Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb - WARNING! I cannot review this book without spoiling the others in the series. Read no further if you're planning on reading this series and don't want it spoilt for you.
The dragon keepers and the fledgling dragons are forging a passage through the uncharted and treacherous waters of the Rain Wild River, supported by the liveship Tarman, its captain, Leftrin, and Alise Finbok, who has escaped her cruel marriage in Bingtown. They are searching for the mythical city of Kelsingra, hoping to find a safe haven away from the society that has rejected them.
When a vial of dragon blood can earn a man enough gold to last a lifetime, there may be some in the party who see the growing dragons as more valuable as body parts than whole and alive. But it is the Rain Wilds themselves - mysterious, unstable and ever perilous - that may provide the deadliest danger, one that will push them all to the very brink of survival. From the blurb.
Although I really enjoyed Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, it took me quite a while to pick up Dragon Haven. Now, I seriously wished I had picked it up sooner, because it was so good!
The dragons, their keepers, the liveship Tarman and his crew are making their way up the Rain Wilds River to look for the long-ago lost city of Kelsingra. The dragons remember Kelsingra, a place that was once home to Elderlings, a place built to welcome and accommodate the dragons they loved. It's the only place these dragons will find any hope of room and some kind of independence. But it is a perilous journey, with discord among the keepers, with some on board the Tarman wanting to steal dragon parts to sell, with Tarman starting to make his awareness and opinions known. But the worse danger comes from their very environment. When an earthquake causes the Rain Wild River to flood, bringing a huge wave of acid down on the company, human and dragon are scattered in its wake, either lost or dead.
I enjoyed Dragon Haven so much more than I did Dragon Keeper, and I thought that was pretty awesome! All of the characters are together now, for the most part, so the narrators are not here, there and everywhere, seeming unconnected, like for most of Dragon Keeper. As they are all together, the overall story is coming together, and my interest grew, as they interact with each other, seeing the subplots of the various characters interconnect. However, having multiple narrations, we can see that some of the assumptions of the characters about others thoughts and intentions are often wrong, and misjudging is taking place. With the third person narrations, we get into the heads of most of the important characters, so we know the truth, meaning sometimes other characters assumptions are annoying. Alise can be naive about her "good friend" Sedric, yet Sedric himself is too suspicious and judgemental of others, especially Captain Leftrin.
With Thymara's narration, Dragon Haven is almost like YA. Thymara is one of the teenage dragon keepers, and the group of keepers for the most part keep to themselves, are almost separate from the crew on Tarman. The various teenage keepers feel like characters from a YA novel, and their subplot, although different from anything I've read in YA so far because of the world they live and the situation they find themselves in, still feels familiar. Being the teenagers of Trehaug heavily "touched" (read: deformed) by the Rain Wilds, they have been sent to be the dragon keepers. At home, they were on the receiving end of bullying for their scales and growths, and there were rules about what they could, or rather, couldn't do. Getting married and having children being the main one. "Mating" is completely out of the question. But there are some among the keepers who feel they can now make their own rules now they're away from Trehaug with no-one to tell them what to do. Being one of very few females in the group, Thymara is on the receiving end of a lot of unwanted attention, and has to deal with Greft, the self-appointed leader of the keepers, telling her she has to one of them to prevent fighting among the boys. It's a difficult situation to be in, and a lot of pressure to be under, especially when she feels the rules are in place for a reason
I love the LGBTQ subplot in this story! It was possibly spoilery to discuss in my review of Dragon Keeper, seeing as the gay relationship, if it can be called that, was between Sedric and Alise's husband, Hest, but it's fine to do so now. Hest is such a disgusting man, and treats both Alise and Sedric awfully, but Alise is stuck by her marriage vows, the contract she made, even being so far away and having developed reciprocated feelings for Leftrin, and Sedric is blinded by love. It's awful to see the things Sedric will do, how he'll betray his old friend Alise in so many ways, how he'll plot and scheme, just so he can be with someone in the end who feels nothing for him. Sedric's storyline in Dragon Haven is one of the ones I was so interested in, because so much happens to him. I really didn't like him in Dragon Keeper, but I think by City of Dragons, the third book, I might be a fan of him.
Before each chapter, there are notes that are sent by bird from Bingtown to Trehaug and vice versa. These are so cute and such a good idea! Not only do the notes give us a sense of time that's passing, with the date, but they also give us a rough idea of what's happening in Bingtown and Trehaug in the company's absence - including, in some, the reactions of Hest, Alise's family and Sedric's family over how long they have been away without news, and wanting to know where they are and what's happened to them. Also, the two keepers of the birds at each town, Detozi at Trehaug and Erek at Bingtown, send their own notes to each other along with those they are asked to send. Most of their notes are about various bird breeds and the speeds at which they deliver, but as the book goes on, they form a friendship through their notes to each other. I didn't think much of the notes in the first book as there didn't seem much point to them, no real connection to the story, but as Dragon Haven has gone on, I've been intrigued by their friendship, too, wanting to know how they were doing, and how they were affected by the flood and the quake.
Dragon Haven is such an awesome book! I enjoyed it so much, I've already bought the third book, City of Dragons, and I can't wait for it to arrive so I can dive right back in!
Published: 1st March 2011
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Robin Hobb's Website
My other reviews from the series:
The Dragon Keeper (The Rain Wild Chronicles Book 1)