Murder is Easy // by Agatha Christie

AKA Easy to Kill


//published 1938//

Our story begins with Luke Fitzwilliam, who finds himself in a train on his way to London, sharing a carriage with a garrulous elderly lady named Miss Fullerton.  Miss Fullerton, through the course of their travels, confides in Luke that she is on her way to Scotland Yard.  She believes that someone has killed several people in her village.  More, Miss Fullerton knows who the next victim is going to be.  Luke, of course, writes off Miss Fullerton and rambling – “Just a little bit batty?  No, I don’t think so.  A vivid imagination, that’s all.  Hope they let her down lightly.  Rather an old dear.”

However, while perusing the newspaper the next day, Luke is startled to find out that Miss Fullerton never made it to Scotland Yard at all: she was hit by a car and killed.  While struck with the coincidence, Luke is still willing to chalk up her death as one of life’s sad tragedies… until he reads of another death a week later: the man Miss Fullerton told him would be the killer’s next victim.

Still halfway convinced that he is chasing a mare’s nest, Luke nonetheless travels down to the village to try and see if there is any truth to Miss Fullerton’s claims – and if there really is a murderer on the loose, who could he be?  *cue dramatic music*

All in all, Murder is Easy is a solid read.  The premise is excellent, Luke is quite likable, and it is one of those mysteries where we know virtually everything that Luke does, so (theoretically) the reader can also determine the killer.  Christie’s red herrings are fairly solid, although I had read this book somewhere in the murky past, so I was pretty sure I knew who the murderer was, not because I’m particularly clever, but because it stayed with me from that earlier reading.

However, there are definitely parts of the book that drag, especially the multiple occasions where we are treated to Luke’s lengthy musings on his list of suspects, as he goes through each one individually, stating pros and cons to the likelihood of that person being the murderer.  This would have been alright maybe once, but several times grew rather uninteresting.  It also felt like a rather heavy-handed attempt to force the reader to keep their focus narrow, rather than accepting the possibility that the murderer is someone not on Luke’s list at all.

The love story felt completely contrived and also somewhat unnecessary, so that was a bit weird.  And, in the end, while the killer definitely seemed plausible, the killer’s motives felt … odd.

Still, Murder is Easy was a good read, with plenty of that creepy realization that murderers don’t always exist in the form we expect them to…  they could be the happy little neighbor right next door…

A String in the Harp // by Nancy Bond


//published 1976//

I read a review for this book a while back over at Tales of the Marvelous, and as soon as Cheryl mentioned the word “Wales,” I was already hooked.  I couldn’t help grinning as I was reading her review, because she spoke about a wistfulness for Wales – a feeling that I also most definitely have, despite having never set foot in Wales (or anywhere outside of the Americas!).  For me, I think it began by reading Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain as a child.  These books are, of course, set in the mythical land of Prydain, which Alexander admitted was completely inspired by Wales.  Then, later, as an adult, I devoured the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters.  These remain some of my all-time favorite books.  Although set in England, Cadfael himself is Welsh, and many of the stories take place in Wales, as his home of Shrewsbury is just across the border.

The point is, somewhere along the line I became enamored with Wales, and have yearned to go there for as long as I can really remember.  (So if someone would like to buy me a plane ticket and then host me, I would be most grateful!)  So, as I mentioned earlier, as soon as I heard that A String in the Harp was set in Wales, I already knew that I wanted to read it.

The story focuses on an American family.  David, the father, is a professor who has accepted a year-long position at a university in (obviously) Wales.  His wife died in a car accident a year before the story takes place, and David has only brought his two youngest children with him – Peter and Becky – leaving Jen, who is around fifteen, back home in the States with her aunt and uncle.  However, as our story opens, Jen is traveling to visit her family for the Christmas holidays.  She is looking forward to seeing everyone, and also looking forward to a bit of a vacation.

wales Borth

Borth, Wales (source)

When she arrives, it is to find her family still somewhat estranged from one another.  David has buried himself in work; Peter (age twelve-ish) is bitter and rebellious about being in Wales at all; and Becky (age ten-ish) is doing her best to adjust to her new normal.  It doesn’t take long for Jen to get caught in the midst of the animosity between David and Peter – all of their conversations seem to end in arguments, and they both want her to help the other see reason.

