Book Review: Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb (book two of the Rain Wilds Chronicles)

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb art by Jackie Kay

Day the 5th of the Prayer Moon

I previously reviewed Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, and I advise you to read that one first! There are some spoilers in this review.

Well, I said I wanted to see what Robin Hobb was going to do, and I have¬†not been disappointed! Having warmed up to the characters during the first book, with this one I was able to dive right in. I was again struck by the richness of Robin Hobb’s worldbuilding. Her descriptive writing is skilled, nuanced and wonderful (I did have to do a bit of looking things up in the dictionary). Relationships and tensions that were laid out in the first book simmer, boil over, transform and deepen: Alise finally finds out that her husband (Hest Finbok, who is referred to in my head as idiot-man) was in fact having an affair with Sedric Melden, who was her best friend and Hest’s sort-of secretary…

What’s wonderful about this whole progression is that, although the feelings between Alise and Sedric are understandably complicated, they are able to salvage their friendship and somewhat bond over the fact that Hest has behaved manipulatively and awfully towards both of them. Watching these two characters heal from their treatment at the hands of idiot-man, and figure out how to do so while remaining friends, was wonderful. They also have both found lovers who treat them with the love and respect that they deserve, which lead to me yelling happily while I read.

Meanwhile, the dragons continue to be difficult, mysterious and joyful by turns. Thymara’s stubborn back wound persists, and Thymara persists in refusing to be part of the toxic machinations of Greft (idiot-man mark two). One of my favourite characters vanished really early on (swept away by a flood), which was rather upsetting. And everyone keeps heading up the river, slowly and laboriously and being changed by it…

Also, the letters between Detozi and Erek, the pigeonkeepers, start betraying something more than a professional relationship, and give us a glimpse into the havoc being caused by this expedition back in civilisation. A brilliantly engaging read.

Rating: read this book, curl up in the warmth and feel your wings grow and grow and grow…

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Book Review: Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb (book one of the Rain Wilds Chronicles)

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb art by Jackie Morris

Day the 2nd of the Plough Moon

This is the first book by Robin Hobb that I’ve ever read, and it was a treat! I am always a little suspicious of “high” fantasy (although we could be here all day trying to define exactly what counts), which is probably why it’s taken me so long to read anything by this author. However, I’m really enjoying her writing and she has a backlog of about thirty books! Hooray!

Now, as far as I can tell nearly all of Robin Hobb’s books are set in the same world, but they are handily grouped into quartets and trilogies so that it is possible to jump in as I have done. The advantage of this is that the world in this book felt very established. A lot of thought has clearly gone into the basics: geography, economy, politics and history. This is evident without being something that sidelines the plot: the world is just ticking over in the background, as worlds do. There are cities in the trees, political upheaval abroad, merchant towns and riverpeople, and they all merge and fit without having to try to be convincing. It’s also nice when fantasy writers have clearly thought about practicalities like, for instance, contraception. It makes me happy. And also, I like reading fantasy worlds that aren’t thinly-veiled Europe.

The point-of-view changes quite often, and was done in a way that was exciting rather than confusing. The characters themselves I found a bit tricky at times, but mostly I warmed to them. They’re all very much products of their world, which is again something that I like in fantasy. One of the point-of-view characters is actually a dragon, which was really fun! I did spend quite a bit of time yelling at some of the characters (cough Alise and Sedric cough), but only because I cared about them and I want them to be happy damnit! The cast was too big to mention everyone, so a quick favourites list: Thymara, a Rain Wilds girl who should have been killed at birth due to her scaly deformities, fiercely independent; Alise Kincarron, a scholar of dragons trapped in a loveless marriage; Rapskal, an endlessly cheerful Rain Wilds boy; Erik and Detozi, pigeon keepers of Bingtown and Cassarick respectively, who we only meet in letters; Tarman, a liveship; Sedric Meldar, something of a dandy…

The plot itself is rather slow moving, and it does not speed up. Indeed, this book finished just as I was really getting my teeth into it! That’s not to say that it was unenjoyable, just that it was steady and built over time. The writing is really lovely, and there are three more books in The Rain Wild Chronicles so I’m interested to see what Robin Hobb does with the foundation she’s built here.

Rating: Read this book, and imagine you are a great jeweled serpent gliding beneath the sea…

Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling

Kelsea Glynn sat very still, watching the troop approach her homestead.

I picked this up thinking “Oh this seems like a reasonably straightforward, returning sovereign type fantasy thing”. I was very happy to be proved wrong! It begins much in the ‘returning-sovereign-will-save-the-land’ vein, in a seemingly high fantasy world with the rightful heir to the throne (Kelsea Glynn) having been raised in a cottage in a wood somewhere by Carlin and Barty Glynn. A troop of soldiers arrive to take her to New London to be crowned, and then… Well, then everything flies wonderfully off the hook. Not so abruptly that it’s jarring; but we slowly realise that no, this is not a typical high fantasy story. It doesn’t actually look as though Kelsea is even going to make it as far as New London, let alone get crowned, because the Regent (her uncle) has formed an alliance with the Tearling’s scary neighbour (Mortmesne) and is sending assassins after her. There are killer hawks! There are guild assassins and bits of magic and a sort of highwayman bandit type who might be helpful.

Kelsea is also realising that she has been consistently lied to about, well, something… She does not know what. And that she is lacking a lot of experience and knowledge. And that her guards are lying to her as well. She’s a fantastically tenacious protagonist, who starts out with a good knowledge base but little experience and then learns really fast because it’s learn or die and Kelsea has decided that she’s not going to die before she even gets to her throne. The scene when she does finally get crowned is exhilarating and the story doesn’t end there!

The worldbuilding is also excellent – I could babble about it for hours. I’m going to avoid that though (because spoilers) and just say that it’s one of the most interesting fantasy set-ups I’ve seen in a while. The politics all weave together with the history and the brutality of feudal-ish lifestyles and the tension between the state and the church. Excellent, so excellent. A fantastic story about a new ruler coming into power, set against a brilliantly conceived world – I am eagerly waiting for the sequel to come back to the library.

Rating: read this book. Aim to be half as hardcore as Kelsea Glynn.