Saturday, August 25, 2007

Review: Dragon's Fire

Dragon's Fire is the latest novel of Pern. The world created by Ann McCaffrey about dragons, and their unending battle against the insatiable organism, dubbed Thread. This particular novel was written by both Anne McCaffrey and her son Todd. It ran 366 pages, which seems to be about average for Mrs. McCaffrey's novels.

The blurb is somewhat long, but here it is:

Bringing fresh wonders and dangers to light in the skies of Pern, Anne McCaffrey and her son, Todd McCaffrey—who demonstrated his writing talents in the bestselling novels Dragon's Kin and Dragonsblood—return with their second collaboration: a thrilling adventure of discovery and fate.

Pellar is an orphan taken in by Masterharer Zist. Though born mute, Pellar is a gifted tracker, and when Zist sets off to take over as harper for Natalon's coal-mining camp, Pellar—along with his fire lizard, Chitter—joins him on a secret mission of his own: to find out if reported thefts of coal are the work of the Shunned, criminals condemned to a life of wandering and hardship.

Halla is one of the children of the Shunned. Though innocent of their parents' crimes, these children have inherited their cruel punishment. Lack of food, shelter, and clothes is their lot; hope is unknown to them. And what future would they hope for? Without a hold to call their own, there will be no protection for them when the lethal Thread inevitably falls again. Life is particularly tough for Halla. Her family gone, she must fend for herself. Yet despite the brutality of her surroundings, Hall is kind and gentle, devoted to those more helpless than she.

As depraved as Halla is good, Tenim is in league with Tarik, a crooked miner from Camp Natalon, who helps him steal coal in exchange for a cut of the profit. But Tenim soon realizes there is a lot more to be made from firestone, the volatile mineral that enables the dragons of Pern to burn Thread out of the sky. Tenim doesn't care what he has to do, or whom he has to kill, in order to corner the market.

Cristov is Tarik's son. Dishonored by his father's greed and treachery, the boy feels he must make amends, even if it means risking his life by mining the volatile firestone, which detonates on contact with the slightest drop of moisture.

When the last remaining firestone mine explodes in flames, a desperate race begins to find a new deposit of the deadly but essential mineral, for without it there can be no defense against Thread. But Tenim has a murderous plan to turn tragedy to his own advantage, and only Pellar, Halla, and Cristov can stop him—and ensure that there will be a future for all on the world of the Dragonriders.

Wow, that was long. Let's be quite clear, that was obscenely long. My legs would grow tired if I had to stand in the store to read all that. It is 404 words long. I'm not sure what they were thinking when they thought it would be a good idea to have a blurb over 400 words long, but it's not. Chop it in half, folks. Be kind to us old guys who spend too much time in bookstores and libraries already.

Now, with my complaints about the never ending blurb out of the way, I'll begin in on the ever changing plot. The problem is that there's not a true plot here. It reads more like the recordings of a series of happenings, to the four characters—who oddly are all children.

Of course, these children are all uber-children. You have the wonderful tracker-harper who can't talk; the mining prodigy; the nice girl and of course the evil teen. I was almost literally rolling my eyes while reading some of these characterizations. What' saddest about it, is that I'm unsure if it's Anne's or Todd's hand which is doing this. I've read both of their earlier works, and I don't think I can quite remember characters coming out this bad from anything else of theirs that I've read.

The setting is Pern, during the Second Interval, about fifteen years before the Third Pass. If that doesn't making any sense to you, I suggest visiting Wikipedia and reading up a bit about the Dragonriders of Pern. If it does make sense to you, then you'll realize that we're further back in the timeline than the original novels written by Mrs. McCaffrey. This is an odd thing here. Pern has been around for decades. Anne McCaffrey has spent thousands of words on describing things, and building this world. Her son, now basically inherits all of that work. He doesn't have to describe the dragons in great detail, because those of us who've read all the previous novels already know what they look like.

I could regal you with text here about the theme of the novel, or maybe tell you how wonderfully or poorly the book is written from a mechanical point of view, but I won't.

Instead, I'll drop on down into my closing notes. After all, I'm writing this on my laptop, while on vacation, and it's the third review I've written today. And sadly, I still have one more to go, though that might end up waiting until tomorrow.

Anyways, this is a Pern novel that, well, just didn't work. It just lacked something. And that something is not necessarily the Dragonriders themselves (as they aren't a big part of this story), because the MasterHarper series of novelettes worked wonderfully as stories, and they don't have that much of a presence of the DragonRiders in them either.

Frankly, I'm almost scared of the future of this franchise, especially if this is the quality that we can expect from future installments from Todd McCaffrey. Which if it is, is truly sad as I've read better work from him.

Dragon's Fire gets a 2.3 out of 4.

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