Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Dragon Haven" by Robin Hobb Book Review

So I was able to finish Dragon Haven last night, but have been running around a little bit more than I expected today. (Unexpected offer of a job interview + no clothes o_o)

Anyway, I'm happy to report that if Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven had been released as one book, then it would have been a good book. A real-book book; not a half-book, a never-should-have-been book, a book with no end, an Act-II-less book, a tease book, a book that had it been released by an indie or self-published writer would have been heralded as why indies and self-publishers should not write and publish.

Anyway, here's the Amazon link:

Dragon Haven thankfully picks up immediately where Dragon Keeper left off. We have somewhat immediate resolution of the almost action that ended Book I, even though it's a bit cheap and convenient.

We get to not have to deal with some of the more unsympathetic characters of the previous book, some get their comeuppance (finally) and some are just not present, while others become, well, if not sympathetic, at least tolerable. On the other hand, the young men keepers are absurdly, absurdly, absurdly, and probably realistically, stupid in the way that only men are ever portrayed. Threatening rape and assuming women are property and all, even though in this world women are apparently (or were at least in their history) more on level footing with men.

I found it frustrating. No, I found it beyond frustrating. Although a couple of them had been portrayed as not being all there in the head, I thought their relationships with the dragons had been improving their intelligence. Yes, I realize that not just stupid people abuse and rape, but well, you'd think there would have been a couple of the guys that were not just not stupid but also not the way they were portrayed.

There were many things that happened in this story that were a long time in coming and I shouldn't begrudge that other things still haven't happened, but especially with the aforementioned stupidity, I wish bloody Thymara would have just stepped into the role Hobb is obviously cutting for her, as leader and not just a bloody hunter/gatherer. A leader that actually thinks was on my wish list, but apparently Santa Hobb didn't get the message. Maybe in Book 4 (yes, I know I just finished 2, but if 3 is anything like 1, well, it will be half a novel).

And that's the other thing. I had the benefit of reading these stories only hours apart. I finished Book 1 around 7 PM and I started Book 2 around 9 PM to finish it around 3 AM. They were not written as two separate books. They were written like they were the same book. Book 1 stops midscene only partially into Act II, while Book 2 starts midscene and does not re-introduce characters the way a sequel usually does.

It must be nice to have so much goodwill built up in the community to be able to do shady, underhanded dealings like this. I borrowed both from the library so I didn't pay a cent for them (unless for some reason they become late, in which case I will pay 10¢ for them), but I can see what the price of them were new. $26.99!

I said it in my mini-spiel before the jump break, but if an unknown had released Book 1 the way it was, it would have been heralded as the epitome of why indie writers should not be publishing. Robin Hobb has used up all of the good-faith I had from her reputation and once I finish the series I hope to never have the displeasure of reading another story by her.

On an aside: what really blows my mind in the reviews of Dragon Keeper are that most of the 1-star reviews are from bigots and homophobes. Really? It's 2013. Give it a 1-star review because it sucks, not because of your own prejudices. It's BAD WRITING ON ITS OWN MERITS.

And yet it's fantastic prose and creation. I've never encountered such a disparity between the incredible talent of the writing and world-building part of the craft and the absurdly amateurish directorial choices. You cannot be a good novelist and be a bad director.

You can be a good essayist...probably. You can be a good reviewer...probably. You could be a good RPG adventure module creator...probably. But you cannot trivialize the necessity of being a good director, or orchestrator or however you want to describe it. And from these novels, Robin Hobb is not a good director.

The prose is fantastic, although there were a few sentences that jarred me out of the reading experience this time around. The world creation and character creation is even better. The action is almost non-existent. The dramatical scenes hold the only movement in the story, but they are slow to come and mostly just full of idiots being idiots.

The heroes of the story, the two female characters that we have been following all along, fail to do anything to make them worthy of our attention other than being in the center of some drama. And Hobb makes the starring dragon annoying and unsympathetic in this story.

Only Mercor and Sylve are "good" characters by the end of the story, and we are left with the unsettling Sylve's been given to a guy, but she likes him so it's OK BS.

And sitting there behind my shoulder is this nagging sense that I am being preached to. Or at least, participating in consuming propaganda that has no merit beyond its annoyance, err, emotional response.

To sum up. I wish this story could be the story that it could be. It's heavily mired and bogged down right now, but there are only two more books, and I am hopeful for a—if not speedy, then eventual— resolution.

I don't need people to live happily ever after, because tragedies are some of the best stories ever, but I do need Thymara to stop being a putz and step into her role as the most capable keeper. I need the female characters to have more agency than just deciding to sleep with guys or not to sleep with guys (although to be fair, that's more agency than many female characters have), and I need Hobb to stop ruining good characters—I'm looking at you Sintara, Rapskal, Tats and Spit.

That's what I'm going into Book 3 and 4 hoping for. I am hoping for that. My expectations however are that Thymara will become irredeemable before magickally restored in Book 4, probably involving flying and a mating flight of Sintara; there will be more absurd sexist crap thrown at the girls of the story; Hest will be a complete arse for a few hundred pages too long before exiting; nothing will happen in Book 3; and finally, after reading an additional 1000 pages for a total of 2000 pages, I will have felt like I read a single 400 page story, or maybe two 250 page stories.

Zero Review: B- 8.0/10
Great technical writing skill, terrible directing. Great characters that wallow and shrivel before your eyes into big sacks of nothing. Great world-building that is barely relevant to the story because of how little happens in it. A terrible disappointment that is pushing the limits of my empathy and care for the characters. More potential than substance.

Recommended to Avoid. Don't get sucked in.

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