paragon’s figurehead to resemble Fitz, there are discussions of destiny, and there are exchanges like this:

“You’d have to be a fool to think you could change the course of the whole world.”

She was silent until she broke out in a shaky laugh. “Oh, Paragon, in that you are more right than you know, my friend.”

Other characters continued to interest me too, particularly Malta. Who would have thought the annoying, selfish girl we met in the first book would mature so quickly and turn out to be such a shrewd negotiator? Kennit, on the other hand, goes from being a complex and strangely sympathetic character to a villain whose treatment of Althea and Paragon made me lose all respect for him – although I did find his final scenes in the book quite moving.

On reaching the end of The Liveship Traders, I didn’t feel as bereft as at the end of The Farseer trilogy, which I think is partly because, while there were plenty of characters I liked and cared about, I never felt as close to any of them as I did to Fitz. I was less emotionally involved with this trilogy, but I did still thoroughly enjoy it; I loved the world Robin Hobb created here and I was impressed by her ability to handle multiple storylines and keep track of who knows what! Also, as someone who doesn’t read a lot of fantasy, I found the dragon element fascinating, which is probably fortunate as if I’m going to continue working through Hobb’s novels I will eventually need to read The Rain Wild Chronicles which, judging by the titles, sound very dragon-heavy! First, though, I’m looking forward to the Tawny Man trilogy – I have my copy of the first book, Fool’s Errand, ready and waiting…

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.