DRAGONQUESTA novel by Anne McCaffrey
(1968, Ballantine Del Rey)
Dragonriders of Pern, book 2
As the oldtimer dragonriders adapt to current times, the Hold Lords command a more permanent solution to destroying Thread.
-- First reading (multibook hardcover)
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.
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