This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

27 May, 2013

REVIEW: BLOOD OF DRAGONS

Cover art by Jackie Morris

BLOOD OF DRAGONS
BOOK FOUR OF THE RAIN WILD CHRONICLES
BY
ROBIN HOBB

ISBN: 978-0-00-744413-7
Pages: 535
Publisher: HarperVoyager UK
First published: 1 March 2013
This edition published: 14 March 2013

On the cover:

Dragons will fly over Kelsingra once more...
Dragon blood and scales, dragon liver and eyes and teeth. All required ingredients for medicines with near-miraculous healing powers. The legendary blue dragon Tintaglia is dying of wounds inflicted by hunters sent by the Duke of Chalced, who meanwhile preserves his dwindling life by consuming the blood of the dragon’s poet Selden Vestrit.

If Tintaglia perishes, her ancestral memories will die with her. And the dragons in the ancient city of Kelsingra will lose the secret knowledge they need to survive. Their keepers immerse themselves in the dangerously addictive memory-stone records of the city in the hope of recovering the Elderling magic that once allowed humans and dragons to co-exist. In doing so they risk losing their own identities, even their lives.

And danger threatens from beyond the city, too. For war is coming: war between dragonkind and those who would destroy them.

    This novel is really the end of a long journey, one that begun in Ship of Magic , the first book of the Liveship Traders Trilogy, continued in The Tawny Man trilogy, to end here with the fourth book in The Rain Wild Chronicles. It is the story of the return of dragons to the Realm of the Elderlings, the story of the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.

   Dragon lore has been an important part of The Rain Wild Chronicles, in some ways it can be said to be the central theme of the quartet of books. We really learn a lot more about how dragons work in Hobb's world here, and much more about how they relate to the Elderlings. It's really a testament to Hobb's writing abilities that there is so much information being divulged in this book without there ever being parts that are info-dumping.
   The dragon lore is integrated in the story, and is very much a part of it. At times it's also something that adds tension and suspense. Hobb also manages to give the dragons a natural lace in the world, they don't feel like they are a beast that is inserted into a more realistic setting. They are a part of the setting and when it comes to the story of this quartet they actually add much to the worldbuilding as a whole.

   Worldbuilding is an important part of not just this novel but the whole of The Rain Wild Chronicles, although a more correct term would be society building. Throughout the story we have seen the characters grow from a group of outcasts into a whole new society, one that is integrated with the dragons and will undoubtedly play an important part in the world Hobb has created.
   All of this culminates in this novel. This is where we get (most of) the answers to what all that has gone before really means, all the while getting some glimpses that raises questions of what this will mean for the future.
   Hobb has managed to make all this an organic experience, a growth that blooms here at the end of this part of the story. And there is more layers to this than just the immediate one that the story of the dragon keepers suggests. We get to see how this all links back to the Elderlings, a lost people that has left traces that can be seen throughout Hobb's world.
   My interest in history meant that the discovery of what was before became as much of a joy to me as the present history of the setting. But the history doesn't intrude, it is intertwined with what happens in the present of the story and adds a lot to what is happening in the now.

   The characters experience a lot of growth and discovery in this book, the non-humans as well as the humans. Hobb has always been good at creating characters that are easy to get attached to. And spending as much time as I have with the characters of  The Rain Wild Chronicles as I have through these four novels, I have really gotten to know them. It is a fulfilling experience to see them come to the end of this stage of their journey in this book.
   These are really the most diverse cast of any of Hobb's books set in the Realm of the Elderlings. The dragons of course add to this, they are certainly an important part of the cast, but the others are also a diverse group that will make it easy for the reader to feel a connection to at the very least one of them. That they all have different personalities and personal journeys makes me confident when making the claim that this is the best cast Hobb has created for her four Realm of the Elderlings stories.
   I also feel the need to mention that those that want female characters in their Epic Fantasy will find several of them here.

   It is impossible to evaluate the story of this book in total isolation, as it is book four of a quartet. But not having read any of the preceding books since City of Dragons was published a year ago I can say with confidence that this is a novel that in itself offers a great deal to the reader. There is a lot of things happening here, we have three main storylines that are connected, and the smaller "bonus" story of the Rain Wild birdkeepers that has been running in the background.
   The main stories are of course connected and here they really come together to full effect, as the novel progresses the level of tension grows towards the crescendo of them meeting. Hobb does a very good job in letting these three storylines develop their own internal drama, and really shows off her storytelling prowess when she finally lets them come together. And although the one story who is set outside of the Rain Wilds does feel a little bit of a side trip at times, it becomes clear by the end of the novel that in the long run it may have almost as great an impact on the overall story of the Realm of the Elderlings.
   This is really one of those Epic Fantasy novels that is truly hard to put down. Once the beginning has settled you in to what is happening it keeps building all the time, and the urge to see what happens in the next chapter becomes greater and greater.
   The ending is a bit bittersweet. It is a very nice ending to this part of the story, but you realise that this is just the end of the beginning. I don't know what plans Hobb has for future stories, but the story of Kelsingra has just started and I hope we get to revisit it in the future. -And that is a great feeling to be left with after four good sized books.

   This is really a book that has it all. The worldbuilding is excellent, the characters are a joy to follow, and the story itself is a thoroughly immersive journey into an Epic Fantasy world.
   Fans of Robin Hobb, and of dragons, should be utterly satisfied with both this book and The Rain Wild Chronicles as a whole. And this is really something that every fan of Epic Fantasy should do themselves the favour of reading.

More Robin Hobb reviews, including for the first three books in The Rain Wild Chronicles, can be found here.

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