City of Dragons: Slower and less action-oriented

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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.

THE FARSEER SAGA — (1995-2013) Words Like Coins is a short e-story published in 2012. The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince is a related prequel novella published in 2013. Publisher: Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill — and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is  growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.

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LIVESHIP TRADERS –(1998-2000) Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships — rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia. For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her — a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence. But the fate of the Vestrit family — and the ship — may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles… and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will…

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TAWNY MAN — (2001-2003) For fifteen years FitzChivalry Farseer has lived in self-imposed exile, assumed to be dead by almost all who once cared about him. But that is about to change when destiny seeks him once again. Prince Dutiful, the young heir to the Farseer throne, has vanished and FitzChivalry, possessed of magical skills both royal and profane, is the only one who can retrieve him in time for his betrothal ceremony — thus sparing the Six Duchies profound political embarrassment… or worse. But even Fitz does not suspect the web of treachery that awaits him or how his loyalties to his Queen, his partner, and those who share his magic will be tested to The breaking point.

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THE RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES — (2010-2012) Publisher: Guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpents fighting their way up the Rain Wilds River, the first to make the perilous journey to the cocooning grounds in generations. Many have died along the way. With its acid waters and impenetrable forest, it is a hard place for any to survive. People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other aberrations, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the return of dragons: it is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching; as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life’s work to study all there is to know of dragons. But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly; some seem witless and bestial. Soon, they become a danger and a burden to the Rain Wilders: something must be done. The dragons claim an ancestral memory of a fabled Elderling city far upriver: perhaps there the dragons will find their true home. But Kelsingra appears on no maps and they cannot get there on their own: a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them. To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job: their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils on the journey to a city which may not even exist…

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FITZ AND THE FOOL — (2014- ) Publisher: FitzChivalry — royal bastard and former king’s assassin — has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire. Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past… and his future. Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one….

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFool's Quest: Book II of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy     Fitz and The Fool: Coloring Book Paperback – May 10, 2018 by Robin Hobb (Author), Manuel Preitano (Illustrator)


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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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