Wales itself is a bit terrifying – rugged and desolate, dark and cold.  It doesn’t take long for Jen to be a bit glad that she is only supposed to stay for a few weeks.

Around the time of Jen’s arrival, Peter goes on a long walk (the only thing, he points out, that there really is to do for entertainment).  While out, he discovers a small item, which he later identifies as a harp key.  Peter begins to carry the key about with him (although he isn’t sure why).  Soon, the key begins to show him visions of the past, all centered around a harper from centuries earlier, Taliesin.

This is not a story of high excitement, or the type that will keep you up all hours of the night anxiously turning pages.  However, the characters are drawn so well that it is virtually impossible to not be pulled into their lives and their story, watching the family slowly learn to work through their grief.  Despite the fact that David’s wife has died before the book opens, and we never meet her, she is still an important character – a woman completely beloved and painfully mourned by the family she has left behind.

To me, this is a genuine coming of age book.  “Coming of age” does not usually involve swords and wild adventures, or ridiculous road trips and crazy parties.  It’s the quiet absorption of the fact that being an adult doesn’t mean magically knowing all the answers.

All her life, Jen reflected now, she had truly believed that with age came wisdom; that when she finally grew up all the complexities she wrestled with would straighten themselves out for her and she would be able to deal with life confidently, with perfect assurance.  she had only to wait.

But it wasn’t so.  Her father, who ought to know all the answers by this time, had just told her that he, too, was still groping.  Oddly, Jen felt closer to him at this moment than she ever had before; he was as human as she and as much in need of reassurance and faith.

The magic is secondary in this book.  The actual story is a family learning to rebuild themselves, and this story is beautifully crafted.  The gradual awakening of spring (because of course Jen doesn’t actually go back stateside after Christmas), which parallels the family’s slow growth back into a solid unit, is wonderfully done.

Although the story starts with Jen, Bond spends quite a bit of time with both Jen and Peter, and even some with Becky.  These small glimpses into all of their lives allow the reader to absorb the way that grief – even over the same event – touches everyone differently.

Becky kept telling Peter it would get easier for him, but it didn’t because Peter wouldn’t let it.  He had to hang on to his hardness and hate or he couldn’t survive.  Without the hate, there were only the intolerable homesickness and the desperate longing for his mother. These hurt far too much for him to bear alone.

To me, that is almost a perfect paragraph.  Peter’s entire motivation summarized in just a few sentences, giving so much insight into how he is struggling.  And it is especially beautiful when contrasted with Peter’s thoughts later in the story –

It was all woven into the same pattern: Gwilym, Rhian, the Key, his own family, Wales, and a feeling sometimes so powerful it made the back of his throat ache.  The pattern was right, it was working itself out.  People spent their lives weaving patterns, borrowing bits from one another, but making each pattern different.  Peter was part of Rhian’s, she was part of his; they overlapped but didn’t match.

All in all, a beautifully crafted book that I would recommend to children and adults both.  It is well deserving of its Newbery Honor – a story with depth, wisdom, and beauty.

Black Rainbow // by Barbara Michaels

Okay, so quite a while back I read (and loved) the Amelia Peabody series, written by Michaels, whose actual name is Barbara Mertz, who wrote the Peabody series as Elizabeth Peters.  (Why, people.  Why so many names.  Please stop.)  Anyway, I went on to read Peters/Mertz’s Vicky Bliss series, which was also enjoyable but lacked the magic that made me love the Peabody books so much.  (Or maybe they just lacked Amelia Peabody.  I really love Amelia Peabody.)

Mertz also wrote several stand-alone novels, most of which were written as Barbara Michaels (many of which have Elizabeth Peters emblazoned on them, as though giving me someone’s other fake name is going to somehow help me keep them straight).

