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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Dragon's Fire by Anne and Todd McCaffrey

Dragon's Fire by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey. New York: Del Rey (Ballantine Books), 2006. ISBN: 0-345-48028-7

This is the second "Dragons of Pern" novel on which Anne McCaffrey has collaborated with her son, Todd. I wrote about their previous collaboration, Dragon's Kin, back in 2004, not too long after it was published. Todd was supposed to have been writing a Pern novel by himself, to be titled Dragonsblood, but I don't know what happened to that effort.

This book has several themes, or rather, aspects of life on Pern to which it relates. Two are watchwhers and mining, both of which were featured in Dragon's Kin, as well. But this time the mining aspect focuses on mining for firestone, the rock which dragons chew in order to emit flames, and which makes them capable of flaming the inimical thread out of the air before it can reach the ground.

In this story, firestone is a highly volatile form of rock that can be ignited by coming in contact with water, and mining it is seriously dangerous work. Firestone mines often explode, causing death and destruction to the miners and anyone else in the vicinity. One part of the story revolves around trying to rediscover another, less volatile form of firestone known to the ancients on Pern.

The other major plot element involves the “Shunned.” In Pernese society, when someone acts in a manner so antisocial as to require an extreme form of punishment, they are shunned. Branded with an “S” on the forehead, they are forced from society, and live on the fringes, holdless, and without obvious means of support. But what will happen to the shunned when thread arrives again? How will they survive? Is there a role for them in Pernese society?

My only real complaint about Dragon's Fire is poor plotting. Given that this same problem plagued Dragon's Kin, one has to wonder if Todd's doing the plotting, and his mother is helping more with the writing and editing aspects. Or perhaps she's just lending her name for marketing purposes, although my sense is that her involvement goes beyond that. Like any critic, I could be completely off track about who's responsible for what, but I do think the plotting of both these books leaves something to be desired.

For example, the apprentice harper Moran, sent by Harper Hall to try and contact the shunned, but who almost becomes one of them himself. It makes no sense that he'd just drop out of sight and never contact the Hall again, and yet be playing a major role in the lives of the shunned, and have a significant role throughout. The authors can't seem to make up their minds as to whether he's ultimately doing good or ill. Not to mention that he's not even listed in the dramatis personae at the front of the book. They do provide an explanation of why Moran keeps himself apart from the Harper Hall, but it doesn't really ring true.

Nevertheless, loyal fans of the Dragons of Pern will welcome another addition to the oeuvre. The story is well written, heartwarming and scary by turns, all in all a good read. Recommended for fans of the series.

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