There’s a great quote from George RR Martin on the back of Blood Of Dragons : “Robin Hobb’s books are like diamonds in a sea of zircons.” You both obviously share a fascination with dragons: Why do you think such majestically mythical beasts command such interest amongst fantasy fans?
“Dragons, to my way of thinking, are just another ‘race’ of sapient characters. We see lots of elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, giants and, of course, dragons. When we introduce these other intelligent beings into fantasy worlds, we are asking one of the big ‘what ifs’ of fantasy: What if the human race had to contend with another set of intelligent beings, ones that would compete with them for territory, treasure, food, etc? What if they didn’t respect our claims to own things any more than we respected the claims of elephants or wolves or – dare I say it? – indigenous, so-called primitive people?
“But there is more to it than that. There have always been tales of dragons and dragon-like beings. Sometimes dragons are feasting on maidens and sleeping on piles of treasures, and other times they are ancient creatures of great wisdom. I think when writers play with dragons, we are simply doing what fantasy writers have always done.”
Were there any challenges in bringing The Rain Wild Chronicles to a close with Blood Of Dragons and tying up all the different plotlines?
“The challenge is always to find the good place to end the book. The rule I follow with myself is that every book should end where the next book would logically begin. I know that some readers wish that literally all of the threads would be neatly tied off and snipped, but life just doesn’t work that way. So there are always some threads left dangling, with a hint or two of what might come next. I think the only way to completely tie up all the plotlines at the end of the book is for the story to end with, ‘And then the giant asteroid hit!’”
You first wrote about the world of Rain Wilds in the Liveship Traders series in 1998. Has it changed dramatically over the years and indeed decades?
“All places change with the passage of years. So of course the Rain Wilds have changed. The population has increased, and there are more outlying villages along the rivers. As recounted in the Liveship Traders trilogy, there has been an influx of Tattooed, and that affects what had previously been a rather homogenous culture. And then there are the dragons… Things change dramatically when you add a major predator to the top of the food chain.”
The Rain Wild Chronicles runs concurrently with the events of your previous series, The Tawny Man trilogy. Do the two series end at the same point of time and is there any crossover between them?
“It’s a bit of a spoiler but The Tawny Man trilogy ends with the emergence of IceFyre from the glacier on Aslevjal Island. So actually, although some of the events at the beginning of Dragon Keeper happen before that, there is quite a span of time passing in the four volumes, and the events in Dragon Haven , City Of Dragons and Blood Of Dragons all happen after the events in Fool’s Fate by several years. There are definitely crossovers from the Liveship Traders trilogy but how could there not be? Given the roles that the Khuprus family played in the return of the serpents and the offer of asylum to the Tattooed. Some familiar characters from that trilogy will be in evidence, some merely popping in for a few paragraphs and others as part of the major plotlines.”
The concept of memory walking is central to Blood Of Dragons and you also have the possibility of the legendary blue dragon Tintaglia’s memories vanishing if she dies…
“Memory is extremely important to the dragons as they have ancestral memories, in the sense that they inherit the memories of their lineage. Now the Rain Wild dragon-keepers do not have ancestral memories, but with memory walking, they are acquiring information about the past of the city and the Elderlings who once lived there. They are re-establishing a culture, so to speak. When we excavated Pompeii, we gained a tremendous amount of knowledge simply by looking at the abandoned artefacts that were left in place, and the wonderful mosaics there. So, in a sense, we used their stone to memory walk back to that time.
“Imagine if you could set a hand to one of those mosaics and know the thoughts of its creators. How much deeper a knowledge would you acquire? And if you were in a situation where you had to live in Pompeii, with the same climate, soil, and other resources, you might gain important insights into what works there and what doesn’t. But of course there would be a cost for that knowledge. There is always a cost…”
Does the title Blood Of Dragons refer to how that and other dragon ingredients are used as powerful medicines?
“The ‘Blood’ in the title refers to many things! I always think that titles should serve multiple roles. So you can think of it as the blood being sought for medicinal purposes, or the bloodlines of the dragons being preserved, or the Dragon Keepers and their role in preserving the bloodlines of the dragons.”
So do you like to depict magic as a positive force?
“I’m not sure… Do you see technology as a positive force? It’s the same question. In fantasy, magic is often the ‘high technology’ of the day, often available only to a privileged few, much like this computer that I’m composing on right now. So, shall I use this computer to access information on golden-backed spiny ants for my grandson’s report, or shall I use it to prey on other people’s children? Magic is exactly like that. I don’t think any sort of power is essentially good or evil. It’s all in what use it is put to.”
The success of the A Song Of Ice And Fire books and the Game Of Thrones TV series – along with the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit films – have introduced fantasy to a whole new audience and made the genre much more acceptable in wider literary terms. Do you think your books would work equally well on television or in the cinema?
“In my opinion, the successful transition of A Song Of Ice And Fire and The Lord Of The Rings to film is rare and wonderful. Even so, many nuances had to be shed along the way, and there were places where characters had to explain to the viewers things that the readers knew by virtue of the medium of the storytelling. I actually think that short stories transfer to film much better than novels do. So if I were given the opportunity to see one of my works become film, either for television or the big screen, I would choose to start with a much shorter work and see how the characters and plot lines survived.”
Now that the series has finished do you intend to return in the future to the Rain Wilds world?
“How does anyone know what he is going to do until they’ve done it? I love that line! I have a huge line of possible books in my head, including some Lindholm ones, and they are all shouting, ‘Pick me, pick me!’ So it’s hard to say what comes next. I have several mostly-finished stories on my computer, and by that I mean, ‘Work on this for another six months and you won’t be embarrassed to show it to someone.’ Will I ever return to the world of the Rain Wilds? I’ll say what I always say about that. If a truly compelling story line comes to me, one that demands to be in that setting for it to work, then I won’t hesitate. But I wouldn’t write a story about what happens next to someone’s grand-daughter for the sake of setting it in that world just so previous readers will pick up the next book.”