The Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb (review copy) - Guided by the dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpants fighting their way up the Rain Wild River, the first to make the perilous journey in generations.
For Thymara, a Rainwilder born with scales and claws, the return of dragons symbolises the return of hope to her 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 dragons.
But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the dragons of old. Soon, they become a danger to all: it is decided that they must be moved. Far upriver lies the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra. Perhaps there the dragons will find their true home.
However, if the dragons are to get there, a band of dragon keepers must be recruited to attend them. None are expected to return, or even survive, but Thymara is certain it is her destiny... From the blurb.
The Dragon Keeper is the first book in the fourth series set in the Realm of the Elderlings, the Rain Wild Chronicles. This series has been out for quite a while now, and knowing how the series can overlap at times, I knew I had to catch up before the next Fitz and Fool series is released. What a fantastic book it is!
The Dragon Keeper is narrated by Thymara, Leftrin, Alise, and one of the newly hatched dragons, Sintara in 3rd person. It's great to read about each of their lives, and how they interlink. Thymara is a Rainwilder, and so heavily marked by the Rain Wilds, she is an outcast among her own people. Rain Wilders are generally marked in some way - some scaling, some possible growths - but any child born too "deformed" is exposed - abandoned to be dealt with by the elements or the animals of the rain forest. Thymara, with her claws and fair amount of scales, should have been exposed at birth, but her father refused to let the midwife do it. She has always had a fascination with the dragons, so when the opportunity comes up to be a dragon keeper, she jumps at the chance. Being as heavily marked as she is, Thymara will not have much of a future. She is not allowed to get married or have children. She will be a burden on her parents her whole life, depending on them, because the other Rain Wilders are so prejudiced. Thymara sees becoming a dragon keeper as her chance to try and build a life for herself. Even if things don't work out, at least she would have tried.
Leftrin is the captain of trading barge, and trading is his life. All he knows - all he wants - is the Rain Wilds River, sailing up and down, buying and selling goods. However, when the chance to help guide the dragons to their new resting grounds arises, Leftrin knows he can earn a pretty pennyl. His liveship Tarman is the only vessel who has any chance of making it up the river, and the Traders Council at Cassarisk, where the dragons currently abide, needs his barge. So he can ask whatever he wants.
Alise Finbok is in a loveless and cruel marriage. The only things that gets her through the day are her scholarly pursuits to learn more about the dragons and the Elderlings. She buys scroll after scroll, translating where she can, making it her business to know everything there is to know. Her fascination becomes her lifeline, her means of temporary escape when her husband, Hest, finally agrees to stand by a stipulation in their marriage contract, that Alise will be able to go to Cassarisk to study the dragons in person.
Sintara is one of the dragons. With stunted, flimsy wings and a body that's not nearly as big as it should be, she is ashamed of herself and the other dragons. With her ancestral memories of what dragons of old were like, she knows something went wrong during their cocooning. Dragons were not meant to be land creatures, but beautiful beasts of the sky, going where they wished, eating what they wished, sleeping when they wished. But she and the others rely on the help of humans in almost every way as they cannot leave the ground. To creatures of pride and arrogance, it's a mean blow to live in such forms and rely on humans who are tiring of looking after them. When the dragons speak of convincing the humans to take them to Kelsingra, Sintara knows they must go. Better to try to find the mythical city of Kelsingra and attempt to become a true dragon, than to die in the mud.
I know what I've said above sounds like a lot, but it barely scratches the surface of what happens in this book. Thymara and Alise live such sad lives. The way the Rainwilders treat Thymara is absolutely disgusting. It really is unbelievable, the amount of discrimination they subject on those who have no control over their appearance. It's just so sad. Hest is... vile, monstrous, bullying, manipulative. He makes my blood boil, and poor Alise has to live with his treatment. It's just horrendous, and it scares me that she is so trapped in her marriage. It's just unbelievable.
Leftrin is a bit of a sneaky guy, but I can't help liking him. And when he and Alise meet, well. There's a lot of things I want to happen there. He might be a little rough around the edges, but at least he knows how to treat a lady, and he gives Alise the attention she deserves. They both feel things. I just hope they act on them.
Sintara and the other dragons are such interesting characters, because they have that ingrained arrogance that all dragons have; they are superior and entitled... and yet, they're not what they should be. It's fascinating to see the internal struggle of, "I am better than you, but I must rely on you to survive." Their arrogance is completely over the top, but it's a little heartbreaking to see the dragons so helpless. Despite their attitudes, I can't help but want things to get better for them. I do feel sorry for them.
I finished this book, and bought the second, Dragon Haven, online right away, and kept thinking about this book for days! It's just amazing! And I'm loving reading novels by Hobb that I've not read previously. Reminds me of what a fantastic author she is. So excited to read the second book!
Thank you to Harper Voyager for the review copy.
Published: 4th March 2010
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Robin Hobb's Website
My other reviews of books set in the Realm of the Elderlings:
The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince (A Farseer Prequel - Realm of the Elderlings)
The Farseer Trilogy (Realm of the Elderlings Series 1)
The Tawny Man Trilogy (Realm of the Elderlings Series 3)