When she first intended to write a book about dragons set in the Rain Wilds, the original manuscript Robin Hobb turned in was too long to be published as a single novel. Hence, the story was split into Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven.
A while back, the author informed us that the same thing had happened, forcing her publishers to once again split the story into two halves, City of Dragons and Blood of Dragons. Problem is, given the relatively small size of City of Dragons, unless Blood of Dragons is a veritable doorstopper of a novel similar to works from Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, and Steven Erikson, it does appear that Harper Voyager is sticking it to readers by forcing them two buy two volumes instead of one. And you know how I feel about the proliferation of unnecessary sequels to string readers along. . .
Here's the blurb:
Return to the world of the Liveships Traders and journey along the Rain Wild River in the third instalment of high adventure from the author of the internationally acclaimed Farseer trilogy.
Kelsingra awaits for those brave enough to enter…
The dragons and their keepers have discovered Kelsingra but so far only Heeby has succeeded in flying over the river to enter the fabled city. The other dragons, with their deformed wings and feeble muscles, are afraid to risk failure and humiliation.
But wondrous things await in Kelsingra, a city built for dragons and their Elderling keepers. Alise, overwhelmed by the treasures she finds there, records her finds for posterity. Once the rest of the world knows about the riches the city contains, nothing will ever be the same again.
Already, rumours of the city’s discovery have floated down the Rain Wild River and reached envious ears in Bingtown and beyond. Adventurers, pirates and fortune hunters are coming in droves to pillage what they can from the city. As is Hest Finbok, Alise’s husband…
Meanwhile, Selden Vestrit finds himself a prisoner of the ailing Duke of Chalced, who believes him to be some sort of dragon-man whose flesh and blood may work miracle cures.
Where is Tintaglia, the great sapphire-blue dragon, when all have such need of her? Has she really abandoned her beloved Selden and the fledgling dragons forever? Or will she too return to seek the wonders of Kelsingra?
As was the case with the last Rain Wilds novel, the worldbuilding was the most fascinating aspect of City of Dragons. Once again, we get more insight into the lives of dragons, Elderlings and their secrets, and the Rain Wilds in general. Revelations about Kelsingra were engrossing, giving us a few glimpses about the past lives of dragons and Elderlings.
As is usually her wont, Hobb's characterization remains her strong suit. The emancipation of women and society's acceptance of gay people are once again themes that lie at the heart of the tale, as was the one focusing on how individuals shunned by society strive to find their own place in the world. Thymara, Alise, and Sedric take center stage once more, but the storylines also focus on other characters. Leftrin's return to Cassarick brings a number of new plotlines to the fore, many of them quite surprising. Malta and Reyn Khuprus' storyline was the most unanticipated and most interesting. Selden's plotline is also quite intriguing. All in all, Robin Hobb takes this story in new and unforeseen directions.
The pace is fluid throughout, and all too quickly one reaches the end of the book. Trouble is, as this is only the first half of what was a single manuscript, there is no resolution whatsoever and the end lacks the usual Robin Hobb punch. The novel is brought to a close at the point where it probably made the most sense, but the reading experience fails to generate any satisfaction. Hence, one can't help but feel a bit disappointed by it all.
City of Dragons doesn't feel like a novel in the true sense of the word. Indeed, it feels more like a single piece in a multilayered whole. As was the case with the last two Rain Wilds installments, until we read the entire story, it's impossible to judge the inherent quality of this work on its own merit. Too much remains missing. . .
Which is too bad, for based on City of Dragons, Hobb's latest manuscript appears to be her very best work since Fool's Fate. . .