Will Dragon Keeper Keep Your Attention?

I had intended to do another Halfway Through Book Review for Robin Hobb’s book, Dragon Keeper. I didn’t for two reasons. One, it took me so long to get through the book, I felt it would’ve taken too long to get a proper Update out. And second, there wasn’t a decent halfway through point. More on that later.

Dragon Keeper is the first of a scheduled four books based in the world Robin Hobb created in her Live Ship Traders Trilogy (which in turn was first created in her Farseer Trilogy). Don’t worry, it is not necessary to read the previous works to understand the current trilogy. There are several references that Hobb fans will get (including myself), but without making a new reader feel like they’re being left out. Although admittedly, it will ruin the ending of The Live Ship Traders and The Tawny Man Trilogies if you read these first. With that in mind, if you’re currently reading Live Ship Traders or The Tawny Man Trilogy, please know that my brief summary to follow, will contain spoilers.

You’ve been warned.

This series revolves around a group of newly born dragons, all of which are horribly deformed and underdeveloped. The towns people who were left to care for the dragons find the task too daunting once the dragon, Tintaglia, who had bartered the deal in exchange for her protection, has abandoned the land and her deformed kin. Since she no longer protected their boarders, the towns people have devised a plan to move the malformed dragons to a new, far off location.

The book follows five main characters. Alise, trying to escape a loveless marriage joins the dragon keepers as a self-proclaimed dragon expert. Sedric accompanies Alise as her escort/chaperon, but has plans of his own. Captain Leftrin, owns the barge Tarman in which he’s used stolen wizardwood (i.e., a dragon cocoon) to build, and is carrying the supplies for the dragons and their keepers on their trek to find their new home. Thymara was born in the Rain Wilds and heavily marked by them. Instead of leaving her for dead like a good Rain Wilder should have, her father brings her back home and raises her. Society looks down on her for living, so it comes to no surprise that she chooses to be a dragon keeper to escape that life. And finally we have Sintara. Sintara is a one of the malformed dragons. She, like the other dragons, carry memories of previous dragons and knows how they are lacking. They should be treated better than kings and queens, and not like cattle. Put simply, she’s queen bitch and all should be revered to suffer her.

Shoo. That was a lot to get out.

Here’s the upside. Robin Hobb creates a well imagined world. The characters are fleshed out to a fault, and the jungles of the Rain Wilds came alive in my head. It’s always a pleasure to read a master of this craft work their magic.

Now the downside.

The book is WAY TOO LONG. Before I had mentioned how there wasn’t a decent halfway point in the book. In fact, the whole book reads as a first act. The book is nothing but the introduction to the characters. I’m sure it was to show motive for the things they were doing, but come on. The entire book could’ve been scaled down to five chapters. Ten max. (Update: after reading this Reddit Q&A, I definitely think she overwrote it.)

I might not have minded all this extra character development if I had felt a connection to any one of the characters. I did not. Captain Leftrin, for me, was likable, but lacked any definition. He really doesn’t do any thing except try to win the affections of a married woman. The rest I really could not have cared less about.

Let’s not forget about the action. It’s hard to forget only because you can’t forget something that doesn’t happen. For the most part, all the struggles in this book are internal. No battles. No duels. No common fantasy tropes. I imagine more things will happen in books to come, but as it stands, it reads solely as a prelude.

So what does this mean? Do I finish the series? Do I swear off Robin Hobb?

First off, just because this one book didn’t reach me like her others, doesn’t mean I’ll swear her off. I’m very much likely to pick up the second book… eventually. The writing is still great. Just because I didn’t connect with the characters doesn’t mean that you won’t.

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One thought on “Will Dragon Keeper Keep Your Attention?

  1. I agree that, of all of the Hobb novels dealing with the Realm of the Elderlings, the RWC books can possibly seem ‘less’ somehow…when read individually. It has certainly not received the reviews that the other novels have. Of course, this was always going to be the case because, for example, Dragon Keeper is actually only half of a novel and this is why it reads like “a first act”. It does not follow convention and flow as a stand-alone novel should, with clear intro, conflict and resolution etc. It is literally the first half of a whole novel that has been sheared into two parts – one novel, two books. It ends abruptly because it does not ‘end’.

    In this, if you were to purchase both Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven, and then staple the back cover of DK to the front cover of DH, then you would have your ‘full’ novel.

    From my understanding, this is due to the fact that Robin Hobb had only ever planned to write the one novel but, once the original manuscript became too long, it was simply cut into two parts to make two books. After that decision was made, Robin was then able to go back and flesh out some things just a little more. From this, the Rain Wild Chronicles were born.

    After the release of both ‘books’, Robin decided to add another novel to the Rain Wild Chronicles but the very same thing happened – the manuscript got too long and so was, again, cut in half and each half then able to be fleshed out just a little more. All in all, one novel became two books and then two novels suddenly became four books – all making up the Rain Wild Chronicles.

    While some wish that there had been ‘less’ in the first place, and thus no need for all of these volumes, I’m glad that I got to read ‘more’. Sure, I don’t disagree regarding the characters, as I didn’t overly connect with any of them either, but what takes place in the pages of the RWC increases our understanding of what has or hasn’t happened in the Rain Wilds in the past, and this increases our understanding of what has also happened within the entire realm…not to mention that all parts of the realm or tale must soon converge within the present.

    Much as I would love to, I cannot say much more without adding spoilers. I’m glad to hear you haven’t sworn off Hobb. Keep going and you will be rewarded, I think…especially now that City of Dragons (Volume Three) has been released. Rather than think of the books as ‘novels’, think of them as ‘instalments’ (Aussie spelling there! 🙂 ) for the whole Realm of the Elderlings saga, in much the same way as you might read one of the RotE-related short stories such as Words Like Coins. It all adds to the overall tale, and that is enough for some of us (for me!)…and I’d rather longer than shorter any day.

    Of course, not everyone will enjoy the story no matter how the books are viewed (for the reasons you have outlined) but I think if the Rain Wild Chronicles ‘instalments’ are approached in this way, readers will enjoy them all the more.

    In Robin’s own words from another RotE work, “It is like the anticipation that a clever minstrel evokes when he pauses, letting silence pool before sweeping into the final refrain of his song. Sometimes a gap can be seen like a promise yet to be filled.” Robin, I believe, is one such clever minstrel and I am very much looking forward to the rest of her RotE tale.

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