Prior to Black Rainbow, the only Michaels book I had read was Houses of Stone.  I’m sure that you all remember my engaging review of that book.  My main complaint about it was that it was mostly a treatise on how horrible women have had it throughout all the years.  According to the main character in Houses of Stone, there has never been a single woman born who had it better than a man.  Or something like that.  Frankly, I got super bored with her rantings and explanations about how all Gothic novels were written were just a cry for help from women, who wrote about being imprisoned because they were imprisoned (by men, of course) – emotionally, physically, mentally, etc.

And, let’s be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised, because both the Peabody and Bliss series had a strong feminist line to them.  However, I felt like the main characters of those two series were reasonable.  They realized that they still had the brains and wherewithal to do something with the their lives, especially if they spent less time whining about their (hypothetical) disadvantages, and more time actually doing.  Still.  Houses of Stone was a downer, but I went in hoping for better from Black Rainbow.  Because I still liked the story in Houses (when Michaels deigned to pause the lecture and grace us with a bit of plot).  Plus, I know Michaels can write a solid, engaging tale when she wants to – there are nineteen Peabody books, and while I’m not going to say that they are all 5-star reads, they were, on the whole, pretty darn good.


//published 1982//

Enough rambling.  On to Black Rainbow.  This novel is set in the 1800’s and is about a young woman who has been hired as a governess.  She is broke and all alone in the world.  We first meet Megan as she walks from the station to her new home, Grayhaven Manor.  Ominously, as the storm clouds part, a black rainbow appears over the estate.  Megan is seized with a superstitious fear, which she of course represses and continues on her way.

Megan, we find out, has been employed as a governess for the ward of a random fellow she met in London.  Megan has quite the crush on her employer, the young and handsome Edmund Mandeville, even though she knows basically nothing about him except he is young, handsome, and owns an estate called Grayhaven Manor. (Oh, and he has a ward.)  Megan’s obsession with Edmund, who doesn’t even appear for a few chapters, felt extremely weird, since Megan herself barely knows the guy.  Whatevs, as the kids say.

Heroine #2 is Jane, Edmund’s sister.  Jane has been running the estate in Edmund’s absence, as it turns out that he’s been away at war for a bit and while he was gone their dad kipped over, and Jane had to step up to the plate, running the estate and, more importantly, the mills that finance it.  Of course, this all works out because Jane is intelligent, kind, resourceful, decisive, far-seeing, a good listener, and any other quality you can think of that you wish your local mill owner had.

Edmund finally gets around to showing up, and he decides that because he is a MAN he should obviously be in charge, so poor Jane is stuck wandering aimlessly around the house wishing she had a job.  Edmund, who is a complete and total douche, struts around like a banty rooster, making all sorts of stupid decisions that adversely impact the lives of his employees and tenants.  He also decides to remodel the entire house, and he wants to sell the mill because real gentlemen aren’t involved in trade.  Edmund wants to come off as a real gentleman, because he is interested in winning the  hand of a real lady from a neighboring county.

Lady Georgina is obviously only interested in Edmund for his money.  She’s beautiful and an excellent horsewoman and is out of money.  She’s a total snob and all the servants hate her.  Basically, she’s Caroline Bingley.

The story went on and on and ON, and I use the word “story” loosely because there wasn’t much of one.  It was impossible for me to like Megan because anyone who is in love with Edmund is just plain stupid.  He has no redeeming qualities.  He’s a whiny, spoiled little twat who throws temper tantrums whenever things don’t go his way, and then acts all charming and flattery to win back people’s good opinions.  I couldn’t stand Edmund, and I couldn’t stand Megan for liking him.  Just.  Ugh.  No.  Please.  Edmund and Lady Georgina deserved each other.

Jane was much more likable, but she was really only there so Michaels could spend pages emphasizing how helpless Jane’s position was.  Poor Jane just has to do whatever Edmund says, because he’s a man and she’s a woman.  And, by the way, women are always the smart, kind ones, and men are always selfish jerks, so the reason that there are any problems in the world is because men make (bad, obviously) decisions and women just have to sit about wringing their hands.

