I swear that not every literary post of mine will be about Robin Hobb (Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies). As an author, Hobb’s work usually hits me like a can of Pringles, nothing too surprising and I could consume it all day until I got a stomach ache. Her books are safe, entertaining reads that fill the spaces between stranger novels and endeavors. But her latest books which are out on supermarket shelves, Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven, deserve mention, and not exactly for their merits as fantasy novels.
As far as plot goes, it almost feels like the author has copied and pasted the bones of her previous Liveship series into a new book. Her old story featured a cunning young woman from a down-on-their-luck merchant family, thrust out to sea in search of adventure and riches, to later fall in love with the brash first-mate turned sea captain. One of the two main characters in Rain Wild Chronicles is a clever young woman from a down-on-their-luck merchant family, thrust up the Rain Wilds River in search of adventure, knowledge, and the riches of the Elders. She later falls in love with the brash riverboat captain, and in this go-around she’s a scholar with red hair instead of black.
Dragons don’t fly, they hobble.
Dragon Keeper picks up where the Liveship adventures left off. We’re briefly shown the hatching of the dragons who will encompass the plot, and are introduced to a few of the motley crew escorting them. The dragons themselves are all stunted, disfigured, or retarded due to early births and late cocooning as serpents. Their keepers are no better, having been dredged from the bottom of a population keenly affected by magical deformities. The effect is something like a dragon tale acted out by a circus sideshow. And herein lies the interesting message of this adventure.
Early in the story, almost as soon as the party of adolescent mutants leave civilization with their dragons to seek a better home, the boys and girls start pairing off like rabbits. They firmly thrust aside society’s old rules about ‘heavily altered’ children not producing offspring, and begin to make up their own rules. One of these girls, Thymara, argues vehemently about considering consequences and planning ahead; not exactly spouting abstinence, but simply keeping one’s options open and avoiding children until one is financially ready.
I’ve rarely read a fantasy novel in which planned parenthood is an open topic, sprinkled in between scenes of dragons fighting and assassination plots. Thymara turns out to be one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve ever encountered in a book, and Hobb manages to carry several romances between the other characters, for better or for worse. One of these romances culminates into a miscarried, mutated fetus being fed to a dragon. Somehow it didn’t seem unbelievable at the time.
Dragons on Welfare:
Anyone too poor, too stupid, or too genetically debilitated to procreate should have their children fed to dragons. And that’s not the author’s message, that’s mine. Robin Hobb is much more gracious and subtle about the points she makes.
Would I recommend the Rain Wild Chronicles to fantasy readers? Absolutely. And this is the last I’ll comment on Hobb’s books, unless she writes about another topic I hold as dearly as wise parenting choices. Like ninjas or saltwater taffy.