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Dragon Keeper: Volume One of the Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb
Cover Artist: Steve Stone
Review by Mel Jacob
Eos Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061561627
Date: 01 February 2010 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Set in the same world as Robin Hobb's acclaimed trilogies The Tawny Man and The Liveship Traders, the Dragon Keeper begins with the sea serpents that have, like salmon, migrated upriver to begin their transition to dragon form. Old and exhausted by the long journey, many die on the way. Those left must form cases to protect themselves from the oncoming winter so they can transform into dragons. Age has sapped the serpents' strength, and the migration has been left late leaving them little time to create their cases. The cause of these events is never explained.

The world has long been without dragons, and they are known mainly from legends and scrolls that survived from the time of the long lost Elderlings. One dragon, Tintaglia, makes a sudden appearance. She forges a treaty with Trader humans to care for and protect the serpents during their transformation and after when they emerge as dragonsthe next summer. In return she will defend the Traders from the encroaching Chalcedeans.

When the dragons hatch, they are weak and deformed. After five years caring for the dragons, the humans find the burden of feeding their voracious appetites too much and seek a way to get rid of the dragons. The dragons carry ancestral memories of a fabled city of Elderlings and dragons. They plant hints among humans of the fabulous city and its treasures. Only the dragons know where to go although even they have no precise idea where the city lies.

The Rain Wilds, primarily a rain forest with marshes, bogs, and meandering streams, makes travel except by boat difficult. Inhabitants live in large trees above the bogs and houses hang from branches. The humans living there have changed and when children are born who appear with the markings of lizards or other creatures, the parents either kill or expose them. Some youngsters as they age show similar traits and most inhabitants are marked in some way.

The novel traces the lives of the dragons and the people with whom they interact. Their keepers assigned to care for them on their journey consist mainly of misfits who survived birth. Now free of a society that detests them, the keepers struggle to find new ways of relating to others. Hunters accompany them to feed the dragons.

Other humans on the journey to the fabled Elderling city include Alise Kincarron Finbok, a woman who has devoted her life to studying the dragons and the Elderling, Leftin, captain of the livebarge Tarman, and Sedric, secretary to Alise's husband the Trader Hest Finbok. In many ways the novel presents a microcosm of human relationships. Alise is caught in a loveless marriage, Leftin becomes infatuated with her, and Sedric takes his duties to his employer to heart, but also wants to gain booty to give him independence.

The Rain Wilds Chronicles is intended as a two book series. The next, Dragon Haven, is to be released in May 2010. Dragon Keeper ends without conclusion. Fans of Hobb will line up for the next novel.

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