Every now and then, something would happen to make the story pick up the pace a bit, and I would think Oh, good, a story!  except then it would just sort of fade away again.  The other problem to me was that the “mystery” aspect of the story wasn’t very mysterious, as it was quite obvious what was going on/what was going to go on, which added to the overall boredom of the read.

In the end, 2/5.  This was more or less readable, but I just didn’t like anybody.  The ending was solid(ish), but it just seemed completely and totally unreasonable to me that Megan would go through so much to win the affection of a total tool, and I got really tired of hearing how trapped and helpless Jane was, all due to her womanhood.  (Aside: Lady Georgina didn’t seem to have trouble with helplessness.  She went out and got shizznizz done.  She didn’t spend a whole lot of time hand wringing.)  The story was very predictable and not terribly exciting.  I’m still planning to check out more of Michaels’s work (actually, another of her books is on the TBR shelf as we speak), because I know she can write good ones!

Oh!  And that “black rainbow” thing?  Despite the fact that Michaels describes it as “palest silver-gray to a black deeper than the moonlit vault of the sky,” all I can seem to find is “moonbows,” which reflect from the light of the moon rather than the sun.  Still, they do use regular rainbow colors, just more muted than their daytime cousin.  I couldn’t find anything under black rainbow, but I am open to pictures/articles if anyone else has some??


Here’s a picture from this article about moonbows.  In fairness, the author says that to the human eye, they usually appear white or silver, but a time lapse brings out the colors.  Of course, everyone takes the pictures with the time lapse, so I can’t seem to locate a picture of what it would look like to a normal, mid-1800’s governess strolling the the dripping darkness towards her new home…

Dragonsblood // by Todd McCaffrey


//published 2005//

This is Todd McCaffrey’s first solo Pern book, after co-writing Dragon’s Kin with his mother (and creator of Pern), Anne McCaffrey.  While Dragonsblood was an alright read, it never really grabbed me.  A lot of the story felt emotionally distant, and times when it seemed like I should be feeling completely engaged, I was actually just sort of ho-humming my way through the story.  In the end, while Dragonsblood filled in some gaps of Pernese history, it wasn’t the dramatic page-turner that I’ve gotten from some of the other books in the series.

The story opens around 500 years after the initial settlement of Pern (aka “AL” – After Landing).  The third Pass of Thread is due to begin at any time.  The Weyrs have been preparing for Threadfall, and the majority of the population is also gearing up.  There doesn’t seem to be any of the widespread disbelief like there was at the end of the first interval in Red Star Rising.  On the whole, the people are ready (or as ready as they can be) to face the inevitable.

Dragonsblood jumps back and forth in time between the beginning of the third pass back to around 50-60 AL, where we follow Wind Blossom, the genetic creator of watch-whers (and the daughter of the woman who created dragons).

Basically, the concept is that in the later time period, a sickness hits the dragons and begins to kill them.  In the past, Wind Blossom surmises that this could happen, especially when two sick fire lizards appear from the future.  Wind Blossom’s story is developing a cure for a sickness that will occur centuries later, and to find a way to give the information to the people who will need it.

This just wasn’t my favorite book. I liked the dual timeline, but at the same time the connections between the two times felt really weak.  For instance, Wind Blossom has her daughter basically guess when the fire lizards came from by determining (read: guessing) how long it will take the population of Pern to figure out how to start creating beads like the ones on the harnesses worn by the fire lizards.  (Side note: how does the kid who finds the fire lizards know that they’re wearing a beaded harness if they don’t actually have beads in his time period…??)  She legit is like, “Oh, wow, probably like 400 years,” and wow that’s exactly right, how convenient.

The whole book was kind of like that.  It felt just a little off-kilter, a little lazy.  There were several jumps similar to the bead one, where people need to know something in order for the plot to go forward, and then they just conveniently guess the right thing.  How handy.

