The House of the Scorpion // The Lord of Opium // by Nancy Farmer

This duology left me with very mixed feelings.  So much of the conceptualization was really intriguing, yet somehow the story didn’t grab me the way I wanted it to.  While I wanted to see how things came together, in the end some of the solutions were just smidge too simplistic for my taste.  These are considered children’s books, but I would definitely put them in the YA category, despite the fact that the main character is only 14.

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//published 2002//

It’s really hard to talk about these books without divulging too much about what happens.  But basically the story starts with Matteo, a little boy who is actually a clone.  He was made from an old man known as El Patrón, who rules a country whose entire purpose is to grow opium.  Matt is being raised by Celia, who loves him, but within the first few chapters Matt ends up at the main house where he discovers that he is not a regular little boy as he supposed, but a clone – and almost everyone considers him a monster, subhuman.

These books delve a great deal into what makes us human, and when we become human.  While much of the discussion is about clones, and another “subhuman” group, the eejits, they are questions that can easily apply to many marginalized groups in today’s society – I found myself regularly marveling at how the statements concerning clones made by the majority of Opium’s population echoed the justifications put forth by pro-abortion advocates today – things like “they can’t really feel pain” or “I decided to create it so I can decide to terminate it” or “it doesn’t really understand what’s happening, so it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s treated well.”

In the first book, Farmer purposely keeps the reader in the dark about a lot of things – sometimes a bit too much, I felt.  However, if you flip open the cover of the second book, you’ll find the answers to many questions in the first few pages – maps and a chronology of events.  These were very helpful by the time I was about halfway through the first book.

All in all, I enjoyed the story in The House of the Scorpion.  It was intense and gritty, yet did so in a way that was completely appropriate for younger (I would say 11+) readers.  Basically, if a reader is old enough to understand the content, there isn’t anything they shouldn’t read.  Some of it is disturbing, but never grotesquely so.  Matt is a well-drawn and engaging character.  Despite the fact that the first few chapters cover the first 13 years of Matt’s life, the story didn’t feel rushed or like an info-dump.  Farmer’s pacing is excellent, giving enough information to keep the story going.  So much of the world-building is discovered through Matt’s eyes (although third person), which was done very well.

However, the ending felt strangely abrupt.  Matt goes through so much and has so many enemies within the house – and then the end.  It felt like a cop-out in some ways.  Not completely dissatisfying, but it almost felt like Farmer wanted a bridge so that she could roll into a second book.  Ending the first book in a more natural way wouldn’t have led into the second book that she wanted to write, so the first book gets a bit of a ??! ending.

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//published 2013//

The Lord of Opium picks up Matt’s story the day after the first  book ends.  In this book, Matt has a lot more difficult decisions, plus he’s battling with a lot of emotions and the aftermath from the ending of the first book.  Farmer brings up a lot more questions about humanity, conservation, drugs, cloning, immortality, slavery, immigration, whether the ends justifies the means, and whether or not we choose our own paths or if they are chosen for us.  These topics are handled very deftly.  I never really felt like she was preaching at me, yet I found myself pondering a lot of the questions she had raised.  Despite the fact that my life is nothing like Matt’s, I still somehow really related to him as a character, and felt like a lot of the dilemmas he faced were once that I could understand.  To me, that’s a sign of solid writing.

Because these are children’s books, we had a happy ending. I  felt like it was a bit of a stretch, but I like happy endings, too, so I was willing to roll with it.  I actually would be totally into another book about Matt to see where his dreams take him next.  All in all, I would go with 3/5 for both books, but a really high 3, like a 3.8, and recommended.

A few spoiler-filled ?!?!? moments below the break – don’t read them until you’ve read the books!  But if you have read the books, I’d love to hear your opinions!

NB: These books were first brought to  my attention by a great review of The House of the Scorpion over on Paper Breathers.  Thanks, Sophie!

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The Girl with All the Gifts // by M.R. Carey

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//published 2014//

I was pretty skeptical about this book before I started it.  Actually, when I listed my next five reads in November’s Rearview Mirror last week, I mentioned that I thought this book had a high DNF possibility.  This book has been languishing on the TBR since June 2014 when Sophie reviewed it.  I’m the type of person who doesn’t always enjoy being mind-blown by books (so often that’s code for “completely illogical leap off a cliff”), but Sophie and I enjoy a lot of the same books, so the fact that she really liked this one kept it on the list.

Last Sunday was cold and windy and drizzly and the husband and I spent almost the entire day lazing about the house.  I picked up this book and thought I would read the first chapter or two so I could say that I had given it a chance and then move on.  Except once I started reading, I basically couldn’t put it down.  I was drawn in from the very first paragraph:

Her name is Melanie.  It means “the black girl”, from an ancient Greek word, but her skin is actually very fair so she thinks maybe it’s not such a good name for her.  She likes the name Pandora a whole lot, but you don’t get to choose.  Miss Justineau assigns names from a big list; new children get the top name on the boys’ list or the top name on the girls’ list, and that, Miss Justineau says, is that.

