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The Dragons' Den: Audiobook Review, "Rain Wild Chronicles" by Robin Hobb, Part 1

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Rebekah has worked over 8 years in public libraries. She has recommended books to readers of all ages and hopes you'll enjoy her suggestion!

Dragon Keeper

Written by Robin Hobb (Farseer, Fitz and the Fool Trilogy)

Robin Hobb is a person Rebekah would desperately love to meet one day, if only to have the selfish and childish chance to swing on the oh-so-welcoming tire swing as pictured in "The View from my kitchen window" on the author's FAQ page. The author has a prolific writing background, beginning with her first published novel, Assassin's Apprentice, in 1995. Most recently, in 2017, she has released Assassin's Fate (picking up her tales of the characters in Assassin's Apprentice with a new trilogy). The precursor to the Rain Wild Chronicles is Liveship Traders, published between 1998 and 2000. When not writing, Hobb enjoys coffee breaks in the forest, and helping with school projects. She is even tentatively available for interviews and podcasts if she has the time. A self-proclaimed introvert, she seems to prefer her non-writing time to be spent with her large furry and feathered family on her farm. You can keep up to date with her blog here.


Narrated by Saskia Butler (City of Dragons, The Lady and the Poet,)

Saskia Butler is an actress based in London. She has provided the narration for several audiobooks, including Book 3 of the Rain Wild Chronicles, as well as The Inheritance, also by Robin Hobb. She has played minor roles in many BBC television productions. Her most recurring role was in The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (2001). Credits also include Doctors, EastEnders, No Fixed Abode, and Casualty.

Dragon Haven

Narrated by Jacqui Crago (Absent in the Spring, Angels in the Annexe)

Jacqui Crago is an actress who has provided narration for the audiobook Absent in the Spring, one of the Mary Westmacott novels written by Agatha Christie. She played a role in the 1984 comedy program Angels in the Annexe.

Summary

Dragons are returning to the world. The great dragon Tintaglia helps the sea serpents make their ancestral journey to the shores of the Rain Wilds, and watches over them as they encase themselves, hoping to one day emerge as full fledged dragons. Tintaglia makes a deal with the Rain Wilders to protect the cases and the dragons once they hatch- but once the dragons have hatched, she disappears, and the Rain Wilders are left to care for a tangle of deformed and stunted creatures. Young Thymara, who watched the hatching, is intrigued by them. They are like her, she thinks, all wrong for the world they are supposed to inhabit. An outcast among her own people in Trehaug, Thymara longs to find her own path and to prove that she is worth something.

Meanwhile, in Bingtown, far from the Rain Wilds, Alise Kincarron longs for news of the dragon hatchlings. Having spent her entire young life dedicated to the study of dragons and Elderlings, she wants nothing more than to visit the Rain Wilds herself, to learn and speak with the hatchlings, and add to her knowledge. When an unexpected marriage proposal offers her even more freedom and money to continue her studies, she readily accepts, only to wonder if being in a loveless, compassionless marriage was better than spinsterhood. Like Thymara, Alise feels trapped.

Captain Leftrin, a Rain Wilder and captain of the Liveship Tarman, is not the most upstanding citizen. Taking advantage of an abandoned encased dragon, he uses it to make illegal enhancements to Tarman. Despite his care and secrecy, word spreads enough to get him into trouble with a Chalcedean Trader, who blackmails him for passage to Trehaug, and to the dragons.

As time passes, the dragons of Trehaug become restless and agitated. There is not enough food, too little space, and far too much sickness in their midst. They begin to complain, and to offer promises to the humans of an ancient city - Kelsingra. The Rain Wild Council draw up a plan to take the dragons along the Rain Wild River. They advertise for a team of Keepers- citizens of the Rain Wilds with no ties or family- to accompany the dragons on their quest, with no hope for return. Thymara and others like her readily join, and Alise Kincarron, who finally made her trip to the Rain Wilds, offers to accompany them as well, leaving her life in Bingtown behind, much to the dismay of her friend and chaperone, Sedric Meldar. Captain Leftrin and his Liveship are the final additions to the team of adventurers to accompany the dragons.

