Dragon Haven (Rain Wilds Chronicles #2)
by Robin Hobb
Fifteen dragons have set off on a dangerous trek up the Rain Wild River, in hopes of rediscovering their lost haven, the ancient city of Kelsingra. Accompanying them are a disparate group of rejects from Rain Wild society, including strong and defiant young Thymara; wealthy dragon scholar and Trader's wife Alise; and her companion, the urbane Sedric. These human keepers yearn also to create a new home where they can decide their own fate. But is Kelsingra real or merely a fragment of a glorified past buried deep in the dragons' shared memories? (from the back cover)
In a word (or three): unputdownable. Earthy. Realistic. Robin Hobb is very good at writing about the nitty-gritty details of the messiness that is life in what could otherwise be portrayed as a fantastical adventure. There is no flowery language (except in flattering the dragons, of course) or romanticizing the situation or glossing over the uncomfortable bits.
I love it.
No one has ridiculous abilities (i.e. epic survival skills even though they've only been hunting a few times . . . ), and the day-to-day realities fill almost everyone's minds. Survival is first priority; completing the mission, second. They're not even sure if what they seek, the fabled Kelsingra, still exists. Maybe it never existed to begin with.
Disagreements and squabbles erupt over all sizes of matters. The humans complain and struggle--if only in their minds--as humans do. And no one, human or dragon, is immune to injury, disease, or death. Did I mention that life is messy?
Speaking of messy, Dragon Haven takes place in a rainforest (the Rain Wilds), which is awesome. Lots of BIG trees. But also very, very wet--think marshy, boggy, parasite-infested, acidic . . . ew.
I really enjoyed watching the dragons grow and mature and interact with each other and their keepers. We even get a fascinating glimpse into their minds via Sintara's unique perspective as one of several POV characters. Her keeper, Thymara, is a beautifully independent young woman, simultaneously wanting to be alone and struggling to fit in. She also has a wonderful sense of personal morals and a strong will to stick to them--something that she shares with Alise, the expedition's "dragon expert."
Sedric, who joined the group with Alise and fills the role of aloof city-slicker, also has a fascinating perspective. Though outwardly quite shallow, he has a complicated past and an even more tangled present. I loved watching his character develop.
I could go on and on about the characters, but for brevity's sake (and remaining spoiler-free), I'll end with Rapskal. The keeper of Heeby, he is simultaneously annoying and endearing. Innocent. Loyal. I wanted him to drop off the face of the earth in book one, but I grew to like him in this novel.
Dragon Haven does contain some mature content. There are a lot of romantic subplots--almost too many--and few people on this journey are very subtle or terribly shy when it comes to romantic relationships, nor do they have much self-control. Although several scenes fade out, others continue into the bedroom. Nothing steamy, but possibly more than you really want to read.
The final 20-ish pages feel rushed, and the ending a bit too neatly wrapped up. However, Robin Hobb does leave plenty of questions for future books.
If you haven't read Dragon Keeper, book one in The Rain Wilds Chronicles, check out my review here!