Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb | Unlikely heroes and the search for identity

Dragon Haven is the second (and last) part of The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb, and picks up where Dragon Keeper left off. Our group of unlikely heroes, ranging from outcasts and youth who are "heavily marked" by the Rain Wilds, to a Bingtown "dragon expert" and her secretary, are travelling up the Rain Wild River accompanying a group of illmade dragons to the mythical Elderling city of Kelsingra. No one has been this far up the Rain Wild River before, and the travelling is slow and full of hazards, not least from inside the group itself. Different members of the group have their own agendas, and the dragons are unpredictable at best.

In her later works, Hobb has become increasingly apt at using unlikely heroes as heroes in her books. What is problematic in Dragon Keeper, is that I'm not really sure who is the hero(s) here, if there are any. The story has several focalizors, and the reader often expects the focalizors to be heroes in the story. But most of them seem to be too enraptured in their own problems to stand up as a major hero in the story. The group is made up of "unwanted" people in their own society. Unwanted youth because of their physical differences to "normal" people. An unwanted wife and lover. Unwanted dragons. And the river barge Tarman with his crew. In the process of the journey they all have to struggle and work together to survive, and that seems to be Hobb's essential message. We can all be heroes, but we need each other. [Very unlike the highborn classical hero in The Farsees Trilogy and The Tawny Man trilogy.]

In their process of searching for Kelsingra, most of the characters (including the dragons), also look for a new identity from what has been imposed on them in Bingtown, Trehaug and Cassarick. This is expressed in a lot of different ways. For Thymara, a dragon keeper who was born with claws, her new-found independence becomes essential. She refuses even to bow to her dragon, Sintara, on the basis that she can see Sinatara for what she really is. For Sedric, the "Bingtown suave", events force him to stop setting himself apart from the rest of the group, and he unwittingly finds himself getting a close bond to one of the "slow" dragons. What is interesting here, is that when the so-called "slow" dragons grow a bond to a person, the dragon develops. Again Hobb's notion that we need each other. As people change and assert new identities, redemption is found for those who need/ask for it.

I'd say that Dragon Haven is the most romantic novel of Hobb's oevre. There's a lot of love here, of all kinds. Friendly love. Romantic love both gay and straight. Love of nature. Love of the self.

What I love about this book is that *finally* some of the mysteries of the Rain Wild River is revealed. I've loved this universe of Robin Hobb's, and I love the cross-references between the different series that take place in this world. Fitz from The Farseer Trilogy and The Tawny Man visited Kelsingra in Assassin's Quest, but the mysteries surrounding the place were not really revealed. The Elderlings Malta and Reyn along with the dragon Tintaglia from The Liveship Traders are mentioned, but do not make an entry in this book. On Hobb's website, she reveals that she is currently working on a book picking up where Dragon Haven leaves off (yay!). And where is that? Well, let's just say the story's most unlikely hero rises from the ranks and saves the day. This is probably also the neatest of Hobb's endings. Neat, while there's still plenty of mystery to leave my hungry for more.

No comments: