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Renegades of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Cover art by Michael Whelan

Published by Del Rey Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

When Anne McCaffrey ended The White Dragon with the retirement of Masterharper Robinton and the discovery of the original colony with the shuttles that had brought the first settlers to the surface, it gave a sort of closure to the story of Pern. Their quasi-feudal society had been brought back in contact with its original technological roots in a way that would change it forever, such that it could never return to what it had been.

However much she may have wanted to leave Pern behind and move to other projects, simple financial realities ensured that it was only a matter of time before she'd be writing more Pern. The series had taken off so strongly that the clamor for additional Pern books was too strong for the publisher to ignore, which meant strong pressure to contract additional Pern books.

So Anne McCaffrey did what many writers of long-running series did before her: she went back to an earlier period to tell stories that had only been hinted in the existing novels. Moreta and Nerilka's Story told the story of the plague that was described in the ballad of Moreta's ride, which Lessa had used to prove queen dragons could fly. After that she went back to the very beginning of Pern with Dragonsdawn, which told the actual story of the settlement which had been given only in summary form -- and told a story with notable differences from what had previously been surmised about those events.

After that three-book detour into Pern's history, Anne McCaffrey returns to the Ninth Pass in this volume, the time of Lessa and F'lar, of Menolly and Masterharper Robinton. However, this time she is looking not at the movers and shakers of Pernese society, but at the outcasts, those who live on the edge and tend to be tolerated more than accepted by the power-brokers of a society. As a result, the novel has an interstitial feel, as if it fits within the spaces of the original six Pern novels.

There are three major storylines which intersect and ultimately intertwine. The first is the story of Aramina, whose family was related to some degree to old Lord Kale of Ruatha. When Fax conquered the Hold and massacred the entire family of the Lord Holder (except for Lessa, who unbeknownst to anyone had hidden in the watch-wher's weyr and survived), her parents decided that no land beholden to Ruatha would be safe for them again and headed off to find a new home. But in a tightly-knit society such as Pern, there is little room for strangers to be integrated into the established social structure, and as a result they end up on the margins of society, drifting from one Hold to another, never truly welcome or trusted, ever dependent upon the charity of the holders.

It's a very rough life for a young girl, growing up with no stable home and few playmates. Lonely young Aramina is fascinated by the comings and goings of the dragons she glimpses in the sky outside, and at first she begins by imagining that she can talk with them. But as she grows older, she comes to realize that it's not just make-believe, that she can indeed communicate with dragons. Being young and desperate for something that will lift her up from the bottom rungs of society, she tells about it.

The second storyline begins right as the Pass begins, when there is still genuine disbelief that Thread will ever fall again, such that people feel little urgency to take the precautions they have been warned about. Jayge Lillcamp was a member of a prosperous family of itinerant carters, until the day Threadfall proved itself to be a very real danger and destroyed his family's livlihood. Suddenly he too was on the margins of society, struggling to eke out an existence with whatever work he could find in a society that was not overly welcoming to strangers, or generous with those who had fallen down, even through misfortune.

The third storyline is that of Thrella, who styled herself Lady Holdless and was on the outside by choice. She had believed that she should succeed her father, the Lord Holder of Tillek, and that the Council's refusal was on the basis of crude sexism instead of her deserved reputation for selfishness and cruelty. When they not only passed her over in favor of her brother, but tried to settle her in an arranged marriage, she ran away to lead a band of higwaymen.

However, it was only a matter of time before her predation attracted the attention of the authorities. Even on Pern with its relatively loose governing structure in which the Holds and Crafthalls are largely autonomous, the threat of systematic attacks on small cotholds and traveling merchants could not be ignored for long for the simple reason that they threatened everybody. Particularly in a Pass, the loss of vital goods could threaten everybody who depended upon them. And if a wagon train bearing the tithes to the Weyr to which one was beholden got held up and robbed, it became a matter for dragonriders as well.

And the dragonriders held the ultimate high ground, being able to fly surveillance sweeps over areas where robberies had taken place and see traces of human activity that might well be missed by people on the ground. Not to mention that the dragons enjoyed senses far more keen than those of humanity.

When Thrella hears about Aramina's ability to hear dragons, she sees in the girl a possibility of an early warning system against the overflights of the Weyrs' patrols and sets out to lure her into service, by kidnapping if necessary. However, Aramina has no illusions about the sort of person Thrella is and has no intention of furthering her nefarious schemes. Which means a daring escape that brings her into contact with Jayge.

Determined as Thrella is to have Araminta's services, no place in the Northern Continent can truly be safe for her or Jayge. So off they go on a wild flight south in a boat they barely understand how to sail, where they intersect with Piemur and Menolly's adventures in the Southern Continent from Dragondrums. The ending takes the story of the rediscovery of Pern's earliest history a little further than it left in The White Dragon and sets up for events in All the Weyrs of Pern.

On the whole, it's an interesting look at a different side of events familiar to the long-time reader of Pern, but at the same time manages to be understandable to someone who had never read any of the Pern books before.

Review posted August 19, 2010.

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