To the nobles who live in Benden Weyr, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise--and take back her stolen birthright. But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa's world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world.
Original publication date
Review: Errrrm, I don't know about this one, y'all. I mean, yes, this is a classic, and yes, it is referenced all the time, and yes, it's a product of its times and shouldn't necessarily be judged by today's social norms and all, but: damn. This is a prime example of an otherwise interesting world and engaging story being almost ruined for me by the super-gross gender politics involved.
I mean, okay. The dragons? Are awesome. And I totally see the seeds of later telepathic and vaguely snarky dragons being planted by this story. I totally get why Mori from Among Others spends so much time wanting to Impress a dragon. The world is also interesting. I found bits of it vaguely cliché (probably unfairly, since this came before most of what I'm comparing it to), and McCaffrey's method of leaving some details of her worldbuilding unexplained didn't always sit entirely well with me, but it eventually all made sense, and it all worked in service of the story, which was cool, internally consistent, and went in some directions that I wasn't expecting.
But. BUT. The gender politics. Like, there's this whole system in which girls are basically kidnapped from their homes to try to Impress the Queen, and then not really allowed to do anything once they do become Weyrwoman, and then it's assumed that whichever male dragon their dragon mates with, they will have sex with that dragon's rider, (ostensibly because their telepathically-linked dragon sexy-time emotions are too strong to be resisted?) and essentially become his concubine. Gross! And worse, this is the way it is, with no indication that anybody sees anything much wrong with the system. I honestly didn't realize until almost halfway through that we were supposed to see F'lar as a protagonist and not a villain. He is arrogant, he's rude, he's calculating, and he's not particularly nice to Lessa most of the time, alternating between condescending to her, ignoring her, and shaking her senseless for disobeying his orders. Well, all that, plus this:
"He caught her arm and felt her body tense. He set his teeth, and wishing, as he had a hundred times since Remoth rose in her first mating flight, that Lessa had not been virgin too. He had not thought to control his dragon-incited emotions, and Lessa's first sexual experience had been violent. It had surprised him to be first, considering that her adolescent years had been spent drudging for lascivious warders and soldier types. Evidently, no one had bothered to penetrate the curtain of rags and the coat of filth she had carefully maintained as a disguise. He had been a considerate and gentle bedmate ever since, but, unless Remoth and Nementh were involved, he might as well call it rape. Yet he knew, someday, somehow, he would coax her into responding wholeheartedly to his lovemaking. He had a certain pride in his skill, and he was in a position to persevere." --from time point 5:00:15
(My notes from this point say: SUPER GROSS AND RAPEY, DUDE. Which: yeah. And this is the hero! We're supposed to be rooting for him!)
Lessa herself is pretty awesome, except when she's anxiously trying to win F'lar's approval (or not get shaken.) I would have liked the book a lot better if the backbone she clearly has was on display the whole time. The story itself is quite good, and there are times when the gross gender issues are pushed to the background, but they were never entirely out of my head, which didn't exactly ruin the book, but did definitely make it less enjoyable than it could have been. 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I understand why it's considered a classic of SF/F, and there are a lot of really good elements to the world and the story and some of the characters. I found the gender politics pretty off-putting, but if you're able to treat them as a regrettable product of their time, there's a good story underneath. I'm not in a big hurry to read the next book in the series, though.
This is an influential book--you can see the similarities in other books, not just ones also featuring dragons, but ones that also feature close human/creature bonds, such as Lackey's novels featuring horse-like companions. Lessa is a strong and memorable heroine, and other characters in this book are just as appealing (particularly the Masterharper Robinton).
This is one of those books that was in my permanent library until it literally fell apart in repeated readings. I do think at a certain point the series (there are about 20 books) lost its verve, even before her son began writing many of them, and I no longer pick up the new ones--but certainly the first three in the Dragonriders of Pern and Harper Hall series are enchanting and come to a satisfying resolution even if you don't hunt up more.
Since her recent passing tributes have been pouring in for Anne McCaffrey from numerous quarters, including major sf/f writers including Neil Gaiman, David Brin, Lev Grossman, and Vonda McIntyre. These tributes reminded that I never really gave Anne McCaffrey's books a fair chance. Now is as good a time as any to start exploring them in earnest.
