Throughout the story of the serpents in the Liveship Traders trilogy we see an effect similar to that of forging - there are serpents who behave brutally, who give no name and communicate little, who are in direct contrast to Maulkin’s Tangle. This makes sense - both forging and the behaviour of these serpents is tied to a loss of memory and identity.
Following on from that, what about the dragons of the Rain Wild Chronicles? It is a difficult thing to judge, because these (and Tintaglia and Icefyre) are really the only dragons that we see. We have only rumours and stories about the former Elderling-Dragon civilisation to go on, so it’s easy to assume - as the keepers do - that this is just how dragons are. But I don’t think that’s the case.
There are only tiny pieces of information to go on. But look at this example of an Elderling-Dragon relationship:
‘And over there, that would have been that atrium that Desmolo the Eager had built, to house all the exotic plants his dragon friends had brought back to him from the four corners of the earth.’ - Ship of Destiny, chapter eleven, p264.
Dragon friends? This passage is from the point of view of a serpent, so it’s not a human sentimentalising the arrangement. Dragons were once interested enough in their Elderlings’ lives as to bring them small things that they might enjoy.
Contrast this with Sintara in Dragon Haven:
‘Sintara watched the two human females in consternation. Now, what did this mean, this clutching and sharing of tears? It wasn’t hunting, nor fighting, nor mating, nor any sensible activity that she could name. She wanted them to stop.’ - Dragon Haven, chapter four, p146.
Sintara has a Skill-bond (for want of a better phrase) with Thymara, and she can’t figure out how fairly straightforward human feelings work in this moment. More to the point, it makes her uncomfortable (echoes of Kennit there, who reacts more or less like this when people cry or behave unselfishly).
Is it possible that Tintaglia’s carelessness for Reyn and Malta is linked to the “inhumanity” of some of the serpents? In that having been so long contained and isolated, she has a touch of this problem too? Though I think in her case it may be purely the lack of Silver for her to consume. Tintaglia’s care for humans is vague and intermittent - she is fond of Selden, fond enough to call him “little brother” and treat him with a degree of kindness, but she forgets about him for several years. So Tintaglia’s a tricky one. It’s interesting, though, to compare her to Mercor.
I can’t copy the entire passage out, but in Blood of Dragons chapter nineteen, the dragons are discussing the plans to attack Chalced. Take a look at the conversation between Mercor and Tintaglia, and how Tintaglia is shocked by Mercor’s method of discussion and care for the newly-formed Elderlings.
To me, this indicates again the significance of the memory/“humanity” (for lack of a better word) in the series. The more you recall, the more empathetic/understanding you are. So Tintaglia perhaps does better than most of the Rain Wild dragons, but Mercor (as a former One Who Remembers of sorts) does better than Tintaglia.
What about Icefyre? I think Icefyre’s a bit of an oddity. He seems to contradict this - he comes from the Elderling civilisation era, and yet he has the most disdain for humans. But Hobb actually puts some effort into explaining this - Icefyre has been almost-dying for hundreds of years, he lost everyone he knew, it makes sense that he would have a difficult temperament. And also, compare Icefyre to the Rain Wild dragons. The Rain Wild dragons don’t care about humans - they think humans are vaguely useful but largely irrelevant. Icefyre isn’t like that. Icefyre hates humans. That’s a very different perspective to have, and a very different mindset, though it manifests in similar behaviour. I think it’s possible to argue that it comes from a place of having cared, once.
The question is, how long will it take for dragons and elderlings to truly regain their former dynamic? If they ever do?