!??!?!?!  And for once in my life, the present tense narrative actually made sense.  It was used so very deftly – pushing the plot forward, making every more urgent, intense, uncertain.  Present tense is not for every book, or even for a lot of books.  But every once in a while, it makes a book almost magical, and that’s what it did here.

I read about 3/4 of this book on Sunday, devouring it in huge chunks. I had to work Monday morning, but when I got off, I didn’t get anything useful done around this house until I had finished the book.

This is one of those rare books where you really ought to know as little as possible going in, so I won’t tell you much of anything about the plot.  However, I was quite impressed by the way that plot moved along, and the way that Carey gives us just the right amount of information at just the right time.  The third person narrative rotates between some different characters, so you see multiple perspectives of the story and of the world Carey has created.  This is especially interesting when several disparate characters are forced to work together.

In a lot of ways, this book is a discussion about what makes us human and what we should do with that.  And while I didn’t really feel like this story answered all the questions it raised, it was still a very thoughtful kind of book.

I’ll say that I didn’t agree with the way this book ends.  Melanie makes a decision with far-reaching impact, and I didn’t feel like it was her decision to make, no matter whether her decision was right or wrong.  I’d love to hear from anyone else who has read this book, whether or not you agreed with the ending.

I didn’t enjoy every word of this book.  There were times that I didn’t agree with the direction the story went, and while I didn’t mind some of the moral questions being left unanswered, there were still a few times that I felt like the story itself had some loose ends.  There was also a scene where the main scientist describes in what I felt was incredibly unnecessary detail exactly how she does a dissection of the brain.  Seriously, I do not need three pages of play-by-play on how to remove a brain.

Speaking of the main scientist being female, the discussion questions in the back of this book were amazingly lame.  My personal favorite was asking whether or not I would have liked this character better if she was male.  Asking me if a person who is a total ass would be more likable as a male is honestly rather insulting.

On the whole, though, I think I’m going with a 4/5 for this book.  While I had some quibbles about some of the story – and definitely with the ending – it was overall a pretty un-put-down-able book, and a recommended read… as long as you have a big chunk of time to devote to it, because you probably won’t want to put it down…

The Fold // by Peter Clines

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//published 2015//

I got basically nothing else done on the day I started reading The Fold.  Somehow, the writing completely engaged me, and I couldn’t put it down.  In retrospect, I can see all kinds of holes in this story’s logic (including a major one that I’ll put in the spoiler section), but I am still giving this book 4/5 just because it was irresistible reading for me.

Mike is a high school teacher.  Just a normal guy trying to live a normal life.  But his friend, who works for the government, approaches him with a possible job, Mike agrees to at least attend the meeting – even though he isn’t really interested in the gig.

Out west, a group of scientists have been working several years on a project, and are seeking more grant money.  Mike’s friend wants Mike to go to their project and assess whether what is happening there is on the up-and-up.  The project involves a sort of teleportation, wherein dimensions are folded together, so that a single step can pass over a long distance.  I got a little bit of deja vu when I was reading this, because it really brought to mind Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which I read many, many years ago and barely remember.  But the part I do remember is that the example used was an ant at one end of a string, trying to get to the other end.  Twelve inches for him to walk to get to the other side of the string – unless the two ends are brought close together in a “U” shape.  Then the ant is able to travel one inch (or less) – but still gets to the other side of the string: a wrinkle in time.

Clines uses a similar concept by putting two dots on opposite sides of a piece of a paper, but then folding the paper so they touch: the dimensions are folded together, and the dots are now next to each other, even though they are still technically on opposites sides of the paper.

Honestly, the whole book was super sketch when it came to science, and I read a lot of reviews ragging on it for that.  So if you like your sci-fi to be amazingly sound science, this isn’t for you.  But if you’re like me, and you just want your sci-fi to be entertaining and exciting – well, you may enjoy this tale.

The ending was a little weak, but I think that if I had read Clines’s other book, 14, I may have understood it better.  But this was another one of those cases where I have no idea the two books are linked until it’s too late.  I just don’t understand why, if an author is going to make two of his books interconnected – even loosely – no one bothers to mention that at the beginning.  Like, “Oh, hey, you can totally read this independently, but if you want the full impact, read this other one first!”  I hate reading things out of order, so this is super annoying to me.

Bit of a spoiler rant below, but all in all a fun, engrossing read – and #9 for 20 Books of Summer!!!

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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.

The Great Zoo of China // by Matthew Reilly

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//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.

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…

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.