When I first heard about this series decades ago the idea of fighting threads did not fill me with enthusiasm, I mean fighting threads? May as well fight balls of yarn! I thought. Ah, but then there are threads and there are Threads, these things are more menacing than I ever gave them any credit for. They are basically mindless, true, but so are zombies and the threads are even more deadly. They burn and they burrow and they are of course relentless
This is not a YA book, it is not action packed, those looking for heart pounding scenes of dragon conflagration are not likely to be satisfied. The major strength and enduring popularity of this book - and I imagine the entire series - is the immersiveness of Pern. The slower chapters depicting day to life on Pern is what makes the world realistic, after all life is not full of nonstop action on a daily basis. The author wants you to live with her characters not go on missions with them. That said she really makes you wait for the threads to make an appearance though!
This is also not a fantasy book, not in the sense that Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time are. Anne herself has always been adamant that she is a science fiction author, no disrespect to the wonderful fantasy genre of course, but she deliberately backed the Pern fantasy tropes of dragons and medieval life with science. Pern is a planet, the dragons are genetically engineered and the lack of technology is due to some event that caused a fall of technological civilization. So no magic, no elves, no unicorns and no Dark Lord with a funny name (thank gawd!). The author's meticulous attention to details is awe inspiring.
Anne's prose style is - as her legions of fans would attest - is beautiful, clean, clear, concise and literary. The main characters are skillfully fleshed out, unfortunately my one complaint is that the protagonist Lessa is unrelentingly ill-tempered and willful to the point of being a pain in the posterior. I am looking forward to many more visits to Pern.
"That was well flown, I say. Well flown".
This book was the first in the first series, and a well-written book it is, with good character development. I especially love how McCaffrey wrote Robinton, the Master Harper, and Fandarel, the Master Smith. I find myself grinning as I read, enjoying the back and forth of the lesser characters.
The plot: the last Weyr of Pern has experienced the death of the last female dragonrider, and her dragon is dying as well, but not before she has laid one last clutch of eggs, including a queen egg that only needs a strong woman to bond with once it hatches.
A search is conducted, looking for the right person to help bring the Weyr back to respectability, and to increase the strength of the dragons and their riders, who are the only defense against an upcoming attack by another planet's spore, aka "Thread".
Good plot, good story, believable, enjoyable. What more could one wish? A sequel? ;)
And thus was an entire universe created, and a legacy for book lovers.
For awesome dragons without the sexist aftertaste, try Naomi Novik's Temeraire series.
It's somewhat hard to put the Pern books into series as the various story lines such as Dragonriders and Harper Hall intertwine in time. Most folks call this the first of the Dragonrider trilogy, even though there are some stories about the dragon riders set earlier in time. This is followed by Dragonquest and White Dragon.
Four hundred years have passed since Thread scorched the land, and dragonriders have become a small group, detested by Holders and viewed as a useless relic of a bygone age. Dragonrider F'lar is certain that Thread is about to fall once more, and the dragon riders are ill prepared. Less, a girl who spent the past decade engineering the death of the man who murdered her family, no sooner executes her revenge than she is taken as a potential dragon rider for the new queen. With the secret ability to hear all dragons, recklessness, fearlessness, and a desperate need to control her own fate, she will be the catalyst through which the future of Pern will be decided.
The story is enthralling and its characters vivid. One small point of contention for me lies in the relationship between Less and F'lar. I found the way it developed difficult to believe, and felt the dichotomy of their relationship flip-flopped without any real reasoning. On a personal note, I was uncomfortable with and disturbed by the gender politics and with dragonriders' sexual practices, particularly that they were forced into a mental 'heat' when their dragons mated and regularly slept with other riders when they were unable to give clear-minded consent. One character almost manages to admit to himself (almost, as he determines dragons being involved changed the situation) that he had raped a young woman.
Lessa is the sole survivor of Ruatha Hold when Fax the usurper came and killed everyone. Lessa has stayed unnoticed by disguising herself as a kitchen drudge, plotting the day she can take Ruatha Hold back as rightful heir. Turns out that fate had something else in mind when Lessa meets and bonds with a queen dragon. Dragonriders have always protected Pern from Threads, malignant spores that drop from the sky when Pern's sister planet's orbit comes too close as dragon fire can burn Threads out of the sky. Threads have not fallen in such a long time that many no longer believe they exist and resent the need to pay tribute to the Dragonriders. Now the time of Threads have come again and it's up to Lessa and the remaining Dragonriders to address the planet wide threat.
