City of Dragons: Slower and less action-oriented

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Robin Hobb The Rain Wild Chronicles 2. Dragon HavenCity of Dragons by Robin Hobb

City of Dragons is the third volume in Robin Hobb’s RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES, set in the same universe as many of her other books. In my review of Dragon Haven 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.’ There is a lot of action in her earlier books, such as the FARSEER TRILOGY (and subsequent TAWNY MAN books) and her LIVESHIP TRADERS group. Then, in the SOLDIER SON TRILOGY, there is almost none; it is primarily a slow study in character and culture (or culture clash). THE RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES seems to be a middle ground between the two. 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.” In the end, I thought Dragon Haven rewarded the reader despite its lack of “action” and its slow pace. City of Dragons is, if anything, slower and less action-oriented until the very end. I’d also argue that it is overall less successful, though it did hold my interest for most of its length.

At the end of Volume Two, the group of Rain Wilders and stunted dragons had found the ancient Elderling city of Kelsingera. Now it sits across a powerful river, tantalizingly close but seemingly out of reach since none of the dragons save one is able to fly. Winter is on its way and it is becoming difficult to find enough food for the dragons. The human keepers, slowly changing due to their contact with the dragons, are cold and hungry and trying to fend off misery while they try to prepare for a lengthy stay. Meanwhile, Captain Leftrin of the liveship Tarman is returning to the Rain Wilds to settle accounts with the Trading Council that sent the expedition up the river. Waiting there, though, are agents of the Chalcedean Duke, willing to do anything for the blood and flesh of dragons that they believe will heal their dying ruler. Also awaiting news of the expedition is Alise’s ambitious and domineering husband Hest.

As mentioned, there is little traditional action in City of Dragons. The book mostly focuses on the relationships between several characters, especially Carson and Sedric, Alise and Leftrin, and Thymara, Tats, and Rapskal. It also focuses on their personal growth, especially that of Thymara, Rapskal, and several of the dragons. The action picks up in pace and force toward the end as the Chalcedean agents make their moves, but this is much more a character-driven story rather than a plot-driven one.

The character development, though, is relatively slow and relatively small in terms of movement. And not particularly surprising. For those reasons, City of Dragons feels a bit overlong and even at times superfluous as a separate work in terms of plot movement, considering where we begin and where we end. It therefore suffers from the “bridge book” problem that plagues many trilogies. My attention did wander now and then in the middle of the book, especially in those areas that seemed repetitive, either because they were recapping events from earlier books or restating elements we’d seen earlier in this book, which happened more often than one would have expected from a Hobb novel.

If Hobb is, as I said, feeling her war to that “quiet, minimalist” style, I’d say City of Dragons, though well written with fully drawn characters and smooth, precise prose, is a step backward, or maybe a half-step. It may be a necessary read for the series — though even that I’m not so sure of — but it’s not as rewarding a read as the others. Recommended with caveats.

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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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