Dragongirl by Todd McCaffrey
Cover art by Lee Edwards
Published by Del Rey Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
This novel takes up almost directly after Dragonheart. In that novel, Fiona of Fort Hold accidentally Impressed the golden queen Talenth while visiting Fort Weyr to observe a Hatching, and thus had her whole life rearranged. As a plague began sweeping through the dragon population, she took a group of weyrlings (newly Impressed dragonriders) backward in time to gain some desperately needed maturation.
As this book begins, Fiona is having to deal with the consequences of having experienced duration not shared by those to whom she is returning. She has spent the past three years of her experienced time growing and maturing, learning how to take a leadership role -- but for everyone else, only three days have passed. To them she's still the half-grown girl who left, and they expect her to slip back into that role smoothly.
It sounds like it should be a good set-up for an interesting book -- one of the greatest strains on a relationship is having to resume it after time apart in which one or more members of that relationship have undergone extensive psychological change. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problems that bothered me throughout Dragonheart, which made me feel it read more like stereotypical fanfiction than a professionally written novel. In the early parts, we have the lack of urgency while characters are sorting out their relationships. Later, as things become markedly worse, we have once again the problem I mentioned in reviewing Dragon Harper and Dragonsblood, of increasingly frightening threats being introduced, as if by doing so one could thus induce emotional involvement with the characters, but instead having only the effect of turning the volume up louder and louder, to the point the reader flinches away.
And of course the disturbing problem of the wildly implausible levels of competence being displayed by extremely young characters. Yes, I know that in pre-industrial societies children and teens often will shoulder considerable responsibility. However, it is almost always at the direction of senior adults, for the simple reason that youngsters in their teens don't have the level of life experience to make wise decisions when faced with difficult choices, as opposed to following established routines. Yet time and again, kids are shown as picking up situations and filling in with minimal blunders, which creates a sense of Mary Sue perfection that only enhances the sense of your stereotypical fanfic, full of wish-fulfillment dreams of a writer wanting to escape from a humdrum life without really thinking about the practicalities of how the world would work.
Conversely, when there is attention to the practicalities of operating a Weyr, the effect is not one of versimilitude but of tediousness, to the point that it destroys the charm and magic that has always been the core of Pern, at least for this reader. Yes, I'm aware that this is supposed to be set in the Third Pass, when much less Terran cultural heritage has been lost, so it's understandable if there are a lot more present-day terms still in use. Yet when they occur, they still jar in ways that disrupt my ability to enjoy the story.
Also, there is the continual emphasis on time travel. Yes, I know that dragons' ability to travel through time has been an important element from the beginning, ever since Lessa accidentally discovered it in Dragonflight. But in this book it's starting to become a cure-all, a solution to every problem they run into. Don't have enough dragons to fly a fall? Just double back on yourself and fly the Fall twice. Don't want to kill off a character who's previously been seen to die -- then have another dragonrider travel back in time to reunite with his dying dragon so that they can then jump forward to die as heroes instead of just miserable suicides.
That's not to say that the entire book is drek from cover to cover. In the memorial for D'gan and his Telgar riders who jumped into oblivion when his ailing dragon couldn't give clear coordinates, when the formal roll is called and the new dragonriders of Telgar stand for the slain riders, it was so right that it brought tears to my eyes. Yes, the writer actually gets the emotional significance of a military funeral or memorial service, of what it means to honor those who served and who died in the line of duty.
Except that one scene that hits just the right note doesn't redeem the rest of the book. Instead, if anything, it actually makes things worse, because it just emphasizes how bad the rest of the book is. As soon as I finish it and move on, I'm grinding my teeth even worse at how bad the rest of the story is.
Quite honestly, I'm to the point of hoping that the final book being touted in the last pages of this volume, Dragon's Time, in which Anne McCaffrey is coming back to write it with her son, will be the grand finale of the series. Because quite honestly I think it's time to wrap up Pern and say good-bye. I don't want to see a good series run into the ground by an endless series of sequels written solely for the money, or even just to please the fans who want one more visit to a beloved world, when there's nothing more to say and the quality of writing deteriorates steadily away to nothing.
Review posted April 30, 2011.
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