Bantam, Feb 2004, 24.95, 640 pp.
The heir to the throne of the Six Duchies, Prince Dutiful promises his fiancée, that he will present her with a dragon's head, which means an expedition to the remote tundra like Out Island. The former fool Lord Golden knows that he is going to die on this northern wasteland trek, but feels it is his duty to accompany the Prince. His friend, who is also an assassin, FitzChivalry Farseertries tries to persuade Golden into not going, but fails.
When they reach one of the independent Out Islands, the royal retinue meets the Hetgurd who disagree with the slaying. The teenage prince negotiates a deal with the Outislanders. He and a small party accompanied by Hetgurd warriors will set off on the trek to slice off the head of a dragon. However, Dutiful and company run into a new problem as the local dragon community refuse to cooperate. Will the two species war, cooperate with some sort of deal such as an exchange for one of the regal crew, or will Dutiful break his first promise to his future wife?
The third entry in the FitzChivalry Farseertries narrated fantasy series is a delightful tale that shows the complexities of groups trying to come together on an objective, but with each member bringing baggage and an agenda to the table (ship?). The story line is exciting, but it is the ensemble that makes Robin Hobb's realm seems so real. Fans will enjoy this deep look at those who must carry out the wishes of their leader although unlike real life whether it is World War One or Operation Iraqi where the decision makers stay away from the battlefield, Dutiful to his credit joins them on the front line.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner