One thing about being a Compulsive Overreader is that the books you read get very entwined with your life, sometimes in meaningful ways and sometimes in ways that are totally coincidental. So although I love Robin Hobb’s writing and I’ve eagerly awaited this final volume in her dragon tetralogy, I probably will never be able to think of this book again without remember that I was halfway through reading the book on the night my mom died suddenly, and that I ended up sitting up till about 3:30 a.m. the following morning finishing the book, not so much because I was riveted by the story as because I didn’t want to stop reading and try to go to sleep.
Though I’d rather have read it under different circumstances, this is a worthy end to a good series of books (I reviewed parts one, two and three of the series earlier). I’ve said before that only Robin Hobb could make me care about dragons, and this continues to be true here, although I’ll be glad when she gets back to books focused purely on human characters. The problem with dragons is that they aren’t necessarily very sympathetic as viewpoint characters. I mean, it’s hard not to root for a virtually-extinct species to repopulate, but dragons are arrogant and self-centred to a degree that makes even the nastiest human look like Gandhi by comparison, so it’s hard to enjoy much of the time spent inside the heads of the dragon characters. The humans who live and work alongside the dragons in the once-lost city of Kelsingra continue to fascinate me, as do the villains of the story who only want to use dragons (or better yet, dragon parts) for their own greedy ends. While I think one sign of a great novel is that there are no black-and-white, hero-and-villain characters, I do find that occasionally it’s nice to have a villain you can simply hate. In this series of books the character of Hest Finbok more than adequately fulfilled that need and I’ll only say that the end of his storyline will be completely satisfying to anyone who loved to hate him.
Many other story threads — relationship among characters, threats to dragonkind, the rebuilding of Kelsingra — are worked out and brought to a conclusion here, with mostly very satisfying results. There were threads and characters from Hobb’s earlier series set in the same world that I expected to see come to fruition here but that didn’t — which makes me wonder if she’s yet finished writing about the world of the dragons. At least this particular strand of the story has reached a satisfying conclusion, and Hobb retains her secure place in my pantheon of fantasy writers, able to create realistic characters peopling (and dragoning) rich and vivid worlds.