||Another terrific outing on Pern. This
time, the author takes us backwards over a thousand years, when
Dragonriders were at their prime, and already had forty years experience
One of my first
thoughts upon reading this book was that it gives us the sort of story
that we were promised for the Star Wars prequels. Back in 1999, we were
told that we would see Jedi in their traditional roles, and get to see
how they kept order in the Old Republic. Instead, we got war, which was
not a traditional role by any means. In this book, we go back to a time
during the sixth Pass of Thread, when there had not been a long interval
without Thread, and when Thread had been falling for decades already.
Dragonriders are held in high regard; dragons mean safety. Dragons and
their riders know exactly what they are doing, and they also know that
they are less advanced than the people who came to Pern in the first
After seeing F'lar and Lessa struggle
to gain respect and learn how to fight Thread in
Dragonflight, which was very
interesting in its own right, we now learn how tradition has kept the Weyrs, Holds and Crafts together.
Moreta is just as interesting as Lessa
ever was, perhaps more so, because she knows her role already. In fact,
the only parts of the book that I found to be long were chapters where
Moreta was not to be found.
The book starts off on a very high
note, introducing us to Moreta and Alessan as they attend a festive
Gather at Ruatha Hold, Alessan having just inherited the Hold leadership
from his late father. The Gather is easily my favorite part of the book,
as we learn all sorts of new things about Pern, things that seem to have
disappeared by the Ninth Pass. F'lar and Lessa's Pern is struggling to
survive, so there is no time for betting on runner races, for example.
The Gather, however, is the perfect
place to distribute a plague. Actually, it's the flu, but people end up
dying from complications after their immune system is left in tatters
from the flu. As in the Ninth Pass, people are obsessed with the
Southern Continent, and what it offers in terms of new life, especially
since the current Pass is nearing an end. A ship from one of the se
Holds takes captive some sort of predatory feline which has never been
seen before, and which happens to have the flu. Another Gather at Ista
Hold is the perfect opportunity to show off the rare animal, which ends
up devastating Pern's population.
The book takes less than two weeks to
pass, and so much of it is character work. The characters all service
the plot, however, which is information gathering, containment of the
plague, and finding a solution. It is the characters who make the plot
interesting, as different people react to the plague in different ways.
Many of the Lord Holders become panicked or paranoid, isolating
themselves from everybody and even putting bodyguards out. The Weyrfolk
think themselves superior to everybody else, and are shocked when they
contract the plague. Sh'gall, leader of Fort Weyr and current mate of
Moreta, becomes furious when first she, then he contracts it, too.
The Master Healer Capiam is another
main character in the book, as he tries to figure out what the plague
is, and how to stop it, especially after he contracts it himself. It
takes a long time to search the ancient records and find the cause.
Fortunately, some knowledge that could have been easily lost was
recovered when Capiam went through his old notes and found a way to
My favorite parts of the book were
chapters when Moreta and Alessan were together. They fell in love at the
Gather, but both know their duties: a Lord Holder must marry, and a
Weyrwoman cannot marry, because the rider of whatever bronze dragon
mates with her golden dragon becomes her mate. I liked Orlith, too,
especially her empathy towards Moreta, and the way she helped her
through the flu.
When Moreta became sick, it was up to
the supporting characters to take up the story, including Capiam and some other Dragonriders. The author implies that gay relationships are
normal on Pern, as riders of green dragons, the sexually charged ones,
often have relationships. Even if they are not sexual, they appear to be
very much loving ones. But I suspect that they are sexual, anyway. I
have mentioned before that I thought green dragons, being female, should
impress female riders. This has nothing to do with sexuality, only the
sex of the dragon. This was based on the female golden dragon choosing a
female rider, but it will be interesting to see how the men came to
fulfill this role so completely when the dragons were first bred, when I
read farther "back" in time in the history of Pern.
When Moreta recovers, and the plague has
passed, the story is still not over. I love that there is an aftermath,
though it is the threat of another pass of the plague that keeps the
story going. Unless every single person and runner beast on Pern is
vaccinated, the plague could mutate and start a new cycle, as we well
know here on Earth.
Another of my favorite chapters in the
book is the calm collection of syringe-like thorns that grow on plants
in a remote valley. Moreta, on the back of another dragon since hers is
ready to clutch her eggs, goes with Alessan, Capiam and others, all
male-female pairs, forward in time to harvesting season, to gather them.
A secret only known to bronze and golden dragonriders, a few others find
out about time traveling accidentally because of the excessive duties they are required to
do, and there are not enough hours in a day. While collecting, Moreta
and Alessan fall in love again, and each of the couples find an excuse
to separate from the others to consummate their relationship. There is no
graphic sexual detail, but their absolute love for each other makes it
somewhat erotic, nonetheless.
The surprise, which should not have
been a surprise at all, based on what comes before, happens at the end
of the book. After Orlith goes to the birthing grounds and lays her
eggs, she will not leave them for any reason. Moreta takes Holth, golden
dragon to the former weyrwoman at Fort Weyr, to help with the final
distribution of the vaccine and needles. Because of the need to prevent
a panic, to vaccinate everybody in the same day, everywhere, and because
one weyr becomes increasingly isolated and aggressive in that isolation,
there are only a few dozen dragonriders available, and they need to use
time travel to do this. Moreta, having grown up in one of the more
remote areas, appears to be the only one available. After a full day of
time travel, with Moreta exhausted and Holth old and exhausted, they go
between, and don't make it back at all.
I was so shocked and sad at Moreta's
passing, as were everybody. Orlith's plight was even worse. Normally a
dragon would go between to die after losing a rider, but her eggs take
precedence, so that she must remain in agony to protect them until they
are ready for Impression. On the day of Impression, Orlith and Holth's
rider Leri disappear from Pern forever, too.
I would have liked to see the outcome
of Telgar Weyr's isolationist attitude. Not only did they insult Moreta and the other
dragonriders, they were directly responsible for Moreta's death, because
they would not send riders out to distribute the vaccine. Moreta's story
is not concerned with the aftermath of that, as it occurs (presumably) after Orlith's
babies hatch. Perhaps that will be told in Nerilka's Story, which
appears to take place concurrently with this story; I hope it extends a
little bit later in the timeline.
There were a lot of casual references
to what occurs in the future, and I am sure the state of the world
during the Ninth Pass is directly related to what happens here. The
plague reduced Ruatha Hold to nothing, and although they appear to start
rebuilding, after two more Passes it is in the tattered state we see in
Dragonflight. There is no mention of
runner beasts in the Dragonriders
trilogy, at least not an obvious one, so it appears that the plague took
its toll on them, so that in the far future they are not so widely bet
upon in races. There is mention of how much knowledge is being lost, as
Master Tradesmen died and so many other people full of experience of how
to do things. Knowledge of time travel is lost to the Dragonriders by
the Eighth Pass, and the source of the plague explains why people are so
afraid of the Southern Continent in the future.
I just love this author's style. She
keeps it interesting, and the characters are always doing something
useful, which keeps the plot moving, whether it is a forbidden love
story, a medical crisis, or a festival. There isn't a dull moment in the
book. I am not sure what the author means by saying in the forward that
this is probably not the book that fans wished she would write. But I
think it was a great story. It did not have the novelty of
or the tragic sacrifice of Dragonquest, but it had a
sad sacrifice of its
own, and it was extremely well-driven, with great characters. That is
all I can ask for in a book.