All is not well. There are traitors in their midst, with plans of harvesting the dragons and sell their parts to the highest bidders. Captain Leftrin, blackmailed into carrying such harvesters, bides his time, while the profiteer attempts to make connections directly with the dragons' Keepers and others on board the Tarman. Plagued with sickly and flightless dragons, infighting amongst the Keepers, and without really knowing where they are going, the plans to reach Kelsingra continue to disintegrate the further along the river they travel.

Will the dragons' reliance on their missing memory lead them to a haven, or to a wasteland? What does the future hold for the profiteers seeking to harvest the dragons for their scales and claws and blood? The adventurers face adversity of all kinds, and with each obstacle, come out stronger than they were. Secrets, even those carefully guarded, will be revealed, for better or for worse.

Review

This was my first venture into Robin Hobb's various series. Having finished the first two books of her Rain Wild Chronicles, I've looked up various "ways of reading" her books, as I could tell from these books that there were subtleties not fully explained, but written in such a way that the reader should have already had a grasp on. It reminded me in many ways of McCaffrey's Pern, in which there are no best starting points for newcomers to the series. Ultimately, I was glad I chose Dragon Keeper first, as my whole desire was centered on the dragons themselves. Robin Hobb writes as if she does not expect her readers to have read previous books or know everything about her world, but she wastes no time in explaining anything unnecessarily. She was repetitive, especially in Dragon Keeper, when it came to descriptions of the dragons and certain characters, and almost lacking when it came to the descriptions of other characters. This made it a little difficult to create the image of certain characters in my head while others were very clear. The inconsistency was not favorable, but it also helped hint to which characters would ultimately be more important moving forward.

None of the characters were particularly likeable at first, though I did have some affection and sympathy for Alise. I was relieved to feel as if she were not a typical spoiled brat lead role, because Sedric was more than enough for that trope. I thought Alise's ambitions were presented as a bit childish in some cases, but it made her growth all the more astounding towards the end. I thought the characters were incredibly clever; my first impressions of them were hardly ever true, which was disappointing only in the way that meeting a person in real life is disappointing when you discover their true nature. The writing and development in this way was exceptional.

Thymara and Sintara were by far the most difficult perspectives and characters to relate to. Sintara is overly bitter and vain about her appearance and her dependence on a keeper, and far too haughty to understand that the keeper is not a pet or a belonging. Thymara is well suited to be her foil, as her only desire out of her life is freedom. Thymara faces her own issues in the expectations of others; people always keeping her from making a choice or forcing her to make a choice. From the very beginning, Thymara's character growth centered around her own right to choose her destiny, something that remains steadfastly part of her character even towards the end, but she remained virtually unchanged (stubborn and naive) in the way that Sintara did (irritable and pretentious).

Sedric's growth was the most profound for me, and he fluctuated the most between hate and love for me as a reader. Leftrin I thought was the best character all around, a bit shady at the beginning but proved to be more pure-hearted and street savvy than any other character. Of the dragons, I loved Relpda and Mercor the most; I thought Relpda's transition and growth was the most distinct and beautiful of any dragon, and it mirrored Sedric's storyline.

One of the things I actually really enjoyed about these two books was the correspondence between Erek and Detozi. At first it was a bit of an annoying aside with the random letters going between Trehaug and Bingtown. Early in the first book, they were used to keep the reader apprised of what was happening elsewhere, or wherever the narrator was not telling us. I found it useful but, as I said, a little annoying at first. I noticed, about one third or halfway through Dragon Haven, that I was actually beginning to look forward to the letter correspondence between these two characters. Even now, I'm looking back on Dragon Haven with a grin on my face at how two characters can have such a fun and cute development when they aren't even part of the main storyline.

The story was in many ways a straightforward and predictable plot, though a few twists happened that I was not expecting. Hobb does not shy away from gruesome scenery but stays far away from vulgarity, which I appreciate in fantasy literature. I enjoyed seeing normal representation of various types of sexuality, and the consequences both good and bad of being able to take control of your own sexuality. Looking back, it seemed to be a significant theme throughout the novel, but was presented in a matter-of-fact way without being overworked.

In short:

If you're looking for a book that not only has a lot of dragons in the story, but also dragons with diverse desires, personalities, and a significant portion of the novel's POV, then Rain Wild Chronicles will give you all of that and more.

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