Meantime, in the later-time story, dragons are dying.  In all the other books, this has been a huge deal.  If a dragon dies, the Rider almost always commits suicide because the emotional devastation is so great.  If a Rider dies, the dragon goes between never to return.  Having a dragon die is described as literally having a part of the Rider die, and Riders who survive the death of their dragons are considered an anomaly.  Many who live go insane because it’s so horrific.  But in Dragonsblood, tons of dragons die, and McCaffrey just kind of acts like it’s sad but, you know…  just sad, not crippling.  This really, really lessens the emotional impact of the entire story.

Then there’s the Weyrwoman thing – the current Weyrwoman’s dragon dies, so there is a new Weyrwoman, and she’s basically the bitchiest person you’ve ever met.  She was just so incredibly aggravating, and even though, in the end, we’re told why (sort of), it makes no sense – SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER – dragons can jump through time, but it’s really hard on both dragons and Riders to be in two times at the same time, so supposedly it makes them grumpy and stressed.  We get to the end and find out that the Weyrwoman has taken several other dragons and gone back in time for the last three years, but then why has no one else been really cranky…???  ??????  END SPOILER

I won’t bother reiterating all the parts of this book that made me look askance at it, but suffice to say that there were several.  I don’t necessarily think that Todd McCaffrey is a worse author than his mother, as several of Anne’s books were a little weak (in my mind) as well, and we’ll have to see where he goes from here, although I think there are also a few more books that he and Anne coauthored.

All in all, I’m still going with a 3/5, but it’s a weak 3.  We will see what happens in the next tale…

Emily’s Runaway Imagination // by Beverly Cleary


//published 1961//

This book, delightfully illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush (I LOVE THEIR ILLUSTRATIONS), is one of my childhood favorites.  Set around 1920, Emily and her family live in a rambling old house in a small town in Oregon.  In my mind, this book is everything a children’s book should be – uplifting, entertaining, with gentle lessons about understanding, sympathy, sharing, industry, and kindness.  Throughout the book, Emily helps to found the town’s library, rides in her grandfather’s brand new automobile, learns that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and also comes to understand that just because someone looks and/or talks different from you doesn’t mean that they can’t be a friend.

There is a gentle poignancy to the stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting them.  Emily’s Runaway Imagination features an inventive, engaging, and lovable heroine and is excellent bedtime story material.  5/5.

The Diamond Secret // by Suzanne Weyn


//published 2009//

The story of the assassination of the entire Romanov family during the Russian Revolution is one of darkness and sadness.  An entire family, including children, slaughtered.  Although Suzanne Weyn tells us in her afterword that she knows DNA testing has proved that there were no survivors from that tragedy, she still goes on to tell a story of what could have happened if Anastasia had actually survived.

We begin with the Romanovs and the night they were killed, then skip ahead a year to the story of Nadya, who works in a tavern.  She has no memory of her life before she woke up in an asylum a year before.  When two men arrive at the tavern and claim that Nadya’s grandmother has hired them to find Nadya, she decides to go with them to France.

This isn’t a book full of surprises.  It’s obvious from the beginning that Nadya is Anastasia, and equally obvious that there will be some reason that Nadya does not end up claiming that name (since there is no Anastasia in real life).  Still, despite the lack of intrigue, the story was still well-written and enjoyable, if a bit simplistic.  A lot of details and difficulties were sort of skimmed over or resolved through convenient coincidences.  Still, a decent tale.  3/5.

Dragon’s Kin // by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey


//published 2003//

Dragon’s Kin is the first, but not the last, collaboration between Anne McCaffrey and her son, Todd McCaffrey.  I read a bit of an interview with Todd, wherein he basically said that he grew up surrounded by Anne’s Pern books, and was full of stories set in that world.  He went on to also write a few Pern books independently.  While no new Pern books have been published since Anne McCaffrey’s death in 2011 (Sky Dragons was published around the time of her death, having been written by Anne and Todd together), Todd McCaffrey’s website indicates that both he and his sister were left the rights to write about Pern in Anne’s will, and that his sister may be publishing a Pern book sometime soon (ish).  So while I am nearing the end of the Pern books, there is that delightful possibility of a new tale in the future!

