This is the third book in The Rain Wild Chronicles, which is now a tetralogy (after Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven, and before Blood of Dragons).
It’s winter in the Rain Wilds. The dragons and their keepers are hungry and cold, the latter’s clothes nothing but worn rags. The dragons are also growing, and they cannot rely on their keepers to bring them enough food anymore. They desperately need to learn to fly and hunt by themselves.
Most of them are still too weak or lazy, and Sintara is too proud to try and risk failure. Only Heeby, Rapskal’s red queen, is strong enough to fly. She regularly charters her keeper, and sometimes Alise, across the Rain Wild River to Kelsingra.
There the scholar explores the ruins, the plazas and great halls, making as many sketches and taking as many notes as possible before news of their discovery reaches Trehaug or Cassarick, and people come to pillage the ancient Elderlings city, like they did downriver, looking for artefacts. She wishes she could preserve it, an undisturbed testimony of the past. But Rapskal, who’s been immersing himself in memory-stones, thinks otherwise. He needs to share his visions with Thymara: together they might be able to revive Kelsingra.
In the meantime, Captain Leftrin is going back to Cassarick to get supplies and claim the keepers’ pays. He knows the Council will be very reluctant to honor their contracts, since they actually weren’t expecting anyone to come back alive from this expedition to relocate the dragons upriver..
Meanwhile in Bingtown, Alise’s husband Hest Finbok is being persecuted by a Chalcedean hitman, who holds him responsible for the non-fulfillment of Sedric’s contract to bring back dragon parts for the Duke of Chalced, and harassed by his father, who threatens to disinherit him if he fails to produce an heir. He direly needs his wife and lover back in town.
What I loved the most in this volume was the visits Kelsingra with Alise, Rapskal and Thymara. At first I was like Alise, wanting to protect it from all disturbances. But then I became fascinated by Rapskal and Thymara’s discoveries in the memory-stone, and I’m looking forward to seeing it reawaken. This is a rather short book, and I was torn between going on reading to discover what happens next, knowing that I was inexorably getting closer to the last page, and pacing myself to make it last longer. Robin Hobb’s writing is so good, I wish her books had infinite pages, that her stories went on forever.
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