The third book in the Rain Wilds Chronicles is a leisurely journey to nowhere, but its well-drawn characters and intriguing setting make it worth the trip.
Set, as are many of fantasy maven Hobb’s (Dragon Haven, 2010, etc.) novels, in the Realm of the Elderlings, the story picks up as a group of dragons and their human keepers are settling in near the ancient city of Kelsingra. Once inhabited by dragons and Elderlings, a race of humans transformed to be dragon companions, Kelsingra lies dormant, waiting to be rediscovered by the fledgling dragons, who are still learning to fly. The keepers deal with a range of interpersonal dramas, while down the river from Kelsingra, various factions conspire to exploit the dragons and their ancestral home for financial and political gain. Hobb takes time to explore numerous characters in her sprawling cast, and thus the plot moves at a very slow pace, even though there are several important discoveries. Anyone hoping for resolution or significant advancement from the story will be disappointed, but Hobb tempers that frustration by delving deeply into her characters’ lives, using the rigid customs of the fantasy world to explore universal ideas about social pressures and romantic longing. The author is especially adept at examining the roles of women, whether through nervous teenage dragon-keeper Thymara’s trying to balance two jealous suitors or Elderling Malta’s struggles to bring a child to term. Their dilemmas are specific to the world of the novel, but the real-life resonance gives the story extra depth. The resurgence of the dragon species is vital, but no more so than men and women figuring out how to relate to one another.
By the end, little has changed and few answers have been found, but the time spent with the characters never seems like a waste. Bring on the next installment.