City of Dragons, the third instalment in The Rain Wild Chronicles, will be published in the UK on the 23rd of April 2012. In advance of the book's release, Robin Hobb has kindly taken time to expound on the inspirations behind the stories.
City of Dragons is the third in your Rain Wild Chronicles – which is fast becoming recognised in the contemporary canon of dragon lore. As we know, much of the popularity of dragons in the science fiction/fantasy genre stems from the legendary Anne McCaffrey and her Dragonriders of Pern novels. Did you take any inspiration from McCaffrey in writing your Rain Wild tales?
I read most of the Pern books many years ago. One thing I realized instantly was that they were SF, not fantasy. My first clue was the phonetic spelling of a chemical compound; I'll say no more than that, as to this day new readers are still discovering Pern, and I don't want to do spoilers for anyone! But I did read them as SF rather than fantasy, and when you look at the tale that way, it is delightful to unravel the various clues to the history of Pern.
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.
Much like McCaffrey, within your stories, you play with boundaries, expectations, subverting rules about male heroes, creating empowered female protagonists, and personifying what many would call “monsters” or monstrous. (Your dragons are certainly beasts!) What makes you push the boundaries of modern sensibilities in each novel you write?
I think 'pushing boundaries' is one of the things that fantasy does best, and also one large reason why many of us enjoy fantasy. If I want to read about a world that has the same sensibilities, cultures and accepted rules as ours, I'd pick up a historical novel or a modern day novel. All fantasy, I think, begins with 'what if' and grows from there. We have historical fantasy or 'alternate history' in which the outcomes of wars are changed and the tale proceeds from there. But we also have full-fledged fantasy in which writers can explore worlds where the cultures have developed in very different ways or where magic exists and science never fully developed. So I don't really perceive any boundaries as existing in fantasy. If you can think of it, you can write a story about it.
The Rain Wilds gives you a vivid tapestry to write about the toxicity of our environment – both emotional and physical. As we progress in time, do you see more people heeding the advisories you lace into your printed words; or do you feel there is more of a need than ever for you and other writers to use fiction as a platform for awareness and change?
Rather than trying to write advice, I write stories. I don't intend to preach or warn; all my stories go back to the fantasy “what if”? The Rain Wild River and its sudden floods of acidic water actually takes it roots from the very real consequences of seismic activity. The hot acidic water of a lahar (a flash flood of water, mud, gravel and debris triggered by a restless volcano) can indeed flood down to a river and change the river's flow substantially as well as increasing the acid content. So what is going on in the Rain Wilds, outside of the magic that exists there, is actually a very natural event. There's not really much people can do to prevent volcanic eruptions, so I'm not really cautioning them about them, other than reminding readers that we still need to respect 'nature red in tooth and claw.'
As far as emotional toxicity, well, that exists in every form of literature and song that I'm aware of. So I don't feel I'm issuing advisories on that so much as recognizing that the things we do to other people in the name of 'well, it's my life' can have far ranging consequences, ones that echo far outside our own little circles. Stories ultimately are about people, even if the people are rabbits (Watership Down) or robots. That human element is what keeps us turning the pages.
I do know that some writers do write tales that are intended to increase awareness in their readers of various issues the writers are concerned with. I don't think I'd actually do well at that; when I get opinionated, I'm afraid I get heavy handed in expressing it, and I think the readers would quickly tire of it. I don't think any reader enjoys being pounded on by a writer, even if the cause is women's rights or an end to prejudice. That certainly NOT why I pick up fiction!
You have no fears about exploring non-conventional love stories and promoting same-sex relationships; how have readers responded to your open-mindedness?
I like to write about a variety of characters, and I think my readers enjoy reading about such characters. Again, it is what fantasy does best; it allows us to explore the 'what if' of very big questions, without necessarily offering answers to any of them. 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.
One of the super powers of fantasy is that we can write stories where something that is shocking or unacceptable or even just frowned upon becomes ordinary in the fantasy setting. Then, as we explore it in that setting, we may find ourselves asking just why it is shocking, unacceptable or rude in our real existence. Thus we have SF stories that look at euthanasia, radical population control, engineered babies, society controlled by artificial intelligence and ask 'what if'. And we have fantasy tales in which someone gets three wishes, or discovers a talent for magic or becomes a blood-drinker by preference, and we again ponder 'what if'. That's what our genre is about. No boundaries, and no holds barred.
About.com has a wonderful article on Anne McCaffrey's legacy, which mentions her acclaimed novel, “The Ship Who Sang.” While very different from your own Liveships, it made me wonder how these sentient dragonwood entities sprung from your vivid imagination?
My husband is a marine engineer, from a long line of maritime ancestors. In the early years of his career, I was often able to spend part of a summer or a few days on board one of the boats he worked on. I soon came to see that there is a reason why ships are named, for each vessel truly did seem to have its own personality. There were boats that always seemed to do okay, no matter the storm or maintenance issues, and other ships where the tiniest problem seemed to set off a chain reaction of bad luck and worse headaches. The ships, regardless of who was the current crew, seemed to have genuine personalities of their own. For generations, sailors have anthropomorphised their ships. I just took it one step further.
