Yesterday, I bought and read through Robin Hobb's recent novel, Blood of Dragons. Doing so has prompted me to make a few informal comments about the new book. It is the fourth volume of the Rain Wilds Chronicles, and therefore the continuation of a major narrative arc begun in Hobb's 1996 Assassin's Apprentice--an arc about which I have written repeatedly and at some length. As with earlier volumes in the Rain Wilds Chronicles, Blood of Dragons brings together some of the narrative threads from the Six Duchies (Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies) and Bingtown (Liveship Traders) novels, series of books occupying the same milieu but not always consonant in their deep histories and cosmologies.
It is true that the fanboy in me looks for a harmonious and consistent backstory, a cohesive history from which the current narrative can spring--and as Hobb refines her understanding of her narrative world as it exists before her readers can enter it, its pre-plot existence changes. Sometimes, as I think I may have commented before, it forces Hobb into something close to a deus ex machina in the attempt to account for the discrepancy. This tends to happen at the end of individual series, in which action ends up feeling rushed and the various devices that conspire to resolve plot points come off as forced rather than arising organically from the narrative. It is an occasional weakness in Hobb's prose--which is a shame, really, because Hobb does excellent work in terms of character development and investigation of psychology.
A couple of other things, possibly problematic, occurred to me as I read the text, particularly the (to my eye) too-rushed ending. Hobb's dragons borrow much from those of Anne McCaffrey; although they are much less accommodating than McCaffrey's, Hobb's dragons communicate in much the same way as those of Pern, and their...exhalations...are accentuated by what they consume. Too, the character of Hest Finbok emerges as something not unlike Christian Grey (in some respects; in at least one other, he is very much the inverse of James's character). How much of either is simply Hobb responding to sub-cultural and mainstream-cultural concerns is not yet clear to me--I did only read the book yesterday, and more formal study will take more time.
I am convinced, however, that there is much in the text worth studying. The very shifting histories that frustrate the fanboy in me delight the academic I have trained to be. History, the story we tell ourselves about what happened in the past, changes depending on the writer and the reader, so it makes sense that those within a milieu but who approach a thing from different parts of the milieu will interpret events differently. That there is disagreement among the texts regarding "what really happened" makes the series Blood of Dragons concludes more authentic than it would otherwise be; the frustration of easy answers draws Hobb's Elderlings milieu closer to that in which her readers exist, with effects addressed by J.R.R. Tolkien in "On Fairy-Stories." The changing understanding of the deep history actually makes for better writing, overall.
Also, in Blood of Dragons, Hobb, continues to delve into issues of prejudice--and not only one form of prejudice. Instead, hers is an multi-pronged investigation of the culturally disfavored, reflecting a sensitivity to discrimination as it still manifests in the United States. Queer studies, particularly, would benefit from attending to her Elderlings works; I am not suited to carrying out that particular investigation (my training suits me to look elsewhere), but I would be very interested in reading what such a treatment would have to say about the matter. The proximal approach of gender studies would also be fruitful to take with the novel and its antecedents. And I am certain that I will be turning my attentions to the text--and to the series it completes--in my conference work to come, if not in posts to this blog.
Blood of Dragons is not a perfect text, certainly. It is, however, one that I enjoyed reading as a general reader (yes, I do still read for enjoyment), as a student of literature generally and of fantasy literature more specifically, and as a scholar whose projects have frequently focused on Hobb's corpus. Even were I not going to be working on papers about it (much as I am working on a paper about the Tawny Man trilogy that precedes it both in the milieu and in the "real" world), I would read it again.