||Another brilliant outing in this saga.
I continue to be amazed at this world, and the way the author keeps it
interesting. While not quite as good as Dragonflight, it is in some ways
more well-rounded in terms of the characters and political situations.
Although it takes place seven Turns
after Dragonflight, this book flows seamlessly as if only a few days had
passed. The author once again assumes that the reader has not left Pern
in the meantime, so that relationships and rivalries that were
established in that book are taken for granted here.
This book is about politics, and about
people trying to settle in even after seven years since Thread first
began falling. Lessa and F'lar seem to be relieved that they could fade
into the background, as the Oldtimers (from four hundred Turns ago) took
over directing the fight against Thread. However, it becomes
increasingly obvious that the Oldtimers have done nothing to enamour
themselves to the Holds that rely on their help. They don't believe in
progress, or in working together. "All Weyrs are autonomous" is a cry we
hear often through the book, though it gets fainter as the the book goes
on, as more people realize that F'lar is right in building a united
Pern. He and Lessa are forced back into the spotlight, as their weyr is
the only one that is truly respected.
The Oldtimers are best characterized by
T'ron, inflexible and weary of change. It is one of his dragonriders who
stabs F'nor for getting in his way of appropriating a jewelled knife
from a smithcraftsman. The weyrs think they can take whatever they want
from whomever they want. By the end of the book, T'ron has had enough,
and duels with F'lar at a very public wedding ceremony at one of the
Holds. He stabs F'lar severely, but F'lar manages to wound him
sufficiently that he falls unconscious. F'lar then rouses the weyrs who
are willing to fight Thread together.
F'lar's solution to the Oldtimer crisis
is the one point that I found weak in this book. As they object to every
little change, from growing forests (sitting targets for Thread) to new
technology the smithmaster creates, after winning the duel, he orders
everybody who objects to a united Pern to the southern continent. I
suppose the oldtimers who went were happy to get away from fighting
Thread, but they seemed much too willing. After all, the weyrs they
occupied in the present were the same places they grew up in four hundred
years before. However, some oldtimers didn't leave, and are thus more
likely to accept the progressive changes since the time they knew.
The politics cannot be properly
conveyed through mere summary. It was very natural, and very interesting, especially
the Lords who resent the dragonmen, and who go out of their way to scorn
them. Whether they complained about them or welcomed them, though, the
Hold Lords were quick to ask for help when Thread began to fall.
One of the best things about this book
was the complete surprises that the author presented us with. We get
small ones, like F'lar ordering the oldtimers away, and the discovery of
the Impressionable fire lizards, distant cousins from which dragons were
originally bred. There are wonderful clues to this, besides the dragons
telling us so, when we are constantly told that the dragons from Benden
Weyr are so much larger than those from four hundred years ago. Dragons
were obviously bred over a long time.
Then there is Kylara, who was a
nuisance in the previous book. This nymphomaniac has no sense of
responsibility. As weyrwoman of Southern Weyr before they traded places
with the Oldtimers, she is supposed to do as Lessa back at Benden, take care of the weyr and the dragons, and make
sure that the dragonriders (all men, incidentally) are fit. Kylara
leaves these duties to the rider of another queen, Brekke. I loved
Brekke, as much as F'nor did. When F'nor Impresses a queen fire lizard,
Brekke Impresses one bronze and one green. While Kylara is temperamental and spends
most of her time in bed with Lord Meron of Nabol Hold, Brekke is the one
who takes on all the burdens, including running a hospital for all the
other weyrs. Brekke takes care of F'nor's wounded arm after he is
stabbed, and eventually they make love.
One of the progressive changes Brekke
suggests, which never gets the due credit it deserves (though I hope
this changes in future books), is to let a woman
Impress a dragon other than a queen. This is something that I wondered
about in Dragonflight. Given that women
and "commoners" could Impress fire lizards, it stands to reason that
they could do so with dragons as well. She also answers another of my questions from
that review: why take women from outside the weyr, and men from inside?
The answer is that the dragons almost always prefer women from outside,
and weyrbred boys.