The Rain Wild Chronicles are – like the river you name the books in honour of - a steaming brew of intrigue, toxic relations, rites of passage and personal renewal. How have you seen the Chronicles evolve since Dragon Keeper, and how has this 'world' evolved since your earlier Liveship and other related collections of novels?
Rather than an evolution, I see it as a natural progression. People and dragons change and grow, and as they do, their relationships change. So the progression of the story, the plot, is affected by the characters.
Without doing a lot of spoilers for people who haven't read the Liveship Traders or the Rain Wild Chronicles, I'll mention that a great deal of the plot has to do with very large predators moving back into their niche. There's a very interesting parallel going on in our own natural world right now. The aspen groves are recovering because wolves have been reintroduced to some of our parks and natural areas. The decline of the aspen groves, which reproduce largely by a form of cloning, was in turn affecting all sorts of wildlife from deer to birds to small mammals. The groves were declining because of over grazing. Now of course the reintroduction of wolves is also going to affect the hunting by other predators, such as humans, and it may also impact ranching activity. So, if you change one factor in the natural world, as a writer, you gain a huge playground for other changes and plots.
The Rain Wild Chronicles are a natural outgrowth of all that happened in the Liveship trilogy, including the welcoming of a freed slave population to the Rain Wilds, and the development of new shipping technology. I really feel that fantasy cannot fulfil its full potential if it's written about a world that is static. The end of a story shouldn't be that all situations have safely returned to what they were at the beginning. A story should end when a new balance is reached, and where the next story would logically begin.
The Farseer Trilogy is a recommended fantasy series.Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb is the first book in her acclaimed work, The Farseer Trilogy. First published in 1995, and followed by Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest, the trilogy has been described as combining the magic of [...]
" We are here, Fitz, you and I, to change the future of the world... "Keystone. Gate. Crossroads. Catalyst. Fitz is about to discover the truth about the Fool's prophecy. Having been resurrected from his fatal tortures in Regal's dungeons, Fitz has once more foiled Regal's attempts to be rid of him. Now, back in his own body, and after months of rehabilitation, Fitz begins the painful and slow process of learning the ways of a man again. Under the watchful eye of Burrich, old King Shrewd's Stablemaster, Fitz must learn to cast off the wild but carefree ways [...]
The Liveship Traders series continues with the second book, The Mad Ship. Althea Vestrit continues her quest to reclaim her rightful inheritance, the liveship Vivacia. The Vivacia has been seized by pirates led by the enigmatic Kennit, a man who believes that destiny leads him to become King of the Pirate Isles. The Vestrit family are nearing financial ruin which leads them closer to the mysterious Rain Wild Traders who own the ship. Amidst these events the mad ship, Paragon is once again launched despite the history of death and despair that surrounds him.The Mad Ship is another won [...]
The Ship of Magic is book one of the Liveship Traders trilogy written by Robin Hobb. First published in 1998, the series is set far to the south of The Six Duchies, the setting for the excellent Farseer Trilogy.After having read and thoroughly enjoyed the Farseer trilogy I was expecting more of the same again. I was not disappointed; in fact I found the writing of even higher calibre. This is no small compliment as I find Robin Hobbs’s use of the English language superb and a joy to read.The story is unique, the character development excellent. In just a few chapters the [...]
Anyone who has read reviews here at Fantasy Book Review for any length of time will probably remember the love Lee (our editor in chief) and I have for anything written by Robin Hobb. For many years we struggled over just how important we considered her 9-volume work – ‘The Realm of the Elderlings’, now including the 4 ‘Rain Wild Chronicles’ books, pushing the number up to 13 – especially the original two trilogies – the ‘Farseer Trilogy’ and the ‘Liveship Traders Trilogy’. So beautifully paced, cast, and set, these trilogies [...]
"We are here, Fitz, you and I, to change the future of the world..."Royal Assassin is the second book in Robin Hobb's fantasy series The Farseer Trilogy and follows on from the events in Assassin's Apprentice.The book begins precisely where we left off and FitzChivalry is slowly recovering from the poision administered to him. The effects have left him prone to fits and spasms and in this state he must travel back to Buckkeep to face his tormentor and poisoner, Prince Regal.The main character Fitz has grown and is now a teenager. The books narrative ha [...]
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 [...]
Ship of Destiny is the final book of Robin Hobb’s epic fantasy trilogy The Liveship Traders. First published in Great Britain by Voyager in 2000. The story is written in third-person narrative and consists of 903 pages.The dragon Tintaglia, released from her wizardwood coffin, flies high over the Rain Wild River. Below her, Reyn and Seldon have been left to drown; while Malta and the Satrap attempt to navigate the acid flow of the river in a decomposing boat.Althea and Brashen are finally at sea together, sailing the liveship Paragon into pirate waters to rescue the Vest [...]