Anyway!  I really enjoyed Dragon’s Kin, which took us to a different aspect of Pern – a mining camp as the second interval is drawing to a close.  With less than twenty years until thread falls again, the people of Pern are beginning to prepare.  In Natalon’s mining camp – which he hopes will eventually be approved as an official Hold – the men work hard to mine coal, which provides the needed fuel to forge metal tools used throughout Pern.

Our story focuses on Kindan, the youngest in a large family of sons (and one daughter, soon to be married and leaving the camp with her new husband).  Kindan’s father is the keeper of the camp’s watch-wher.  Related to dragons (and, of course, the ancestors of dragons, fire lizards), watch-whers are believed to be a genetic mistake.  Dragons where created from the genetic information of fire lizards by a skilled biologist named Kitti Ping.  In Dragonsdawn, we watched Kitti Ping create the dragons.  The prologue to Dragon’s Kin tells us –

In what was regarded as a mistake, Kitti Ping’s daughter, Wind Blossom, created smaller, overmuscled, ugly creatures with great photosensitive eyes.  Called watch-whers, they were useless fighting Thread in the daylight.  But the resourceful Pernese discovered that the watch-whers were ideal for seeing in dark places, like the caves that became the Holds for the Holders and mines for the miners.

The story of Dragon’s Kin focuses on watch-whers and their purpose.  It was a new and intriguing angle to Pern.  The authors crafted a story that lifts a formerly obscure aspect of Pern (I’ve always been a bit curious about the glossed-over watch-whers) and gives them an entirely new purpose and importance.

Kindan’s story is also interesting, as he struggles through tragic loss and tries to find his way.  We have a great villain who is just looking for personal gain rather than rebelling against change (THANK GOODNESS) and several other new and interesting characters.

All in all, Dragon’s Kin breathes some new life into the story of Pern, which was beginning to get a bit redundant.  A 4/5 read and an excellent addition to the series.

Forest Patrol // by Jim Kjelgaard


//published 1941//

Forest Patrol was one of the few Kjelgaard books I hadn’t read before.  It’s free as a Kindle book on Amazon, so that was a win.  I actually really enjoyed this story about a young man (of course) who yearns to become a forest ranger and who is working as a trapper to save money to go to school.  However, opportunity comes before then – the chance to work as an interim ranger for a year, as the regular ranger has been given a different assignment for that time.


I quite like this frontspiece

John makes a good protagonist.  Like most of Kjelgaard’s heroes, John is hardworking, industrious, honest, and determined.  He understands that he has much to learn, but also knows his strengths.  While the book sometimes meandered into the territory of a lecture on the responsibilities of a forest ranger in the 1940’s (luckily, that’s rather interesting in and of itself), overall he sticks to just the story of John’s day-to-day life as he learns about and comes to love the land he’s been given to guard and protect.

While Forest Patrol is not as action-packed as some of Kjelgaard’s stories, I still found it interesting and a worthwhile read, and a book I’d like to eventually add to my hard-copy library.  4/5.

The Boomerang Clue // by Agatha Christie

AKA Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?


//published 1935// This is my rather boring cover

Our story begins with Bobby Jones, the fourth son of the Vicar of Marchbolt, who is playing golf with his friend, Dr. Thomas.  Bobby, whose “best friend could not have said that he was handsome, but his face was an eminently likable one, and his eyes had the honest brown friendliness of a dog’s,” is not particularly good at golf, and a nasty slice sends his ball down into a steep-sided chasm.  Scrambling down to find his ball, Bobby instead comes across a man, who has apparently stumbled over the cliff and fallen.  The doctor examines the unconscious man and says that it appears his back is broken and that he won’t make it.  Leaving Bobby with the soon-to-be-dead man, Dr. Thomas goes for help.  As Bobby stands guard, the man regains consciousness for just a few moments – long enough to ask, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” before he dies.

