Dragon Haven – Robin Hobb

Dragon_Haven_-_Robin_Hobb_cover
Rain Wild Chronicles #2

A crew of young humans have been tasked with shepherding stunted, argumentative dragons up the Rain Wilds to a rumored city of Elderlings, but they find the task much harder than they first imagined.

My mother made sure we always had some kind of dessert or sweets to snack on. At the same time, with two teenage boys in the house, she got a little upset if an afternoon of baking disappeared in under an hour.

I finished Dragon Keeper, the prequel to this book, yesterday morning. While it wasn’t as good as Hobb’s best, I liked it. And when I found two sequels on sale for a few dollars apiece, I picked them up immediately. Now, less than 24 hours later, I’ve finished Dragon Haven. My mother would be appalled, but it tells you something about the book. I did some other reading yesterday (as well as actually rising from the sofa for a good part of the day), but it’s fair to say that reading this book was a major focus; the story is not perfect, but it’s very readable.

Unlike most of Hobb’s trilogies, not a lot has actually happened in the two books. Mostly, it’s dragons and their keepers sloshing up the Rain Wilds rivers. The story is about personal interactions, and the development of both the humans and the dragons. It may that latter area that makes this second book read a bit like a young adult novel – most of the characters are relatively immature, and the emotional turbulence they face is largely of the coming of age sort. With dragons.

It may also be the reason that Dragon Haven succeeds better than Dragon Keeper. My complaint about that book was that it was disheartening to see fictional struggles about sexuality that we’ve resolved (to some extent, in some places) in real life. The struggles in this book are also familiar, but some are a type that will never go away so long as young people keep growing into older people. Other issues (e.g., efforts at male dominance over females) disappointed the idealist in me, but that didn’t trouble me as much narratively, perhaps because the story is also about an isolated group establishing new rules. Mostly, this is an engaging adventure story with lots of personal interaction to absorb, and quite a few moral dilemmas to consider.

The weakest part of the story is in some ways the dragons themselves. I give Hobb credit for making the dragons individuals, and not always very pleasant ones. But she comes very close at times to the stereotypical ‘dragon as wise, ancient creature who knows all’. Or rather, since the dragons clearly aren’t, to a situation where humans treat them as if they were – willing to live only to serve these beautiful creatures. It’s not quite that clear-cut, and some humans do stand up to the dragons, but not as much as I wanted them to. It’s an ongoing frustration in the series, and Hobb’s narrative explanations aren’t very satisfying.

The book also wraps a few things up a little too neatly. There’s conflict and drama, but also a bit of ex machina that I think could have been handled better. Still, I did read the book in one day, and I’m going on to the next later today.

All in all, a solid fantasy book with an intriguing, enjoyable story, and well worth reading.

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