I absolutely loved the premise of this book and the world of Pern. I can see how this series gained such a huge following. Who wouldn't want to bond with a dragon and become it's rider? The portrayal of relationship between dragon and rider is easily my favorite thing about the book. I also love the old school "dragons are awe-inspiring creatures to be feared and respected" thing. It really makes me wish I'd read this when I was younger as I think younger me would've devoured the entire series in a heartbeat. The writing is rather pulpy, the pacing uneven, with most everything working out way too conveniently, and I wasn't particularly drawn to any of the human characters, but dragons! More dragons please!!
What caught me completely off guard were the gender roles in the book. Fair warning: This book was written in the 1960s and is a product of its time. I was surprised just how badly the sexism came across, especially from a female author. The relationship between F'lar and Lessa is highly problematic and basically abusive by today's standards. I can see how this could be off-putting to modern readers.
Still I found it to be an entertaining enough read and I'm glad to have read this classic. That said, I don't feel the urge to continue this series any farther.
I also liked the threat of the threads, I thought that was a great reason for the dragons and the culture of dragon riders to exist.
Lessa grated on me more than a little. She led a rough life, and I could see her being aggressive about the restrictiveness of the Weyr and the fact that the male population seems to want to keep her in the dark. She's a great, strong female character, and I wanted to like her. But she blows up in anger a lot, does things that are ill-advised, and just makes a lot of bad decisions seemingly as a result of the Weyr not educating her properly and her getting impatient. She reminded me a lot of Claire at the beginning of Outlander, when she made a lot of assumptions, bold statements and bad decisions based on what she thought was going on, so the other characters were constantly bailing her out and dealing with her misconceptions. It drove me crazy. Part of the problem with Lessa is that I felt like the passage of time in the present was (ironically) a little vague. So between angry outbursts, there may have been years passing. But all we read about was her being angry, so she came across a bit too negative for my taste.
I did like that F'lar liked her because of her strong personality, I appreciate it when characters acknowledge the flaws in others and like them because it makes them who they are. But as another reviewer points out, I was pretty uncomfortable with Lessa and F'lar's relationship throughout. Lessa rarely seems attracted to F'lar as a partner, and F'lar mentions that their sexual relationship seems forced. Lessa sometimes shows jealousy, but we hear far less from her about F'lar than we hear from F'lar about Lessa, so it felt forced.
Actually, in general, I couldn't get into any of the characters. But the plot and world were so good that I was able to forgive it that.
But there were a lot of good ideas. I'll probably return to the series at some point, probably skip to a book without Lessa to see how I like it.
It has dragons! Except it's not fantasy, it's sci fi, because they are dragons on a colonised planet that are essential for fighting alien spores! And just when you've got your head round that, there's a Big Reveal, and you find out they are time travelling dragons! I mean, what's not to like about a strong female lead and time travelling dragons?
It is a bit problematic, or at least it's not a book about consent. Lessa is taken from her home and placed in mortal danger to possibly bond with the queen dragon without an explanation or any choice. And F'lar and Lessa's relationship, with its snark and power imbalance and dragon induced sex is probably not a model for the young. But Lessa is clever and powerful and changes history.
It's interesting to run the story in reverse. Our good guys are good because they stayed alert and guarded the old ways and protected Pern even after 400 years of waiting. But if there really had never been another attack from the threads, they would have been quite foolish. They are Right to have faith and stay vigilant, and are the heros because of it... but that moral does make you wonder, would it have been good to wait for 1000 years? Forever?
were poorly developed, the dragons were developed even less, and the whole thing couldn't decide what sort of atmosphere it wanted to settle on. I'm guessing
the author intended the dragons to be wonderful and loyal companions, but for me they held a near constant air of vaguely creepy mind-controlling symbiosis.
Needless to say, this broke the story for me. If what you're looking for is strong and well done companion characters, I recommend Mercedes Lacky highly
to you; she may not have been first, but she knows what to do with characters and how to develop feeling in the reader.