Why-Didnt-They-Ask-Evans-v2The death is ruled accidental, but Bobby begins to have his suspicions about various little niggling things that don’t quite add up.  With the aid of Lady Frances Derwent, daughter of the local nobility, (and Bobby’s childhood friend), Bobby begins to explore the man’s death.  The story is wildly impractical at times, but Bobby and Frankie make an endearing duo, and the whole thing is such great fun that it’s easy to gloss over some of the raised-eyebrow moments.

Honestly, the main issue I had with this book wasn’t the book’s fault at all.  It was this niggling feeling that the phrase “Why didn’t they ask Evans” had been used elsewhere by Christie.  Like I detective myself, I finally Googled around until I found what I was looking for.  I was positive that it had been in a Poirot book, and lo!  Thirteen at Dinner had what I was looking for – Poirot and Hastings are crossing a street when Poirot overhears a chance remark from someone who is leaving the theater – “Idiotic story.  If they’d just had the sense to ask Ellis right away, which anyone with sense would have done – ”  This leads Poirot to his final clue.  Ellis, not Evans, but close enough that it nagged at me the whole time I was reading The Boomerang Clue!


Here we go. Much more dramatic!

On the whole, Christie ties things together on the end, although I was still left with a few ??? items.  It especially seems unlikely that the bad guy would write them a letter in the end just to explain his perspective, but, you know, whatever works.  All in all, The Boomerang Clue isn’t my favorite Christie, but it is quick and fun, and a solid read.  3/5.

A Gift of Dragons // by Anne McCaffrey


//collection published in 2002//

This small, illustrated book is a departure from the norm for the Pern series.  It includes three short stories that were previously published elsewhere, and one that appeared in this book for the story’s first time in print.  Three of the stories are set during the latest (chronologically) books (which were among the earliest published…), while “Ever the Twain” was set during the second pass (after the events of Red Star Rising).

Overall, while the collection was enjoyable, it did not add as much to the world building as the last collection of short stories, The Chronicles of Pern.

“The Smallest Dragonboy” (published originally in 1973) is the first, and follows the story of Keevan, whom we know as K’van in other books.  Smaller and younger than many of the other candidates for dragon impression, Keevan is determined that he will Impress a dragon and prove to the other candidates, especially bully Beterli, that size doesn’t matter.  While a pleasant  and engaging story, it wasn’t particularly thrilling.

The second story, “The Girl Who Heard Dragons” (originally published in 1994) was much longer than “The Smallest Dragonboy.”  However, it really just felt like a deleted chapter that should have been in The Renegades of Pern.  It was about Aramina, who, because of her ability to hear all dragons, is the target of attempted kidnapping by the holdless thief, Thella, throughout Renegades.  In this short story, we learn more about how Aramina and her family initially escaped from Thella.  However, if I hadn’t read Renegades, I would have had literally no idea what was happening with this story.  In my mind, a short story should stand on its own (somewhat), and this one doesn’t.  I really think that McCaffrey was going to originally include it in Renegades, but since that book is a million pages long, decided to cut it.  A good story, but I kind of wish I had read it closer to Renegades so I would have had the characters more organized in my head.

There was a similar “deleted chapter” feel from the third story, “Runner of Pern” (initially published 1998).  In The MasterHarper of Pernthere is a minor secondary story about a runner (runners literally run around the continent, on foot, delivering messages) named Tenna and her relationship with one of the sons of the Lord Holder of Fort Hold.  In “Runner of Pern,” we get Tenna’s back story, how she became a runner, and how she met Haligon.  It was actually probably my favorite of the four stories, because learning more about runners was really interesting, and I quite liked Tenna.  While I think this would have worked well as a chapter in MasterHarper, it stood as an independent story much better than “The Girl Who Heard Dragons.”

The final story, “Ever the Twain” (published in 2002)felt the most random.  It is about a pair of siblings, twins, who are chosen to come to the Weyr for a hatching.  It was a perfectly nice and engaging story, but didn’t really add anything, in my mind, to the overall story of Pern.  (Although it’s possible that Nian and/or Neru are characters in Dragonseye that I don’t remember.)

On the whole, a decent little collection of shorts that were quick and easy to read, but not as critical to understanding Pern as the collection found in Chronicles.  3/5.