Dragon Harper // by Todd McCaffrey and Anne McCaffrey

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…


//published 2007//

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.

The Great Zoo of China // by Matthew Reilly


//published 2014//

Stephanie read this book quite a while back, and, as my regular followers know, I’m a sucker for dragons so I added it to the TRB without hesitation.  Now in fairness, Stephanie only gave this book 3/5 and did warn that it was heavy on action and light on character development, so it wasn’t a complete surprise, but still!  I honestly think this book would make Bruce Willis raise his eyebrows in disbelief.  It was nonstop chaos from about page 100 on.

China has been keeping a huge secret for decades: they have discovered real dragons and have spent many, many years (and many billions of dollars and, frankly, many lives) to create a tourist attraction that will rocket them to the top of the cultural pile: an interactive zoo filled with live dragons.

The book starts out great as a select group of Americans have been invited to a top-secret sneak peek at a zoo, including our protagonist, CJ, who is a famous herpetologist (a person who studies reptiles), and her brother, Hamish.  CJ is supposed to be writing an article for National Geographic, and she’s brought her brother as a photographer.  They have no idea what to expect, and the dragons are a huge shock.  The Chinese have developed intricate and involved ways of protecting their visitors from the dragons.  The first hundred pages are spent explaining how the dragons came to be, how they are prevented from attacking people, how the different types of dragons interact, etc.  It’s all quite interesting, but even Hamish points out that anyone who has seen Jurassic Park has an idea how these types of projects usually end.

And guess what?  Things go… badly.  The dragons have figured out how to circumvent the protective systems and are able to start attacking the humans – and then all hell breaks loose.

Okay, so pros:  the concept was great.  Despite the many similarities to Jurassic Park, Reilly had enough new ideas to prevent it from feeling like a total ripoff.  Some of the twists were excellent.  The explanations for the dragons and the whole zoo were really great, although I was a bit confused with things like, “Curiosity in an animal was a sign of intelligence and it was rare.  You found it only in a few members of the animal kingdom: chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins.”  ?? Maybe I define “curiosity” differently, but my dog is definitely curious, and I have an entire flock of chickens who are basically the nosiest creatures on earth – if I’m outside, they are all up in my business, trying to find out what I’m doing.  I spent several days painting fence on a farm once, and had to endure the cows standing about giving me advice the entire time.  Even wild animals, like foxes, I’ve seen take time to examine something they don’t recognize or understand.  Isn’t that what curiosity is???  But still.

The cons?  The book just didn’t quite deliver.  Reilly instead decided to make the whole book nothing but a huge mess of running about, being eaten by dragons, dodging dragons, almost getting killed by the Chinese, Jeeps careening off cliffs and waterfalls, attacks from giant alligators, helicopter wrecks – it just didn’t let up, and after a while it got rather boring.  It was extra frustrating because I actually felt like this could have been a really, really good book if Reilly had spent just a smidge more time on character development and a little less on flaming trash trucks and narrow escapes.

I mean, seriously.  I’m supposed to believe sentences like, “They had been running for about ten minutes when…”  ????  Oh, after a nice exhausting day running from dragons, I just trot about at a run, effortlessly.  Totally.  I also liked the part where the crocodile grabbed CJ and started to drown her, except she escapes, and then we just never talk about her arm again.  Apparently the croc just held it very, very gently.  And then there’s where they just run up several flights of stairs – “After about eight minutes of hurried climbing…”  ????  Eight straight minutes of running up stairs?  And they’re alive!?  And that’s just on page 253!  They still have 200 pages of intense physical exertion ahead!

The other thing about this book that drove me absolutely crazy was the actual formatting Reilly used.  He would start a paragraph…

Then another…

As though he was being really dramatic…

Except it was super annoying.

He would also insert random italics to emphasize entire phrases right in the middle of his narrative:  “She skipped up on a chair and with Johnson beside her, leapt up onto the control console and out the shattered window, past the dragon and onto the roof of the upturned cable car.”

What.  Even.  I’m not a child.  I can figure out which words in the sentence are important without them getting surrounded by flashing lights.  A few times is weird but alright, but the more the action ratcheted up, the more italics appeared and it got super old super fast.

In the end, I guess I’m going with 3/5 as well, although it is honestly almost a 2/5.  There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed, and the bones of the story were solid.  Even though I’ve made fun of it a lot, I actually did enjoy reading the book for the most part, even if some of it made my eyes roll almost out of my head.  If Reilly had actually worked on developing a plot and some characters, this would have been an awesome book.  Instead, I just had hundreds of pages of CJ pulling stunts that made DieHard look like it was performed by kindergartners.

