Earlier today, I finished reading the most recent novel by Robin Hobb, City of Dragons. It is the third volume of the Rain Wilds Chronicles and the twelfth novel set in the Elderlings milieu. Those who know me know that I have long been an avid reader of Hobb's writing; my first scholarly publication and my master's thesis are based upon her works, as are at least two conference papers I have presented at the South Central Modern Language Association conference.
Like the earlier two volumes of the Rain Wilds series, City of Dragons is a relatively slim volume, only slightly over three hundred thirty pages. In it, however, Hobb, adeptly furthers a multi-threaded narrative that displays continued engagement with and evidently evolving opinions on a number of issues that have pervaded the books set in the Elderlings milieu: homosexuality, gender relations and normative gender roles, and globalization come to mind. As a scholar, I am pleased to see that Hobb persists in addressing those themes; a number of possible papers suddenly have a lot more material with which to work, and since I am coming up on having more time to write papers (with the dissertation thankfully in its final stages), I look forward to going forward with additional materials.
In addition to my scholarly persona's delight in the book, my fanboyish side was pleased to see some of what goes on in the pages Hobb has recently released. In her Tawny Man trilogy, Hobb makes efforts to address divergences of perception between her Farseer and Liveship Traders novels, which both take place in the Elderlings milieu but which take different approaches to some of the same materials. The differences between the two series can be accounted for in part because of their order of composition; it is to be expected that an author's ideas will change as the author moves ahead writing. But the way in which Hobb tries to paper over the divergence in the Tawny Man series, which unifies narrative threads from the Farseer and Liveship Traders trilogies, is heavy-handed, smacking of the retcon that so offends a great many of speculative and fantastic fiction's core fanbase.
I love what Hobb writes, so I hate to admit that I saw it as a flaw. But I did.
City of Dragons draws a narrative thread out of the Farseer trilogy, serving to integrate the Elderlings milieu books into a more cohesive whole in that it does so more gracefully and subtly than is the case in earlier books. I have no intention of offering spoilers, so I will not point out the details of it, but there is a scene which takes place in a location familiar to readers of the Farseer trilogy and, in fact, works with the unintended consequences of the Farseer visit to the location. Those who remember the earlier novel will be delighted to see the nod to that work, while those who are not will not be shut out. It makes sense in itself, without recourse to Hobb's other works, which I appreciate for the greater craft it takes to provide such a reference as can be seen by those who know but does not exclude those who do not.
Overall, I found the book to be an excellent read, and I look forward to the book which is, from the ending of City of Dragons, certain to be on its way.