Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Retro Reviews - Dragonflight - Anne McCaffrey

Retro Reviews are something that I'm going to try and start doing once in a while on the blog. They're reviews of books that I read when I was a lot younger, after I reread them again now. The goal of retro reviews is to get readers who usually only go for the new and shiny books to try something that isn't quite so new and shiny.

Dragonflight was chosen as the first retro review because I recently found out that the author, Anne McCaffrey, died last November, and I'm rereading in her honor.

Dragonflight is the story of Pern, a planet that is both very similar and very different from medieval earth. On Pern, dragons are huge, telepathic beasts which mentally bond to humans upon their hatching. Their purpose on the planet is to protect Pern from Threads, which are parasites which fall from a red star that orbits near Pern, and destroys all organic matter that they come into contact with. At the beginning of Dragonflight, it has been over four hundred years since the last time Threads fell upon Pern, and the dragonmen and their Weyr are now considered burdens to the people they protect. But the queen dragon, which gives birth to all others in her Weyr has perished, and so the dragonmen nonetheless go out on a Search to find young women who might bond with the next queen, whose egg is preparing to hatch. It is on this search that F'lar finds Lessa, the last remaining member of the Ruatha bloodline that has gone down in history as producing some of the very best Weyrwomen. Lessa bonds with the new dragon queen, a huge golden beast named Ramoth, and is taken into the traditions and learnings of the Weyr. But F'lar and the other dragonmen quickly find that Lessa isn't content with just following old traditions, and there are signs that the threads, which some believe no longer exist, will soon fall upon Pern once more.

I read Dragonflight first as a child, second in high school when I was required to for a club, and finally for a third time this week. Both times I read this book as a kid, I absolutely adored it. I loved the dragons, the characters, the world. I loved the dragon riding more than anything, and I loved the fact that the dragons could teleport and had telepathy and... I just loved it.

Reading it as an adult, I still love this book for what it is, but I do see the flaws more. The book is definitely a product of the time it was written in, and this is a lot more visible to me as an adult than it was as a child. Despite the fact that the entire book is about Lessa, women in this Pern novel are pretty much useless. If they don't have a queen dragon, they are literally nothing more than slaves. This is despite the fact that there are female dragons besides just the queen: only men are dragon riders. Even the queen dragon, and Lessa, are told that they can't fly and generally treated terribly. Lessa's relationship with F'lor kind of screams abuse, too. At one point, she is terrified to the point of trembling because she knows that, despite having done something to possibly save the world, she knows that F'lor is going to 'shake' her as he does anytime she does something he doesn't like.

That being said, if you keep in mind the fact that this book was written in the 1960s or so, for what it is, this book is kind of great. I loved Lessa for being the manipulative and devious character she is, and I kind of hope that she broke some of the female stereotypes as far as the series goes, since I never read the rest of the books. I vaguely remember female dragonriders in one of the other books that I might have read...but I can't be sure that was Pern and not a different series entirely.

The dragons were definitely my favorite part. Much like cats, their entire lives outside of the thread fighting consists of sleeping, eating, breeding, and generally being superior and amazing. They can fly, teleport through 'between', talk telepathically with their bonded, and if given the right stone, can breath fire. They're just...awesome. Not as awesome as the dragons from the movie version of How To Train Your Dragon, in my opinion, but still pretty fantastic.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to any and all fantasy fan who hasn't already touched upon McCaffrey's work, because it's a fantastic entry into a series that, while I haven't read yet, my grandmother never stops talking about once I mention it. I'd recommend it to fans of Eragon who want to see one of the original dragonriders, and I'd recommend it to people who hated Eragon and want to see what a good book about dragonriders looks like. I'd also recommend it to anyone who likes dragons, because let's be honest: DRAGONS. <3

So if you think Dragonflight sounds interesting, try picking a copy up the next time you're out. Check your library, since it's an old book, or buy a copy yourself if you think it's good.

Read this book and honor a great author who has gone on to her next great adventure.

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