Tuesday, August 10, 2010

[Lisa’s Take] Rainwilds Book 2: Dragon Haven (Robin Hobb)

I was pretty unimpressed with the first book in this two book series, but as I predicted in that review I still buckled and picked up the second book. I’m a sucker for Robin Hobb; what can I say.

Dragon Haven picks up immediately where Dragon Keeper left off – a few folks have told me that the abrupt ending to Keeper was because the two books were supposed to be a single volume, but the publisher snipped it in half at the last minute. The result was an extremely jarring end to book 1, and a weirdly paced beginning to book 2. As a reader you kind of just get dumped in the middle of everything with no ramp up… and not in the good way (where the good way is to the tune of: “OMG the middle of a sword fight! What could possibly be going on!?”). Much like book 1 ended me wrong-footed, book 2 started me off wrong-footed even though I was expecting it.

A few of my gripes from book 1 were resolved in book 2. In Dragon Keeper I felt like the editing was truly horrible: lots of repeated and contradictory information made the narrative tedious to follow. Dragon Haven suffered from this problem a lot less – there were still some reminders of past events, but they were a little more organic since they were meant to trigger your memories of the first book. A moderate improvement, to be sure.

After the initial juddering start, the story flowed fairly well. I munched the book down in a couple of days, and it kept me engaged enough…. But on the whole the story was like eating rice cakes. Kind of bland, don’t really fill you up, lacking in interesting ingredients – but you can keep munching on them indefinitely. I wasn’t emotionally tied to the characters, and the events in the book were enough to drive a story but not enough to really engage me as a reader. Furthermore, the interpersonal drama read like a teenage soap opera or romance novel: who’s sleeping with whom, who isn’t sleeping whom, and who would like to be sleeping with whom (but isn’t because they are repressed and shy). You know what the characters are going to do (“Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”), you know how the story is going to end, and the world is preciously light on interesting fantasy tropes. Dragons! Meh.

I think part of the problem with the book is that it was missing Robin Hobb’s signature: searing, devastating, guttural angst. It’s what she does best, and boy does she ever know how to twist the knife. Sadly (Happily? Ironically?) Hobb’s usual kidney-punch was missing from Keeper and Haven, and I think that lack contributed to the very ho-hum nature of the book.

Bottom line? I’d say skip it, and keep your high opinion of Ms. Hobb as a fantasy author. Fingers crossed that her next undertaking is more gutsy and more potent.

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