Book II in the Dragonriders of Pern series was another solid outing for McCaffrey. Her world-building is excellent, her characters believable, the story engaging, and conclusion satisfying.
As I mentioned when I reviewed the first book, Dragonflight, I originally read another trilogy from the chronicles of Pern. While moderately enjoyable, there were many aspects of those books that seemed abrupt or poorly explained. However, they are already making more sense when viewed from the perspective of a second trilogy – McCaffrey goes into much greater detail about the Dragonriders, Dragons, fire lizards, the hierarchy of Pern’s society, etc., in this first set of books. I am already anticipating rereading the second trilogy. I think that they are really going to be way more enjoyable now that I have a better grasp on the word of Pern.
McCaffrey does an excellent job of writing a story that builds on the last book, but still stands as its own story. While it would probably be difficult to understand some of it out of context, Dragonquest has a satisfying beginning, middle, and conclusion, while still leaving plenty of potential directions for the next story. These first two books have really set a firm foundation of a different world, doing an excellent job of creating characters where another book could pick up following any of them and be engaging.
However, in some ways, that is also the book’s weakness. There are so many people, PLUS there are dragons and fire lizards. When the people talk about each other, they usually talk using people names, while when the dragons talk, they refer to people by their dragon’s names, so you have to remember not just F’nor, but the fact that F’nor rides the dragon Canth and owns the fire lizard Grall, because at any point in the story, McCaffrey may reintroduce F’nor to the story by his, Canth’s, or Grall’s names. Although there is a list of characters in the back, constantly flipping to it can interrupt the flow the of the story. While it’s fairly easy to remember the main players, there are not only Dragonriders, but also Mastercraftsmen, Craftmasters, and their apprentices; lords of various Holds (and the names of the Holds, and the names of the lord’s ladies), and then the names of the Weyrs (where the dragons and their riders live), plus the principal Weyrleaders and their women. Tied in with an incredibly involved socioeconomic world, the story borders on being too detailed, but, for the most part, manages to avoid getting completely bogged down.
The only aspect of this society that still seems really weird to me is the connection between the mating of the dragons and their riders. Because each dragon imprints with its rider when the dragon hatches, their minds are connected at a very deep level, allowing them to communicate telepathically and to share, sometimes involuntarily, intense feelings and emotions. Thus, when a queen dragon rises to mate, her rider is also overwhelmed with lust, and the rider of whichever dragon mates with the queen has sex with the queen’s rider. It’s really weird to me, and it’s actually a critical part of this story, as apparently dragon-induced sex is pretty awesome, so the one Weyrwoman causes all sorts of trouble. It’s not ever graphic or anything, it’s just that the whole concept is strange. However, McCaffrey uses it as an important tool in the hierarchy of the Weyrs, as the strongest queen is automatically the high queen of the Weyr, thus making her rider the top Weyrwoman. The rider of whatever dragon mates the queen becomes the Weyrleader. Riders do not marry, or partner for life (necessarily), because they are tied to the strengths and lusts of their dragons. The dragon mating can be an intense power struggle and can cause changes in the leadership of the Weyr.
ANYWAY all that to say it’s just a super weird part of the story, but McCaffrey makes it work. Her whole world is pretty awesome, and I am actually thoroughly enjoying her books. The best part? There are something like 25 books set in Pern, so I have plenty of reading ahead!