I've read all of Hobb's books, and enjoyed them all quite a lot. There are few authors so consistent. Perhaps it's because she saves the books I don't like for her Megan Lindholm persona.
I usually prefer to re-read previous books in a series before getting to the latest one. In this case, that might have mean reading nearly all of Hobb's work, since most of it is connected. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that. I wish I had been. it would undoubtedly have helped to place some of the references. It wasn't necessary - Hobb does a good job of background setting, at least enough to strengthen my memory. But it would have been nice.
In any case, the story starts well, and deals with the transformation of sea serpents into dragons (Hobb - Czerneda collaboration up next?). To give Hobb credit, she doesn't make it easy, and that's what the story is about. She weaves in dragons, Rainwilders, Traders, and more.
It works well, and the story moves along smoothly. However, I was struck by what seemed somewhat outmoded gender roles. To some extent, Hobb is bound by her own invented history and customs. Still, I found it quaint and perhaps a bit dull to see a woman struggling to free herself from her husband's domination and even near-chattel status, and to see a gay couple hiding their love from the world. There's nothing wrong with these stories - they're interesting, and certainly reflective enough of the world not long back (or the current world, in many places). But they're not new, and it's a bit disheartening to cast yourself into a fantasy world for the adventure and discovery that Hobb usually offers, and find instead tawdry sexual politics. For my money, aspects of this were handled much more intriguingly in the Farseer books. In this trilogy, I'd have preferred to see it glossed over with background reforms, especially because it's only book one in the trilogy, and I know we have two more books with Alise's awakening and Sedric's nature as central issues.
Sex aside, the story satisfies, and the writing is as smooth as always. I'd have liked a few more marvels to gawk at, but those are surely coming, and I did like the 'realism' of the approach to the dragons and their chances of survival.
Overall, strongly recommended. There was no question of my picking up the next two books. I just did, and if you don't have them, now's a great time. I was lucky enough to pick up this Kindle book for a couple of bucks, and I got the next two just now for about the same price. Amazing to get a whole new Hobb trilogy for the price of a paperback. Here's hoping it's a new trend in ebook pricing.