Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: at last, the finish to Robin Hobb’s dragon series.

And about time, too!

Actually it didn’t take too long for BLOOD OF DRAGONS to hit the shelves, it’s just that CITY OF DRAGONS ended on a complete lack of resolution that was very frustrating. So frustrating that I think I blocked some of the story; I found I remembered almost nothing of CITY OF DRAGONS and had to skim most of it before I could read BLOOD OF DRAGONS.

So this series is really best tackled all at once, or as two linked duologies: The first set, DRAGON KEEPER and DRAGON HAVEN; followed by CITY OF DRAGONS and now finally BLOOD OF DRAGONS.

Okay: most interesting thing Hobb did with this series, something I don’t believe anybody’s ever done before: the dragons really are the masters of the world. They really and truly are not subservient to humans in any way whatsoever. Nothing like the dragons of Pern; nothing like the magical horses that turn up everywhere in fantasy; nothing like a wolf that is basically a dog. No. The dragon Sintara is truly not a nice person, but not even Mercor is very interested in what humans think about much of anything. Very unusual to establish a world where humans really and truly are not the top of the food chain.

I liked the first two books pretty well. But, and I can see this might be a thing with Hobb, very few of her characters are people you can really admire or truly sympathize with at the beginning. Some are too young and stupid; some are incredibly naïve and/or ineffectual; some are just unlikeable. Captain Leftrin is an exception; to an extent so is Alise; but by and large you are just going to have to wait for the characters to grow into themselves. Which they do, eventually.

Which means that for me, the second duology was a lot more enjoyable than the first. The dragons are finally becoming the top predators they’re meant to be, until you can hardly glimpse their poor crippled beginnings. Sintara is still unkind, but Thymara — her keeper — is mostly over that. And nearly every other character winds up in a far better place than they started. It’s not just the youngsters like Thymara and Tats who finally grow up, it’s everyone. Sedric? Vastly improved. Alise? Of course her life has its ups and downs, but she’s got a great life now. Both of them are in fine relationships now, a real pleasure to see everything work out for them. Even poor Selden, who spent the previous books in a cage, on his way to being murdered, comes out on top at the last minute, with the help of an unexpected ally.

And, having learned from previous books, I skipped sections from bad-guy points of view. In fact, the only bit from Hest’s viewpoint I actually read — here’s an unimportant spoiler — is the bit where he makes a tiny mistake when talking to a dragon and gets eaten. At last. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

So, yeah. Nice to have this series finished off at last, and in such a satisfying way.

I can’t help but notice, here, that this is one of the few true modern epic fantasies I’ve read where nearly every character becomes a better, more competent character over the course of the story; where nearly everyone winds up in substantially improved circumstances by the end of the series; where the world itself might have changed — dragons! — but probably for the better.

It’s not that this series is saccharine. (Hah! Hardly.) Lots of grim stuff happens. But the overall direction of progress is in a positive direction, not in a grim descent into betrayal, murder, corruption, and horror. Of course this kind of positive tone may be more common than I think. I wouldn’t know, because I don’t read much epic fantasy these days. But honestly, the reason I started shying away from epic fantasy in recent years was because too much of it started to fall on the grimdark side of gritty. And Hobb’s dragon series isn’t like that. And I’m glad.

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