City of Dragons by Robin Hobb
Review by Floresiensis
City of Dragons is as enthralling an instalment as any Robin Hobb has written. The gradual unfolding of the tale and the progressive uncovering of the legend of the Elderlings is to be read and savoured.
Kelsingra awaits for those brave enough to enter… The dragons and their keepers have discovered Kelsingra but so far only Heeby has succeeded in flying over the river to enter the fabled city. The other dragons, with their deformed wings and feeble muscles, are afraid to risk failure and humiliation. But wondrous things await in Kelsingra, a city built for dragons and their Elderling keepers. Alise, overwhelmed by the treasures she finds there, records her finds for posterity. Once the rest of the world knows about the riches the city contains, nothing will ever be the same again. Already, rumours of the city’s discovery have floated down the Rain Wild River and reached envious ears in Bingtown and beyond. Adventurers, pirates and fortune hunters are coming in droves to pillage what they can from the city. As is Hest Finbok, Alise’s husband… Meanwhile, Selden Vestrit finds himself a prisoner of the ailing Duke of Chalced, who believes him to be some sort of dragon-man whose flesh and blood may work miracle cures. Where is Tintaglia, the great sapphire-blue dragon, when all have such need of her? Has she really abandoned her beloved Selden and the fledgling dragons forever? Or will she too return to seek the wonders of Kelsingra?
City of Dragons deserves to be placed amongst Robin Hobb's finest individual fantasy novels, right up there with Assassin's Quest (from The Farseer Trilogy) and The Mad Ship (from The Liveship Traders). The secret to the book's appeal and quality lie in the author's ability to create a world with a fascinating lore and legend, a world that the reader finds believable and wants to find out more about. Despite there being eleven previous books set in this realm precious little is still known about the Elderlings, their cities and what cataclysmic event occurred to cause their extinction. But slowly things are becoming clearer and it is every bit as enthralling as you could wish for.
In a recent questions and answers session Robin Hobb spoke at length about the inspirations behind her Elderling stories, “I think Anne McCaffrey’s dragons were part of the hordes of dragons that gave me inspiration for various parts of my stories. Smaug is there, of course, and The Reluctant Dragon, and a host of unnamed maiden-devouring dragon hoarding dragons as well. One thing that I think Anne McCaffrey did very well is making certain that her dragons and the culture that evolved on Pern make sense, biologically and socially. So I may have taken that from her books; I wanted to be sure that my dragons in my tale, though fantasy, had logical roots. And that these huge predators made sense in their ecology and biology.”
And Hobb does indeed manage to make her dragons every bit as "real" as their human counterparts and this allows us to read in wonder as they reclaim their lost memories. I will be honest and admit that while the first book in the Rain Wild Chronicles, The Dragon Keeper, was a decent read I was far from blown away by it. But this is often the case with new trilogies and it takes time to grow accustomed to new locations, new characters and often much groundwork needs to be laid down before the story can begin to grow in the telling. The series has been a real slow burner but those who have reached this stage are now in for a treat and will be richly rewarded for their patience. The chapters in this book that deal with the rediscovering of the delights - and the uncovering of the mysteries - of Kelsingra are simply magnificent.
And it should also be mentioned that Robin Hobb has introduced something uncommon into a fantasy series, the same-sex relationship, which even in 2012 is a rarity and might even be considered brave as it carries the possible risk of alienating some readers with strong views on such matters.
“I think that in fantasy, sexual orientation, like race, culture and age, becomes but one facet of a character, and not necessarily the most important face of that character. If a character is a gay vampire with a gambling addiction, it’s really hard to say what the most intriguing aspect of her is or which one will drive the story. And I don’t think readers really want a one-note character who is ‘the black one’ or ‘the gay one’ or ‘the child dying-of-an-incurable-disease’ one. I like to read about characters with whom I share one key aspect that lets me identify with him, but at the same time is so different from me that I’m excited to journey with him in that adventure,” said the author when asked if she had any fears about exploring non-conventional love stories and promoting same-sex relationships.
The Rain Wild Chronicles have developed into a superb continuation of the Liveship Traders trilogy and I highly recommend that you join the Lords of the Three Realms in the City of Dragons and experience the same reading delights that I did.
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