THE WHITE DRAGONA novel by Anne McCaffrey
(1978, Ballantine Del Rey)
Dragonriders of Pern, book 3
The young Lord who impressed a white dragon proves both of their worth while exploring the southern continent of Pern.
-- First reading (multibook hardcover)
Another standout offering of life on Pern, though this book did not quite have the punch that the two previous books had.
This book takes place mostly from the perspective of Jaxom of Ruatha, the young Lord Holder who accidentally Impressed the runt of a clutch of eggs back in Dragonquest. He is another amazing character, who grows from an adolescent between worlds into one of his own.
But Jaxom is a character of Pern, which means that he interacts with the world and the other characters, like Lessa and F'lar, and Masterharper Robinton. Jaxom's problem is that he is not a dragonrider, though he is linked with a dragon, and he is not a Lord Holder, for Lytol is warding the place for him until he is mature enough. He is being trained to take over Ruatha Hold, but feels that he has no impact on it.
We learn more about the history of Pern in this novel than the two pervious ones. This book also covers more backstory, in that is is constantly replaying what occurred in the last books, though it is very well presented, either through thoughts or words -never pure exposition.
The story is actually more about the southern continent, which was left unprotected and uninhabited for so long. Robinton has been exploring it secretly, because of the contract that F'lar made with the Oldtimers who went into exile there. Although some Oldtimers remained in the north, most went into retirement in the south, and resent F'lar and everybody else. Their first act in this book is to steal a queen egg from Ramoth's most recent clutch, leading Lessa into a hysterical frenzy and murderous rage. She is about to start a war when the egg is mysteriously returned, and common sense also returns. We don't get to witness all of the politics that go on, this time, because we are mostly with Jaxom.
Jaxom is trying to become a dragonrider, because he is teased about his small dragon, who sometimes seems more like a fire-lizard than a dragon, at least to other people. So he secretly teaches Ruth to chew firestone and fly between.
It is the people and relationships that keep this story going, as Jaxom seduces young Corana so that she is an excuse for him to be away unattended, so that he can secretly train Ruth, for example. Jaxom is truly an adolescent from a feudal society, in the way he satisfies his lusts. Ruth is a magnet for the fire-lizards, which allows Ruth to gain an image of where and when the stolen egg is being hidden, so that he can rescue it and return the egg to Ramoth's hatching ground. I had a feeling that it was Jaxom who did it, as he felt all queasy around that time. There is also Lytol, who is saddened every time he sees Ruth because he is reminded of the dragon he outlived as a dragonrider.
Things start to pick up on the exploration of Pern when Jaxom catches a disease in the south and is bedridden in a tiny southern cove for months. He is nurtured back to health by beautiful Brekke, who lost her golden queen tragically in the last book, and by Sharra, sister to the leader of the Southern Hold. I am not fond of the status the women of Pern have, being subject to the whims and orders of the men. Sure, the Holders have a say in the politics of marriage, but that must include every family member, then, not just the sisters. For that matter, why are all Holders men? In any case, Sharra and Jaxom start up a relationship even though they know her brother has political plans for her.
As Robinton suffers a heart attack, things start to go out of control on the Southern continent. Robinton always had plans to find the traces of human habitation on Pern. Jaxom, finally allowed to ride between again, finds the settlement of the original settlers, who were driven away by a series of volcanic eruptions. The scene was depicted so well that I could see the huge region of once-active volcanoes clearly in my mind. Jaxom then finds the spacecraft that the settlers arrived in! F'lar and the others find out a great deal about so many things in such a short time, including the fact that three stars that have always been in their sky are actually metal orbs -spacecraft capable of traveling to other stars. I think this section of the book was meant to give us the great revelation and sense of awe, but it just didn't have the emotional impact that two fighting golden dragons had in Dragonquest, or the initial thrust into Pern society of Dragonflight.
I wondered if the dragons were continuing to evolve, perhaps even beyond their riders. The way the dragons spoke into Robinton's mind when he was ready to die, and Ruth's call to Brekke (who can hear all dragons) and to Sharra when he needed her help, indicates that the dragons are capable of more.
While so many people were so busy building a Hold for the recovering Robinton at the cove, I mourned the loss of the secluded place. Fortunately, they seemed to keep the cove, at least, pristine. The dragons were hilarious as they started digging out the ancient ruins, like dogs let loose to play in the dirt. F'lar had plans for dragonriders once Thread was gone at the end of this Fall, but I didn't realize how many other talents dragons had!
In fact, F'lar divides up the southern continent after he ends up killing Southern's oldtimer weyrleader in another duel (sparked by the egg theft and an attempt to usurp a bronze mating flight). Pern is thriving like no time since the ancient settlers, and there is not enough space for young Holders to live and rule. Half of the continent goes to them. The other half will be for dragonriders, so that they won't be dependent on Holds for food and other supplies -they will take care of their own until the Red Star passes again.
Other characters of note are Mennoly, a young Harper who becomes very good friends with Jaxom, and Toric, who is Sharra's brother and leader of Southern Hold. I really liked Mennoly, and wondered if a marriage between Hold and Craft was likely to be permitted. But we saw how she was attached to somebody else, and he found Sharra. Toric has been expanding his territory, and probably planned to Hold the entire continent, if he could, before he is out-manoeuvred by F'lar and Jaxom.
Jaxom really takes charge after learning about Toric's plans for Sharra. He decides that he is a Lord Holder, and goes about making the mature decisions that will gain him that status. He ends up marrying Sharra and becoming a true Lord Holder in fact, and keeping Ruth, who is better at so many things than the much larger dragons are. He has a better memory, and can communicate with the fire-lizards, who have some sort of racial memory, at least for big events.
I noted how there are no real bad guys in these books, which makes them highly unusual in the science fiction and fantasy genre. The Oldtimers are more nuisance than bad guys, though they occasionally turn enough of a serious threat to be fatal.
As flexible as F'lar and Lessa are, compared to the Oldtimers, they still need the ancient traditions and the respect of the Lord Holders. Jaxom, in this book, has learned a new way, and is changing the world the way that F'lar and Lessa did in Dragonflight.
So many things occurred in this book, but they were part of daily life, and they happened very naturally. The book was a progression of events, all packed into a small space, making it a wonder. There is not really much to talk about in terms of specific events, because the characters grew so much. I liked the characters a lot, which made the book very enjoyable. I feel like I've been reading about these characters for years, like other great novels, yet I only started this series less than a year ago!
There are still mysteries to solve regarding Pern, upon which the sequels will undoubtedly build. We now know why the histories warn about leaving the southern continent alone -because is is so vast and much of it is unstable (a simple reason, which turned into a taboo thousands of years later). The question is where do F'lar and the others go from here? Why couldn't the settlers return to their starships and leave Pern? Hopefully some of these things will be answered in the sequels.
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