The triumphant conclusion to the tale of the Farseers, in which kingdoms must stand or fall on the beat of a dragon’s wings, or a Fool’s heart. A small and sadly untried coterie – the old assassin Chade, the serving-boy Thick, Prince Dutiful, and his reluctant Skillmaster, Fitz – sail towards the distant island of Aslevjal. There they must fulfil the Narcheska’s challenge: to lay the head of the dragon Icefyre, whom legends tell is buried there deep beneath the ice, upon her hearth. Only then can their marriage proceed, and put an end to war between the two kin [...]
It happens far too often that books that are not worthy of wide recognition achieve it, and those that are worthy of it only achieve success in smaller amounts. It is a never ending source of frustration for fans of those books and authors, for they see actual talent being ignored in place of flashy and insubstantial books that do nothing but cater to the lowest common denominator.It is not a hard leap to guess where I believe Robin Hobb lies in this.And with her latest series, the Soldier Son trilogy, we once again encounter this appreciation for mediocrity and shunning a wor [...]
Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb is the first book in The Tawny Man trilogy. The series begins fifteen years after the events in The Farseer Trilogy were concluded. Fool’s Errand is 661 pages in length and was first published in Great Britain by Voyager in 2001.We are here, you and I, Fitz, to change the world. Again.Fifteen years have passed since the end of the Red Ship War with the terrifying Outislanders. Since then, Fitz has wandered the world accompanied only by his wolf and Wit-partner, Nighteyes, finally settling in a tiny cottage as remote from Buckkee [...]
I have found it very sensible to always listen when my editors speak. In a past review I happened to mention my souring love for Robin Hobb, which subsequently cued the recommendation-instincts of my editor here at FBR, Lee, who mentioned in an email that I should give Robin Hobb another shot; like a lover once spurned given a second chance at redemption.I’m glad I listened.I received ‘The Dragon Keeper’ by Robin Hobb back in 2009, and got halfway through the book before I put it down in a huff and refused to ever read anything Hobb would ever write. I was en [...]
The King's Cavalla Academy has been ravaged by the Speck plague.The disease has decimated the ranks of both cadets and instructors, and even the survivors remain sickly. Many have been forced to relinquish their military ambitions and return to their families to face lives of dependency and disappointment.As the Academy infirmary empties, Cadet Nevare Burvelle also prepares to journey home, to attend his brother Rosse's wedding. Far from being a broken man, Nevare is hale and hearty after his convalescence. He has defeated his nemesis, Tree Woman [...]
A masterful, character-driven sequel that builds upon the story laid down in its predecessor.The dragon keepers and the fledgling dragons continue to forge a passage up the treacherous Rain Wild River in search of the mythical Elderling city of Kelsingra. Accompanying them are the liveship Tarman, its captain Leftrin, and a group of hunters who must search the forests for game with which to keep the dragons fed. On the liveship are Alise, who has escaped her cold marriage to the cruel libertine Hest Finbok in order to continue her study of dragons, and Hest's amanuensis, Sedric. [...]
The past few months have been difficult to find much reading time and even harder to find time to sit down and review that which I have read. But one of the most telling things to come out of that is the fact that I was still able to plough through Robin Hobb’s latest addition to her masterful Elderlings universe, Fool’s Quest.For those who are not fans of jumping points of view, this book might at times irk, as we continue to jump primarily from Fitz’s point of view, to that of his daughter, Bee. Bee does not receive a lot of page-time in this nov [...]
The Golden Fool is the second book in Robin Hobb’s The Tawny Man series. First published in Great Britain by Voyager in 2002.Fitz has succeeded in rescuing Prince Dutiful from the clutches of the Piebald rebels. But once again the cost of protecting the Farseer line has been dear: Nighteyes is dead.A grieving and reluctant Fitz is assigned to protect Fitz and, at the urging of the mercurial old assassin, Chade, take on the mantle of Skillmaster. But Fitz’s efforts to locate Skill-users for Dutiful’s coterie attract some unlikely, and potentially dangerous, rec [...]
Well, and so it all comes to an end. As I began writing this review I thought back to first beginning my journey into the Realm of the Elderlings. The year was 2006 and I was in Manchester Piccadilly train station, looking for a new book to read on my daily commute. The on-site WH Smiths was my first port of call and I don’t know whether it was the synopsis or the wonderful John Howe artwork that made Assassin’s Apprentice stand out but I bought it, hopped on to the train, and began reading imm [...]
In Blenheim Palace there is a huge, 15th century tapestry showing the then Duke of Marlborough looking extremely grandiose, sitting on a horse leading the British Army. The tapestry is perhaps 20 feet long by 10 feet high and shows a large amount of detail. Apparently, it was worked on by thirty separate weavers, each of whom would weave six inches of the picture at a time, and worked only from a tiny charcoal sketch just showing that portion of the whole picture. [...]
Returning to the fictional universe of a favoured author is often fraught with disappointment, much like returning to the playing grounds of your childhood: nothing is quite as you thought; nothing is as enjoyable or perfect.A few years ago Robin Hobb released the first in a new series of books that I felt were horrible. I could not even finish the first book, and subsequently my entire opinion of her writing was tarnished. I had come to her late – she had already finished all nine of her Elderlings books and had written the Soldier Son trilogy which so many people had disliked [...]