In the third book of the “Dragonriders of Pern” trilogy (and the fifth book in the Pern Chronicles… yeah…), we focus on young Lord Jaxom and his dragon, Ruth. In Pern, Lords aren’t supposed to become dragonriders, and Jaxom’s bonding with Ruth was a mistake. Circumstances prevent Jaxom from living in a Weyr and learning how to become a dragonrider in the traditional manner, so Ruth comes to live with Jaxom in his Hold, Ruatha.
Ruth is an anomaly – dragons in Pern are golden (Queens), bronze (who mate with the Queens), green (females who aren’t Queens), browns and blues (males who mate with greens), and there is a specific hierarchy that goes with those colors and their roles in the Weyrs and in fighting the ever-present Thread. Ruth, however, is a male dragon who is white – an unheard-of color prior to his hatching. Expected to die soon after he was hatched, because he was weak and small, Ruth defies expectations by growing to adulthood, although he never attains the size of most full-grown dragons.
Our story opens with Ruth and Jaxom finally receiving permission to fly together, and the story follows the pair as they mature into adulthood. In the meantime, Pern is undergoing many changes and challenges, and Jaxom and Ruth find themselves caught up in the drama and politics.
This is one of, if not the, longest books in the Pern series so far, and there is a lot going on. I would have been 100% lost if I hadn’t already read all four of the other books, including the first two from the Harper Hall trilogy. (The third Harper Hall book was published the year after The White Dragon. I read it when I read the other two books a year ago, and even though this book was published first, I’m pretty sure that most of the events in Dragondrums take place after the events from this book… which is why I generally like to read a series in published, rather than “chronological” order… thus far, these books have all overlapped a LOT. I can’t remember for sure, though, and am interested to read Dragondrums again and see how it fits in.)
First off, there is simply the fact that Jaxom is a dragonrider and also a Lord Holder. Many of the other Lord Holders don’t like this situation, and feel that it’s unfair.
Then there are the rebellious Old-Timers who were banished in an earlier book. They were forced to leave the northern continent on Pern, where everyone lives, to go settle in Southern Pern. However, all of their dragons are getting old, and they are desperate for a Queen who can continue their line. So desperate, in fact, that they steal a Queen egg from a Northern Weyr, causing much drama and angst.
Next, there is the problem that Northern is simply running out of room for the population. Southern is a gigantic continent in comparison, though, so even though part of the banishment agreement was that the Northerners wouldn’t interfere with Southern at all, they basically decide that since the Southerners broke the deal by stealing the egg, they can break the deal and start to look into settling some people in Southern, too.
Add to that the whole thing with Jaxom worried about Ruth’s lack of sexual appetite (more on that momentarily), Jaxom’s illness, the MasterHarper’s deepening interest in the ancients, the discovery of ancient ruins, fire lizard drama, and a few more side plots I can’t remember, and you’ll begin to pick up on the fact that I really felt like there was just too much going on in this book. It easily felt like it should have been two books, with the themes more thoroughly developed. As it was, it seemed like there were several loose ends that were never satisfactorily resolved… they just sort of were introduced, did a few things, and then faded away. I never really understood what was going to happen with the Old-Timers, or whether or not Lessa was going to be cool with fire lizards, or any other number of things that felt like they could have gone somewhere interesting and instead just petered out.
And then there was the fact that this book definitely had a lot more sexy-time than the others to date. While not graphic, we definitely had to spend quite a lot of time listening to Jaxom think about the ladies, worry about why Ruth didn’t seem interested in flying either a Queen or a green, and dither about his relationship with both a young holder girl in Ruatha and the sister of the Southern Holder. I don’t know if it’s because this book was about a teenage boy or what, but I just wasn’t all that interested in that aspect, especially since I still find the whole you-have-sex-with-the-person-who-is-bonded-with-the-dragon-your-dragon-mates-with thing to be weird and a little creepy. Jaxom thinking about having sex, and then actually having sex and knowing that Ruth is basically in his head while it’s happening just seems super strange to me.
Overall, though, the book was still a good read. I really liked Jaxom for the most part, and it is always fun to see old friends. McCaffrey just does an amazing job of building not just a world, but an entire socioeconomic-political system that is complicated yet easy to understand once you get into the groove of the stories. Reading these books in publication order has definitely been a boon to that understanding.
While I’m not quite ready to consider myself a part of the Pern fandom, I am definitely enjoying the books and looking forward to continuing through the series.