Top critical review
Trek to the city
15 January 2015
It took a long, long voyage down the River Wild before the dragons reached the ancient city of Kelsingra. But... they're still not there.
"City of Dragons: Volume Three of the Rain Wilds Chronicles" is very much a "middle" book, with Robin Hobb juggling many established plot threads without actually bringing resolution to anything. It feels sort of like the first half of a book -- there are some intriguing scenes and potentially exciting subplots, but by the end nothing much has actually happened.
The dragons and their keepers are close to Kelsingra, but it can only be reached by air -- and only one of the dragons is able to fly for any significant distance. The city itself turns out to be a wondrous place, filled with strange lingering magic and beautiful buildings -- and the new Elderling teenagers begin to discover more about themselves and their new role.
But there are other problems in the outside world. Alise's estranged husband Hest is threatened by the brutal Chaldeans, and must deliver them dragon parts or Else. Leftrin travels back to Trehaug, and reveals that there is treachery in the Council. And after a heavily pregnant Malta runs afoul of the Chaldeans, she and her husband must make a desperate trek to Kelsingra to save what is most precious to them...
Not a lot actually HAPPENS in "City of Dragons." Robin Hobb does introduce a couple new subplots into the half-dozen she's juggling around -- the Chaldean conspiracy, Malta's pregnancy, the love triangle around Thymara, the new Elderlings, Alise ditching her old life, Sintara being prissy and prideful, and the exploration of Kelsingra.
But Hobb seems to be slowly building these plot threads towards a climax, and that's what most of the subplot development is -- slow build. It's like we're in the middle book of a trilogy.
However, the lack of travel woes in "City of Dragons" allows her to flesh out the history of Kelsingra, and infuses it with an haunted, otherworldly magic that really entrances. And a couple of the subplots have a faster, more thrilling air to them, such as Malta's encounter with a pair of Chaldean murderers, Selden's imprisonment, or the ever-vile Hest's schemes and dilemmas.
Hobb also reintroduces some familiar characters -- Tintaglia the dragon and Malta the Elderling among them -- and starts integrating them into the established cast of grizzled, good-hearted sailors, outcast teens and the often-grumpy dragons. The downside of the characterizations is that I'm getting a little tired of Thymara and Tats' teen soap opera, and the question of who is hooking up with whom.
"City of Dragons: Volume Three of the Rain Wilds Chronicles" isn't a bad book, but it is a rather lightweight one, with several subplots being set up for the grand finale.