A little more than a hundred of serpents are herded by the last dragon queen alive up the Rain Wild river to hatch. The serpents are supposed to use mud from the river bank, mix it with their full of ancestral memory saliva, and then cover themselves with hard cases made of the mixture. They’ll stay inside their cocoons until it’s time for them to hatch as dragons.
But the hatching process this time has gone awry. The serpents were too skinny when they started the long arduous journey from the sea to the river. And the timing is also errant, they should have come up in summer, not in winter like this, when they would not have enough time to cocoon. Many of them have died during the excursion, some others die in the case-making process. Some of them barely close their cases. Something is definitely off.
The dragons that hatch from the cases are at best a third of a normal dragon size. And all of them are born with some shape of deformity, some have too short tails, while some others’ wings are stunted. In the worst cases, they come out of their cases without dragon memories at all. Dragons are intelligent creatures who should have born with their ancestral memory intact, who should have remembered everything ever happened. And not like these dumb-wits who don’t know what’s what which have just hatched.
With their stubs of wing, the dragons can’t fly, let alone hunt food. And after their queen left them to mate, they have to be miserably dependent on the Rain Wilders who live in a settlement around the clearing to hunt for them and feed them. Such a demeaning condition for haughty creatures like dragons.
The clearing itself is basically far from an ideal place for the dragons to live. The sunlight does not reach it for enough hours, the river water is not silver enough, and the food that the Rain Wild hunters give them are mostly half-rotten fish or putrefied meats which are both insulting and scant. Days go by, living in such a poor condition, the number of the Dragons keeps getting smaller, some of them die because of disease, some of them fail to fight for the paltry food and one of them even die trying to walk out of the clearing, killed by Rain Wilders and sold as pieces at very high prices.
It’s clear that keeping dragons even stunted ones in a closed clearing is not a sustainable plan. As undignified and trapped the dragons suffer, the Rain Wilders are growing anxious towards their side by side settlement with hungry and frustrated beasts. Together, the dragons and the Rain Wilders need to find a permanent solution for their predicaments. But will the arrogant dragons deign to traipse side by side on the problematic rope with mere humans?
This book is a very well-painted imaginary world with gorgeous elements, such as dragons, tree cities, acid rivers, and ever-changing tributaries. Apart from that, Hobb also gives a three-dimensional effect to the story by layering it with intangible but absolutely necessary aspects like politics and customs.
There are several chief characters in the story, from which perspectives the tale is narrated. The multiple lenses which the plot is lead through very much help sharpen and chisel the characters’ personalities and preferences in details, letting readers know them through and through. We learn their backstories, their motives, hence we’ll understand them that they do what they do being influenced by their natures and their culture, just like a real human being, and our understanding would also include how the dragons think. Because the dragons are smart beasts who also play politics and have tradition themselves.
I thought it’s worth noting that all kinds of temperament thrown into the mix are fitting, driving the plot into a sensible and inevitable closure. The story patiently waits until everything set in place before the plot starts to make a permanent shift. The preparation happens not only in the actions the characters take but also in the way of the characters’ minds work. Some of the characters, like Alise and Thymara, have such problematic lives, and long for a different life which they themselves are not sure of what kind. They need time to think of their future, and sometimes external nudges are needed in the decision-making process. And every required step takes place precisely and in good timing, it weaves the story robust and sturdy.
Dragon Keeper doesn’t set its focus on ornamental aspect of its fantasy world, but instead it prioritizes on laying out a strong plot which pulled me extra tightly throughout the book. If you value plot higher than other aspects in a narrative like me, this story will quickly be one of your favorites too.
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