Book Review: City of Dragons by Robin Hobb
This is the third book of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles series and unfortunately also my least favorite installment so far. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, but I’m also sensing a definite slowdown compared to the first couple of novels (see my review of Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven).
The book picks up from where we last left our group of dragons, their keepers and their crew. After overcoming the dangers of the Rain Wild River, the expedition has finally found the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra. And yet, due to the eruptions and bad flooding, the city can only be reached by flying — a problem, as despite growing bigger and stronger since the start of their journey, many of the dragons’ wings are still stunted, deformed and non-functioning. So close and yet so far!
And so, we watch as the characters spend much of their time in the book doing…not much of anything. About a quarter of the book blows by before I felt the story picking up, like something interesting was actually happening. It was definitely a slow start, lots of setting up and reintroductions to characters and past events to get the reader up to speed.
I’m notoriously forgetful of things that happened in previous books in a series (especially if it’s been a while) so normally I would appreciate it when the author throws in the casual reminder here or there. But that left the remainder three-quarters of this book to blow me away, and honestly, it just didn’t. I still enjoyed it, nonetheless…but the truth is I would have enjoyed it even more if it didn’t feel so much like a “transition book”, i.e. filler.
There were some high points, of course. I liked that we finally got to see more of Hest and his perspective, despite the fact that he’s a scumbag of a human being, but it was a nice change from our constant focus on the river and the dragons. And let’s face it, sometimes it’s the scumbags’ perspectives that are the most interesting to read about! There were also large sections featuring Reyn and Malta who are starting to get more attention in this series, though I think I would have been more excited about that if I’d read some of the previous books in Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings universe in which they also appear.
There continues to be interesting and dynamic developments in the relationships between the characters. Couples are pairing off, people are sleeping around, jealousy abounds, etc. etc. etc. More secrets are uncovered about Elderlings and Kelsingra. The dragons and their keepers are all growing and moving forward as characters go. All that’s great, because it means there’s still a point to this novel. But still, I can’t help but feel that the book lacks a certain direction.
And the ending! I’m not sure what to make of that. Let me go on the record to say that I think Robin Hobb is a great writer and that I love her style, but there really doesn’t seem to be much logic when it comes to where and how she ends her books. This one was abrupt, but not not exactly a cliffhanger. It makes me wonder if this book and the fourth and final book in the series were meant to be read as one, but then split into two for whatever reason. That could also explain its relatively short length. In any case, I did not expect the book to end this way, limply dangling in the breeze like that.
Regardless, I have one more book to go in this Rain Wild Chronicles series and I’m looking forward to see how it all ends.