(This review first appeared on StaticMultimedia.com on November 24, 2008)
Todd McCaffrey continues the saga of the Dragonriders of Pern in this lightweight coming of age story involving Fiona, a thirteen-year old lord holder’s daughter, who impresses a queen dragon.
Thread, the parasitical menace that devours all life on Pern when its orbit takes it into proximity of the Red Star, is once again about to fall. Dragons and riders have been training hard and are fully prepared to fight Thread until a mysterious sickness begins killing them off. As the numbers of their fighting dragons dwindle through injury and illness, the Weyrleaders decide to send the youngest weyrlings back in time so they can mature. After three years of literally living in the past, they will be fully trained and return ready to fight Thread.
Fiona, rider of Talenth who is Fort Weyr’s youngest queen dragon, must take over the responsibilities of Weyrwoman at the long-abandoned Igen Weyr for the interval the young and injured riders spend isolated there from the rest of Pern. She must draw on her years as a lord holder’s daughter to make Igen Weyr into a viable home. All Igen’s riders suffer from extreme fatigue and occasional bouts of irrational irritability, a drawback to existing twice in the same time. Not only must Fiona combat the same symptoms, but she also contends with the typical trials of a young girl’s development to womanhood.
Fiona’s youth serves as a vehicle to review the rules of weyr society, but her development takes many too-predictable turns and the novel’s ending, long expected, falls flat. The childhoods of some interesting secondary characters are explored, a necessity to keep the reader entertained due to the weakness of the books protagonist. Most notable are two of Fiona’s non-dragonrider friends: Xhinna, a young girl with special gifts who is an outcast among the weyrfolk until befriended by Fiona, and Terin, a girl of ten who, like the queen dragonrider, finds herself shouldering responsibilities far beyond her years.
One of the chief problems McCaffrey faces, as the blurb from Del Rey puts it as “the heir apparent to the Pern universe created by his mother, Anne McCaffrey” is that his story backtracks over ground already explored in depth in previous books. None of the situations the characters encounter are new to fans; no one but a fan of the Dragonrider series would know enough of Pern’s complex world to appreciate the book. Trapped within this writer’s paradox, McCaffrey incorporates the already established events of the Pern series in clever ways during the second half of his episodic time travel tale. However, in a slow first half, the drinking and eating habits of dragon riders seems to be the main theme; the most dramatic events often happen off-stage and talked about later by characters forcing themselves to eat buttered rolls and drink klah to keep up their energy and spirits.
Fans of the Dragonriders of Pern series, like fans of other series, will always long for more adventures set in Anne McCaffrey’s rich and colorful fantasy landscapes. Unless Todd McCaffrey can establish strong new characters and new situations within that world for future novels, better to devise his own fictional world than invest time writing new but paler tales that strip-mine the land of Pern.