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Dragon Keeper: Volume One of the Rain Wilds Chronicles    by Robin Hobb order for
Dragon Keeper
by Robin Hobb
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robin Hobb (who has also written as Megan Lindholm) penned the brilliant Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man trilogies. As one of the fantasy masters, she has long been on my must read list, so I was thrilled to open Dragon Keeper, first in the Rain Wilds Chronicles.

I love what Hobb does to dragons in this new series. Just as caterpillars transform into butterflies, Hobb's dragons start as sea serpents. In the Rain Wilds Chronicles, Trader cities have negotiated help from the powerful dragon Tintaglia against their Chalcedean foes. All they have to do in exchange is assist Tintaglia's sea serpents in their migration up the toxic Rain Wild River to a hatching ground.

But this venture does not go as the great dragon hoped. Many serpents are lost en route and those few that survive - and ultimately hatch - are crippled and enfeebled examples of dragonkind, unable to fly, limited in their ancestral memories, and needing help from despised humans even to feed. When Tintaglia is distracted by finding a mate and disappears, the Traders are left with the growing problem of feeding the increasingly aggressive and unpredictable beasts.

Readers experience this from the point of view of one serpent/dragon in particular, Sisarqua/Sintara as she swims to the hatching ground and there coccoons into the same casing (wizardwood) that humans make into liveships. Other dragon parts are sought for their fabled healing powers, especially by the Chalced High Duke, whittled away by disease, who sends a merchant named Sinad to acquire them at any cost.

We are introduced to other key players. Riverman Leftrin finds a wizardwood log and uses it to enhance his own barge, the Tarman. Sixteen-year-old forest girl Thymara is a skilled huntress; her black claws mark her as a mutant who would have been disposed of at birth except for her father's intervention. Alise, a scholar fascinated by dragonkind, is manipulated into marriage to wealthy Trader Hest but unaware of his greater interest in his secretary (her friend) Sedric.

The deformed dragons become aware of their predicament, dream of a Dragon Haven in mythical Kelsingra, and decide to attempt the journey. Desperate to be rid of them and interested in the possibilities of Elderling treasures in Kelsingra, the Traders hire expendable Dragon keepers to accompany them, including Thymara and her friend Tats. Sedric and 'dragon expert' Alise end up on Leftrin's Tarman, making the same journey.

This first episode ends soon after the venture begins, with rising dissension amongst the Dragon keepers, who have each bonded with at least one dragon (Thymara with Sintara). The stage is set, the quest has begun, and I am very anxious to read more of the excellent and intriguing Rain Wilds Chronicles, to find out what transpires for both crippled dragons and unwanted humans.

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