The prologue, “She Who Remembers,” begins with the titular serpent rehearsing her history to herself after being freed by Wintrow Vestrit. She muses on Wintrow’s efforts and her own efforts on his behalf, as well, as she considers the mystery of the liveship she follows and calls out to others of her kind, to no avail. When she does encounter another serpent that responds to her, she is shocked by the bestiality of those responses, and she forcibly awakens the memories dormant within him. The gesture is not appreciated, and the awakened serpent bemoans consciousness before swimming off to die. In her despair, she casts about, catching the echo of a call and responding, but finding none who could have uttered it.
As might have been expected, the current chapter flows smoothly from the end of the previous novel, functioning more as a continuation of a single book than as the beginning of another. And it does an admirable job reminding readers of–or introducing readers new to the series to; I’ve been known to suggest students start reading series with their ends, and I’ve been dropped into a given series midst any number of times by my freelance writing–the stakes involved in the milieu of Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings novels. Extinction of a sentient species is not something to take lightly, nor yet are the implications, as Hobb’s later work reminds, of another sentience being present and active in the world. (Another take on such comes to mind.) Being reminded of it–along with the gloss of recent events that has typified serial publication throughout its modern history–brings readers swiftly (back) into the narrative world, the issue made immediate through the sudden immersion in its importance even as an Otherness that rings of but does not quite coincide with the post/colonial is emphasized by the nonhuman intelligences on display as at work in the world.
So, yeah, no big stakes or anything. Just another good read getting underway.