The Dolphins of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey

//published 1994//totally creepy cover//for real//

//published 1994//totally creepy cover//for real//

So guess what!  This is my THIRTEENTH Pern book!  And they just keep going on!  I think that what I’m really enjoying about these books is just watching the world building.  McCaffrey has literally created an entirely different planet, with a culture and politics and social rules and history.  It’s just really fun to read any of these books now, because I already kind of know the basics of what is going on.

In The Dolphins of Pern, we pick up about halfway through the events of All the Weyrs of Pern.  In Weyrs, we followed the leaders of Pern as they worked with Aivas, the AI computer left by the original settlers of Pern, to plan the final defeat of Thread.  (Thread, if you remember, periodically rains down destruction all over Pern; dragons were created to work with their riders to ward off Thread.)  Dolphins follows a few of the secondary characters from Weyrs as they make a discovery that, while not as drastic as the eradication of Thread, is still pretty big: they find out that dolphins can talk.

As the reader, we already know this, especially if you’ve read Dragonsdawnthe book that follows the original settlement of Pern.  Throughout the course of pre-Pern history, humans and dolphins learned to communicate; some dolphins agreed to a genetic modification that also allowed them to learn human speech.  When the settlers of Pern were leaving Earth/our solar system, a group of dolphins volunteered to accompany them.  During the early years of Pern, dolphins and humans worked together, as dolphins explored the coasts and brought information about shoals, storms, and fish.  In return, the humans helped the dolphins when they were injured.  Over the generations, as Thread took its toll, and several epidemics struck the humans, they forgot their ties to the dolphins.  But the dolphins never did, preserving their history and continuing to practice human speech.  They even continued in many of their duties – accompany fishing ships and rescuing shipwrecked sailors, who never realized – or chose to realize – that the dolphins were speaking to them.

In present-day Pern, dolphins are known as shipfish.  There are many tales of shipfish helping humans, and all fishermen know that injuring or killing a shipfish is terrible luck and is never done.  When masterfisherman Alemi and his young neighbor, Readis, are shipwrecked, shipfish rescue them and bring them to shore, speaking to Alemi and Readis quite clearly.  Throughout the book, humans relearn to communicate and work with shipfish, extracting history from Aivas and speaking with the shipfish.

All of this is really interesting.  It’s a great story, and McCaffrey does a really nice job of giving dolphins a voice and intelligence without making them too human, or even too much like her dragons.  I also really enjoyed reading more about some characters from earlier books.  Readis is the son of Jayge and Aramina from Renegades of Pernand Alemi is the brother of Menolly, who was the heroine Dragonsong and Dragonsinger.  I really liked what little I saw of Alemi in Dragonsong, so it was really nice to see him happily settled and living a good life.

The problem with Dolphins is that there just wasn’t all that much of a story.  I mean, yes, people were getting to know dolphins, but…  there isn’t a lot of plot in that.  In order to create some drama/tension, McCaffrey has Readis’s mother, Aramina, completely overreact when Alemi and Readis are originally rescued by the dolphins.  She flips out because he’s the oldest son and is going to the lord holder some day and he has responsibilities and can’t be gallivanting off around the ocean getting almost drowned, etc. etc. etc.  Then she makes Readis (who is like six years old at the time) swear that he’ll never go down to the water alone!  And he promises.  But what Aramina actually wants is for him to not go down to the water at all, because a few years later, when she finds out that he’s been hanging out with the dolphins – always with another person there, too – she flips out again.  And that really annoyed me because you didn’t make him promise not to go at all – you made him promise not to go alone, and he never did…????

Throughout the book, Aramina literally makes no sense, and it was really annoying.  It basically felt like McCaffrey couldn’t come up with any other way to create conflict, so she just made Aramina completely unreasonable, so Readis had to sneak around, when the truth of the matter was that what Readis was doing wasn’t wrong or bad, so him having to be sneaky just felt strange.  Aramina’s husband, Jayge, who is completely reasonable about everything else, basically just sits there like a lump nodding his head whenever she goes off instead of telling her to stop being stupid and let Readis live his own life, especially since this book covers ten or fifteen years, and Readis is an adult at one point, and Aramina is still bossing him around about visiting dolphins.  It was just weird.

Other than that, the rest of the book was great fun.  About half of the book takes place after the conclusion of All the Weyrs of Pern, so there was a glimpse of Pernese life after those big events.  There were also plenty of the main characters from other books in the background of this book, and it all felt like it hung together really nicely.

I still have plenty of Pern books left, so fear not – the reviews will continue!!