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…

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//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.

Dragonsblood // by Todd McCaffrey

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//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…

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

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//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.

A Gift of Dragons // by Anne McCaffrey

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//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.

 

The Skies of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey

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//published 2001//

The Skies of Pern appears to be the last book, chronologically, that McCaffrey wrote about Pern.  Set after The Dolphins of Pern, McCaffrey looks at life on Pern as its people look toward a Thread-free future.  While it was good to get some closure for some of the characters that have gone through so many of the books together – eleven of the Pern books center around the same 40 or so years of Pernese history – I didn’t feel that Skies was McCaffrey’s best work.

First off, she starts by harping back on the same old thing: a disgruntled group of horrible people who hate progress.  I just don’t understand why McCaffrey feels like this is a plot-line she has to revisit in almost every book.  It is getting quite old – for someone who makes all the anti-change people absolutely evil, McCaffrey seems to be in a bit of a rut herself.  The especially frustrating part about this plot line in Skies was that it also felt completely unnecessary.  It was the plot that fit the last well into the overall story, and I genuinely think the entire book would have read better without it, especially since it was also the story line that was most poorly ended.

The rest of the stories actually aren’t bad.  F’lessan, the (adult) son of the Benden Weyrleaders, is the main character of the book, and we more or less follow his relationship with a green dragon rider, Tai.  F’lessan has been in and out of several of the other books, and I have always liked him.  He is a character who could have kicked back and rested on the laurels of his parents, who are incredibly important and powerful people in Pern, but he doesn’t.  Instead, F’lessan makes his own way, working through the ranks, studying, and aiming for a future.

Tai was also a really likable character.  Quiet and intelligent, she was also not intended to be a dragonrider, and just happened to be at the hatching where her dragon, Zaranth, chose her.  Tai is a good balance for F’lessan’s sociable, breezy personality.

The other big story (besides the random “we hate progress” vandals) is a huge meteor hitting Pern and causing a tsunami.  It’s this whole big thing and lots of drama, yadda yadda, and this is the other point where the book kind of fails to hang together.  See, I think what McCaffrey was trying to do was create a realistic role for many dragonriders to play after the end of the current Pass of Thread.  Having altered the Red Star’s course, Thread will never fall on Pern again after the end of the current Pass, which means that dragonriders can no longer expect to receive tithe from the Holders and Halls.  I’m not really sure why she felt like she had to come up with a special task for them, since we’ve already established that there is a ridiculously large amount of unsettled land on the southern continent, and all the dragonriders can just start their own Holds and go from there.  But apparently this isn’t enough.  Using the meteor as a starting point, McCaffrey has the dragonriders determine that they should basically start their own sky watch program, where they have people observing the skies 24-7, on constant alert for other dangerous chunks of rock falling from the sky.  Throughout the story, the dragons discover that they not only have the power to communicate telepathically, as well as the ability to teleport, but they can also move things telekinesistically.  So apparently, in the future, dragonriders are going to look through telescopes for potential danger, and if they see something, the dragons will head out and use their minds to redirect the path of the meteor!  ????????  What?!

This makes no sense to me, mainly because it’s not like they have this big problem with meteors falling all over the place.  They rarely fall, and they even more rarely fall in such large chunks as to actually cause trouble.  So this whole thing with justifying the continued existence of dragons really didn’t hang together for me.

Despite the flaws, this was still a very readable book.  And, like I said, it was good to get some closure on some of my favorites.  I’m actually quite sad that it appears that all the rest of the Pern books will take place during earlier points of Pernese history.  These characters have been together for the longest stretch, and I have gotten to know them the best.

Still have nine Pern books left!  They are neverending!

The MasterHarper of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey

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//published 1999//

As the Pern saga continues, McCaffrey continues to fill in various gaps in the history.  The MasterHarper of Pern begins forty or fifty years before the original Pern book (Dragonflight).  Like The Renegades of Pernit fills in a lot of the backstory to the events that take place leading up to Dragonflight.  

Basically, as I read these books, I view McCaffrey’s initial six books as the main point of the series.  The rest don’t really make sense unless you’ve read those six.  Even the books that are set at the beginning of Pern’s history somehow need the context of the later books to get the full impact of McCaffrey’s writing.

MasterHarper is a really enjoyable addition, mainly because Robinton is such a great character.  He’s an important character in those first six books (and a few others), and getting his backstory really gave his character a lot more depth.  When we meet Robinton in Dragonflight, we know that he is unmarried and childless, so I figured that his romance in MasterHarper was probably going to end in tragedy.  It felt like McCaffrey made it even more tragic than absolutely necessary.  This was a book full of drama and pathos, sometimes a bit too much.

