Well, friends, this is a momentous post, as I believe it will be my final post about Pern! Yes, there are still four books after Dragon Harper, but I have been unable to work up the enthusiasm to get past the first 150 or so pages of Dragonheart, and so I believe that this may be the end of the series for me…
I already complained a bit about the direction this series went in my review of the last book, Dragon’s Fire. I’m not even sure where to begin with why these books aren’t anywhere close to as good as Anne’s original stories.
One big thing is definitely that Todd McCaffrey seems incapable of really thinking of anything new to have happen, so he keeps going back and cover the same territory again and again. His timeline for his books is choppy and confusing as he jumps around all over the place with each book, reusing characters and events. In five books, we’re covering only 15-20 years of history. There just isn’t enough story to cover 2000+ pages of material.
Two big events happen in these 20 years: there’s a devastating plague that kills a bunch of people. Then, there is a devastating dragon plague that kills a bunch of dragons. Two plagues in less than 20 years seems excessive, and also seems like lazy writing. It would already be boring if there was only one book about each of those events, but five books that cover those same two events repeatedly is just a complete yawn-fest.
Todd tries to make it interesting by inserting these other random events, like new information about the watch-whers (like I said, I actually enjoyed Todd’s first book, Dragon’s Kin) and the whole bit about finding better firestone, but it just isn’t enough to keep things moving.
Another gigantic problem I have with these newer books is the sudden young age of the protagonists. This is adult fantasy/sci-fi, and the books have always been about adults. Now all of a sudden, they’re about kids who are 12-14 years old, and it makes absolutely no sense. It was weird in Dragon’s Kin, and a bit ridiculous in Dragon’s Fire (plus creepy because of the whole 13-year-old kid having sex with someone several years older than him in a situation that definitely felt rape-like), and it’s just plain absurd in Dragon Harper. The main character is Kindan, who was only 12 in Dragon’s Kin, and so is only probably 13 in Dragon Harper. For some reason, we’re supposed to believe that Kindan is really respected and liked by the MasterHarper (with no explanation as to why). For some reason, Kindan receives a fire lizard egg even though he just an apprentice (with no explanation as to why). Kindan isn’t really great at anything that harpers do, yet for some reason is considered a very promising apprentice (with no explanation as to why). He doesn’t Impress with a dragon, but instead of staying at the Weyr as unsuccessful candidates traditionally do, for some reason he returns to Harper Hall (with no explanation as to why). The Weyrleader really likes Kindan a lot and for some reason promises Kindan that he can come be the Weyr’s Harper whenever he becomes a journeyman (but guess what… there’s no explanation as to why). And on top of never bothering to explain literally anything, all these great things are happening to a 13-year-old kid. [insert lots of question marks here] (And this continues in Dragonheart with another protagonist who is just a kid, but everyone is all like, “Oh, wow, we are definitely going to give her so much respect even though we have no motivation or reason to do so!”)
So Kindan has his little gang of outcasts at the Harper Hall, and they all get bullied by this tough kid. The tough kid insults a girl (or something like that??) so Kindan challenges him to an actual duel to the death, and everyone is just like, “Oh, okay, yeah that’s totally his right.” Say what?! Then, in this weird Karate Kid kind of music-montage, Kindan goes off for one week of training and comes back an actual fencing expert. And did I mention that he was also seriously injured the week before doing this training? So not only does he become a fencing expert, he does that all while still healing up? [insert lots of question marks here]
Of course, our 13-year-old hero wins the duel and doesn’t kill his enemy, but instead makes the bully become his slave. Except then the bully becomes utterly devoted to Kindan and is like his bodyguard/sidekick. [insert lots of question marks here]
On top of all this, we have this totally weird thing where there are two girl apprentices, but they just sleep in the apprentice dormitory with all the boys?? And they all bathe in the same room?? And at the same time, Kindan falls in love with the Lord Holder’s daughter and is having all these kissy times with her. So I’m supposed to believe that a 13-year-old boy is capable of sharing bathtime with girls in a totally cool, non-sexual way, while also sneaking off to make out with another girl, and also at the same time able to share a sleeping space with the kissy girl (long story) but manages to “behave himself” despite temptation….?? [insert lots of question marks here]
I said back at the beginning that I didn’t really know where to start with all the problems I had with this book, but now I don’t know where to stop. Should I stop with Kindan becoming the noble hero who works tirelessly to save people from the plague? (Except I’m also supposed to believe that there was only one Healer for a Hold of 10,000 people?) (And also, Kindan kind of sucks at the whole thing? Like he doesn’t really come up with this great way to save people… they all still die. Yet everyone is like, “Oh, wow, Kindan, you’re so amazing! We love you! Everything we have is yours!” And they basically throw flowers and kisses at him everywhere he goes and he is treated like a son of the Hold and adulated as a hero… with no real explanation as to why.) (And there is also this big thing where they realize the plague is killing all the people who are something like 16-24 years old or something like that, but then we never find out why so it just continues to make no sense with no actual explanation. There’s an afterword that says, “Sometimes there are epidemics and they kill really healthy people.” Okay… but why is that happening here? Why do we emphasize it with no concept as to why??) Or should I stop with how all the Master Harpers die in the plague, but instead of making various journeymen the new masters, the new MasterHarper just randomly puts all Kindan’s friends in charge of everything? (Because that’s what I would do, put a bunch of 13-year-olds in charge of everything.) Should I stop with the fact that, for no reason that anyone ever explains, Kindan and his friends are taxed with the task of searching through all the Records for a way to help stop the plague? (Again. This is something that happens repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly… Oh, people are sick. We should search the Records. Let’s have these random kids do it! That makes the most sense!) Or the part where they actually do find something in the Records that may help, and then the adults who told them to search the Records totally blow them off? (I know, let’s have these random kids search through the Records to see if they can find any helpful information. Wait, you actually found something? Well, we don’t have time to listen to you – you’re just a kid! Run along now!)
In short, this book made no sense. And to top it off, the characters were just terrible. They were wooden and boring. There was no connection between their actions and their thoughts – no real explanations or motivations. They were just pieces on the chessboard, being shoved here and there in an attempt to make something happen.
And that’s really why I’m not finishing the series. Dragonheart is shaping up the same way. I can work up zero interest in the main character of that book because she makes zero sense. She just says and does things that are completely inconsistent. Combined with the fact that I already know the answers to all the “mysteries,” and I already know how they are going to solve the problem of the dragon plague – since, you know, we already had an entire book written about this event – it’s just too, too boring to justify continuing to plow through it.
This is an incredibly disappointing ending to a solid year of reading through Pern. While there were some ups and downs throughout, I give Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books a solid 4/5 on the whole and, perhaps unbelievably, do actually want to read them again someday. But for now – and the future – I’ll be giving Todd McCaffrey’s contributions a miss.