Hobb opens the first volume of a new series–a tetralogy, in the case of the Rain Wilds Chronicles–with a cast of characters, grouping them as Keepers and Dragons, Bingtowners, the crew of the Tarman, and miscellaneous others. The text moves on to present a formal and informal message sent from Bingtown to Trehaug, discussing the agreement between the Traders and Tintaglia, before turning to a prologue that begins with the serpent Sisarqua starting to make the cocoon for her metamorphosis. Coached by Tintaglia, she joins other serpents in preparing to become dragons, however few they are.
Tintaglia notes her fatigue, and the population imbalances at work among the surviving serpents is observed. The poor survival rate of the cocooning serpents is also attested. So are the changes from the ancient geography of the Realm of the Elderlings, as well as the struggles of the journey upriver to the cocooning grounds. And the serpent Sisarqua calls for aid, answered by one of the nascent Elderlings, and she falls into her hibernation as the Elderling and Tintaglia confer.
As with the Liveship Traders novels to which the novel is a direct sequel, Dragon Keeper lets readers know from the outset that it is dealing with nonhuman intelligences that will necessarily have different perspectives and practices. The prologue viscerally reinforces as much with the openly accepted cannibalism among dragons in their larval and adult forms, and, although Hobb does not shy away from…heavier materials in her other Elderlings works, the frank performance and acceptance of cannibalism before the book, proper, begins is…telling.
Admittedly, it’s been a while since I read the Rain Wilds Chronicles; I purchased the books as they came into print and devoured them hungrily, but I have not much revisited them, if I have at all, in the years since. It’s not like the Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man novels that I’ve come back to time and again in my research, although I have the idea, certainly, that I should work to return to some of that earlier work with the latter Elderlings texts in mind. Perhaps rereading them will help me to do so…
I note with some approval the dramatis personæ that opens the current volume; it’s nice to know who’s in the work. And I note with some approval, too, the shift in the prefatory tack taken by the Farseer and Tawny Man novels; I appreciate having the outside in-milieu context for the piece, and the epistolary format adds a nice touch–not just the encyclopedic, but the personal, which helps the text start to come alive early on. I’ll look forward to re-reading the works!