Blood of Dragons: RAIN WILDS needs a director’s cut

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBlood of Dragons by Robin HobbBlood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

Way back in a review of the second book (Dragon Haven) in Robin Hobb’s RAIN WILDS series, I wrote “I’ve begun to wonder over the course of Hobb’s recent books if she is exploring just how much plot she needs in her novels to actually have a ‘story.’ It’s almost as if she’s feeling her way to as quiet and minimalist a style (in terms of action, not language) as possible.” Now, two books later, with Blood of Dragons, the tetralogy has come to a close and I’d say the question still pertains. While normally a fan of Hobb’s character-driven and slower-paced style, I have to confess that this series was a little uneven for me, and its finale a bit too slow with characters who didn’t quite hold my interest enough.

Blood of Dragons picks up where its predecessor ends, with the Elderlings and dragons just outside the rediscovered city of Kelsingera, where the two once lived ages ago amidst wonders of magic. We left this group (made up of Alise, Tats, Thymara, and others) when only a few dragons had learned to fly, and in Blood, the rest quickly pick up the knack and soon everyone has moved into the city, raising a host of issues: the humans must deal with the effects of “memory stone” (the way one can become one with the past lives of the city’s inhabitants), the dragons and their keepers have to readjust to more self-sufficient dragons, the city must be made livable for the long-term, and a search must be made for “Silver,” the mysterious substance that was the lifeblood (literally) of the city and its human/dragon inhabitants. Meanwhile, the city is quickly losing its isolation, as Alise’s vindictive husband Hest, a Chalcedean assassin seeking dragons for his Duke to feed off on, and a gravely wounded Tintaglia, Queen of Dragons, all slowly approach. And off in Chalced itself, Selden finds himself in dire straits, though perhaps with an unlikely ally.

According to Hobb, these novels grew in the writing, with stories planned for one book twice being split into two. I have to say, I’m not sure the original plan wouldn’t have been best; between a first book (Dragon Keeper) being mostly set-up and a third book (City of Dragons) suffering from being overly-long and a bit predictable, by the time we arrive here at Blood of Dragons, things are already feeling stretched out and the novel doesn’t do much to dissuade the reader of that feeling.

This sense centered as much on character relationships as on plot. The triangle of Thymara, Rapskal, and Tats has dragged on far too long for my liking, and much of the conversation and internal monologues surrounding it became overly repetitive. As this is perhaps the central relationship, or at least the one given the most page time, it drags the entire novel down. The same sense of been-there done-that is true of the push-prod relationships between the dragons and their keepers. Meanwhile, relationships that once engaged due to underlying tensions or suspense, such as those between Alise and Leftrin, or Carson and Sedrick, are by now settled and thus less interesting. When plot points arise that could act as flashpoints, such as Hest’s arrival or the growing teen rebelliousness of Carson’s nephew, they’re given short shrift, often handled in a matter of a few paragraphs.

Selden’s sojourn in Chalced feels wholly disconnected and somewhat perfunctory, and, as with many of the other plotlines, moves in mostly predictable fashion. I can’t say I was particularly surprised by any of the events in the novel; it all seemed to progress down paths one could have drawn out from the very start. Given more dynamic or interesting characters, that wouldn’t have been an insurmountable problem, but in combination with the repetitive nature of the character relationships, it means we end up with a novel that moves very slowly toward an end, or several ends, we could pretty much see coming. One of those endings, how the dragons deal with Chalced’s attempts to harvest dragonflesh, ends very abruptly and almost off-screen in the minimal way it is described. I think this is further evidence of Hobb’s greater interest in people than in plot (or at least, “action”).

One of the aspects I did really find intriguing is the characterization of the dragons themselves. Dragons in fantasy novels are often presented as fully in harmony with humans (think Pern) or as fearsome, wily beasts to be wary of as they love to trick humans or hoard their gold (think Smaug), but in nearly all cases as creatures/beings who move within a human world — acting and reacting within human strictures, human rules, human actions. But Hobb takes a real risk in giving us dragons that are in many ways wholly removed from humankind. Not literally; these dragons want their keepers after all, to groom them and find them Silver, and so on. But these dragons move by their own rules, and this often confounds the humans in Blood of Dragons, who cannot understand “why the dragon does this” or “how it could do that.”

In the end, my attention flagged at several points in the novel and I can’t say I was all that enthusiastic about picking up the novel any of the times I had put it down. There is absolutely a wonderful story in the RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES, but it is stretched out over too long a span, and Blood of Dragons suffers from that throughout. Sometimes first instincts are the right ones, and I think Hobb would have been better served to keep to her original plans in terms of length. (I’d love to see a “director’s cut” that reduced the series by a third or so.)

Release date: April 9, 2013 | Series: Rain Wilds Chronicles (Book 4). The final volume in Robin Hobb’s popular Rain Wilds fantasy series, Blood of Dragons completes the story of the dragons, their keepers, and their quest to find the lost city of Kelsingra — and the mythical silver wells that the dragons need to survive. Can Tintaglia and the Elderlings unlock the secrets of the ancient city? Or are they doomed to extinction? The world of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wilds series has been praised by Booklist as “one of the most gripping settings in modern fantasy,” and Publishers Weekly called the Rain Wilds books “a meticulously realized fantasy tale” and “a welcome addition to contemporary dragon lore.”

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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