F'nor makes an unprecedented suggestion
himself: that his brown dragon would mate with Brekke's queen when the time
came, so that she would not have to suffer another man's touch. As
established previously, only bronze dragons mate with queens, but it
seems this is only because they are larger. F'nor's brown dragon is
larger than many of the bronzes!
When the time comes, however, we get
the biggest surprise and shock of this book. Brekke's queen rises for
mating while Kylara is away, but Kylara's dragon is also near her mating
time. So when the mating flight passes overhead, Kylara's dragon also
goes into heat, urged on by the apparently magnificent sex Kylara was
having at the time. The two queens fight to the death, and Brekke's,
mortally wounded, takes Kylara's between, never to return. The
deaths of two queens shocks the world, and Brekke wishes for death. Just
as she took care of F'nor when he was wounded, though, F'nor never
leaves her side. This entire sequence left me breathless, and I was in
awe of how the fighting queens' deaths shocked me. I think it was
because it ended so suddenly, without going to other people's
dumbfounded reactions. I was even more surprised when Lessa put Brekke into
the hatching grounds to try and Impress another queen dragon. That
surprise was surpassed when Brekke refused to do so -even though she
knew people could Impress more than one fire lizard, it was unnatural to
bond with two queens. After all, part of herself was dead. Her queen
could not be simply replaced.
Kylara was not all bad, however. The
telling moment comes earlier, when F'lar praises her for fighting Thread even
against the other weyr's wishes, sounding the alert and saving much of
that territory from an invasion. She literally soaks up F'lar's praise,
like a little girl wanting desperately to be loved. After her queen
dies, she is reduced to the emotional and mental level of an infant.
When F'nor travelled to the Red Star on
Canth, his dragon, and entered that maelstrom, I was sure that he, too,
would die. So the author gave me another surprise by letting him live.
After killing two queen dragons, I was certain there would be no
hesitation about killing a dragonrider, especially since we grew to like F'nor so much during these two books.
F'nor decided to go to the Red Star
because of the discovery of a telescope in the back room of one of the
weyrs, allowing him to give Canth coordinates. The Lord Holders were desperate for the dragons to go there and
eliminate Thread at its source. Somehow, the fire lizards knew that the
place was too dangerous, but I liked Canth's overconfidence that he
could do it. It was the same overconfidence that he portrayed in
pronouncing that he could win the mating flight with Brekke's Wirenth.
F'lar had also found a microscope in the back rooms of Benden Weyr, along
with several other things from the ancient past, when the people of Pern
were much more advanced.
The discovery of the hidden room
actually came about because of a visit from Jaxom, the young man
destined to become Lord Holder of Ruatha, birthplace of Lessa. He and
Lessa's son were good friends, whenever they could get together.
Felessan took Jaxom to a tunnel that led to the hatching grounds, where
they could see the eggs soon to hatch. Losing their way in the dark
afterwards, Jaxom triggered the mechanism that opened the room. Based on
what I accidentally read about the third book in this trilogy, I wasn't
as surprised as I should have been when Jaxom Impressed the runt of
Ramoth's litter. The white dragon was unprecedented, and nobody expected
it to live long, which I gather turns out to be wrong.
All sorts of little things adorn this
book, as well, such as the grubs that the masterherder mistakenly wiped
out for so many years, based on a misunderstanding of an ancient text.
In fact, the grubs were natural Thread-disposing creatures. Then we have
the long-distance communications equipment devised by the smith,
essentially a telegraph machine. So while F'lar and the oldtimers and
Lord Holders were politicking, other developments were being made that
advanced Pern decades ahead of where it was only a few Turns ago.
The characters are what make this book
work, however. The story was very steady in what it did, with a few very
exciting parts amidst the steadiness. If it wasn't for such interesting
characters, the book would not have been so inspiring.
There remain unanswered questions, of
course, which I hope will be concluded in the next book. The main one
that nags at me is how did the masterharper hear two dragons in his
mind? Everybody is also wondering what F'lar has in mind for the future
of dragonmen, if the grubs can take care of Thread without them. It must be a little
more than simply a taxi service.
Although I will wait a little while
before concluding this trilogy, the wait is simply to drive the
anticipation level higher, because I am very much looking forward
to The White Dragon.