Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles Book Two
(Spoilers for Dragon Keeper are below).
Sedric can't explain the mysterious changes happening to his body after he drank the blood of a dragon. Alise is fighting more than ever with Sedric and finding herself increasingly attracted to life away from Hest, and to Captain Leftrin, the Tarman's Captain. Unbeknownst to Alise, Captain Leftrin is being blackmailed by a Chalcedean who knows the secret of Tarman's unique guile and ability. Thymara is increasingly finding herself more and more isolated by the other keepers, and her relationship with her dragon Sintara continues to be a source of conflict. Amongst great personal angst, the Kelsingra expedition continues on in the vain hopes that the city will save them all.
Oh God! The melodrama.
Despite all the romantic hangups, and the very YA type atmosphere surrounding nearly every character in this story, Robin Hobb manages to throw in a lot of very adult perspectives on the nature of love and romance. Thymara, as inexperienced as she is, manages to keep her integrity in check and not succumb to the temptations of sex. The dangers of which, Hobb exploits in a sad and disturbing scene midway through. Yet Hobb never explicitly takes a pro-abstinence view, which of course reveals an all too familiar truth, relationships are complicated.
Leftrin and Alise's potential romance is one that I find less believable, or even interesting for that matter. Despite Alise's desperate marriage, I don't see her adjusting to such a hard life after passionately committing it to being a researcher and a scholar, and I don't see Leftrin being able to do anything but Captain a barge or keep up with Alise's academic pursuits. Sure love can work in strange ways, and maybe that's what Hobb is going for in a certain sense, but I don't buy into their compatibility. Their relationship feels more like a convenience for the plot than a relationship that grew organically.
Sedric being revealed as Hest's paramour allows Hobb to explore gay relationships in depth for the first time in her Elderling's world. Apart from Lord Golden's prank in Fool's Errand, the subject had barely been broached. Yet Sedric, despite his horrible betrayal of Alise, has one very important thing in common with her, and that is the abuse they've both suffered at the hands of Hest.
The other social issue that Hobb is exploring in greater depth is that of disability, both physical and mental. None of the dragon's in this expedition can fly, and some dragon's like Heeby, have serious mental deficiencies. The fact these dragons have these limitations makes this one of the most unique set of dragons I've ever encountered in any fantasy story. Rapskal is the only keeper who appears to have some sort of mental handicap, but his open awed and wondrous way of looking at the world makes you feel like he's seeing something in life that you are not.
Dragon Haven is essentially the second half of Dragon Keeper. Finishing with a much more conclusive ending, and resolving some of the key threads, while leaving some openings for the next two books in the series.