Luckily, Robinton himself is a strong, humorous character.  He is intelligent, practical, and far-seeing.  His rise to leadership and almost universal acceptance seems natural and realistic.

At the end of the day, while MasterHarper didn’t really throw me any surprises, it was a solid read with some intriguing insight into an already well-liked character.  4/5.

Dragonseye // by Anne McCaffrey

aka Red Star Rising 

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//published 1997//

In this book, McCaffrey takes us back to around 300 years after the initial landing at Pern.  When Thread first fell, the original settlers were able to determine that Thread would fall for about 50 years, and that there would be intervals of around 200 years between each cycle of Thread.  Dragonseye takes place as the First Interval is drawing to a close and the Second Fall is about to begin.

I don’t know if I’m just getting used to McCaffrey’s writing/Pern or what, but despite the fact that this book involved an entirely new cast of characters, I found it a lot easier to get into than some of her other stories.  McCaffrey uses this story to show us how a lot of the information/history from the original settlers was lost completely by the Ninth Pass 2000 years later (which is when the first book in the series is set).

As usual, there are several strands of story playing out at the same time.  The main drive of the story is the Dragonriders trying to get everyone to prepare for Threadfall.  Even though there has only been about 200 years since the last Threadfall, some people are reluctant to admit that Thread is coming again.  One Lord Holder in particular, Chalkin, refuses to accept that Thread is going to fall.  He doesn’t warn his people and will take no preparatory action.  And, on top of that, he’s just an all-around nasty guy.

Meanwhile, the school system in Pern is undergoing a big change.  Up until this point, they have followed an educational system fairly close to what we would see here, where students would attend regular classes and lessons.  But as the society comes to rely less and less on technology, and more and more on what they grow/create themselves, there isn’t as much time for education as before.  The leader of schooling system, Clisser, believes that much of what is being taught is unnecessary.  Why do they need to spend time teaching the students about per-Pern history, for instance?  What they need is to focus on the specific studies that will help them survive.  Thus, we see the very beginnings of the different “halls” – one for each branch of industry/study – born, as well as the technique of teaching important information by song.  (As the reader, we know that eventually the educational system will be replaced by the Harper Hall, and that songs will become the main way by which education is shared.)

All in all, this was a solid story.  I don’t think it would have been as enjoyable if I hadn’t read it at this point in the series.  By knowing what is going to happen later in Pernese history, this book of background was a lot more intriguing.

I’ve mentioned before a frustration with the fact that McCaffrey  – and most other authors – love to portray those who advocate change as the good guys, and anyone who is against the change (or even like “Hey guys maybe we should think this through”) are automatically the nasty people that no one likes.  In this book, one such character is Sallisha, a teacher who isn’t sure about Clisser’s ideas for changing the entire educational system.  She’s a minor character, but even so comes across as stiff-necked, traditional (in a negative sense), and basically someone who will blindly cling to the old way just because it is the old way.  This was extremely aggravating because her actions show Sallisha to be intelligent, interested in her students, and not the type of person who would remain prejudiced against a genuinely good idea.

For instance, in this conversation between Sallisha and Clisser, McCaffrey immediately sets the tone for how we are supposed to view Sallisha, thus subtly encouraging the reader to disregard everything she is getting ready to say:

Sallisha had seated herself in the least comfortable chair – the woman positively enjoyed being martyred.  She still held the notebook, like a precious artifact, across her chest.

So basically we’re already being told that she is cranky, self-righteous, and stubborn.  After setting her up thus, then we are allowed to hear her actual views, which are actually quite reasonable.  Sallisha is concerned that by eliminating history and an emphasis on the way that Pern came to be, that the culture will lose that information entirely, a view that Clisser completely dismisses as ridiculous.  Ironically, it’s Sallisha who is proved right centuries later.

Point being, Sallisha could have been used to show another side of the coin, but instead is just set up as a grouchy old woman.  McCaffrey  has a very aggravating habit of creating “good” characters, who, no matter how crazy their decisions sound, are always right.  These are in contrast to the “bad” characters: anyone who disagrees with the good guys is always set up as a grouch, hidebound, stubborn, unlikable, barely tolerated even by those who are close and/or related, etc.  It seems like the stories could really benefit from some intelligent and reasonable controversy.

At any rate, Dragonseye – and the series as a whole – is still a good time, and one that I am thoroughly enjoying.  The next stop is back into the future to learn more about Masterharper Robinton’s childhood and background, so I’m excited about that one.