This book absolutely reeks of mid-series filler. Which makes it disappointing that it was my first Pern novel, and that it may have turned me off the rest of this classic series for life.
Why? Well, my friends, because nothing blimming happens, that’s why.
Moreta is supposed to be the legendary hero of Pern, and the blurb and cover big her up to be this arse kicking powerful Weyrwoman, who’s ‘Ride’ was so incredible that it became a myth. Here’s the rub: there is no amazing ‘Ride’. Moreta does eff all. She can’t even fly her dragon most of the time, because Orlith is preggers and too fat to fly. When she does go into battle, she sort of sits on the edges, because like, Teh Womenz or something. Then, she gets ill and sleeps a lot. Whoooooo excitement!
Do we get dramatic interactions with Thread? A couple, I guess. But do I care much about the fact that the Riders must *puts on dramatic pretentious voice* RISE TO THREADFALL when the Thread are given no character motivation other than ‘I is fall from sky cos I is evil non-thinking spore nom eat flesh’?? Nah.
Meanwhile, to save us from the relative boredom of the motivation-less enemy which is Thread, we have an enemy with even less motivation… A PLAGUE!!!
Look, I get it. I understand that the point of the plague is not that it’s a Villain, but that it provides the background upon which characters and relationships are tried and tested, and it’s this which is the real focus of the story. However, considering I picked this up to read about dragons doing cool dragon stuff, I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit short changed.
Whilst Moreta is a great character — she’s strong, capable, owns her sexuality, and leads her Weyr justly and effectively — but for goodness sake, she’s actually peripheral to the action for over two thirds of the novel. She’s so irrelevant to the course of the plague that at one point she’s even mad at the Healers for making a fuss about the plague because it’s probably not a big deal. And at no point (other than the very very end) does Moreta ever go over or beyond her standard duties in attempting to tackle the plague or save her people. Some hero protagonist!
Also, did anyone else find it a bit weird how minimally grief-struck Moreta was upon finding out that her entire extended family had died? Did anyone else find it perhaps just the teensiest bit off-putting that she literally says she is more sad to have lost her family’s herd of
runners horses, than she is for the fact that BOTH HER PARENTS AND ALL HER SIBLINGS DIED HORRIBLY???
Moreta does however pick up this babe Lord Holder called Alessan, so that’s cool I guess. Actually Lord Alessan reminds me a lot of my boyfriend… which is a complement. Their romance, alongside the tender relationships between Moreta, her dragon Orlith, and the old Weyrwoman Lori, were by far my favourite parts of the book. Sweet, sensitive, handsome, strong, dope at hosting massive parties, and drinks too many sacks of ‘Benden white’ wine. My boif is Aussie, so, ya know, goon.
What peed me off the MOSt is the ending. OH MY GOD THAT ENDING WTF.
You can’t just …. do nothing for 300 pages…. and then drop in a really big plot twist into the middle of nothing…. and expect the reader to UNDERSTAND, let alone care!!
MORETA’S FINAL RIDE IS NOT A RIDE WORTHY OF LEGEND AND SONG??? IT IS THE BORINGEST ANTI-CLIMATIC MEH EVER?? WTF??
Moreta’s legendary ride more like Moreta’s TOTALLY MEH FLAP. Yeah. That’ll teach them.
Apart from the general lack of plot, the fact that the characters are well drawn, interesting and likeable is somewhat obfuscated by the fact that there’s too darn many of them. About twenty five bazillion Weyrleaders, Holders, Craftleaders, Wingleaders, Harpers and Whatever the Wotsits turn up throughout the book. Integrating characters organically without info-dumping introductions is often an effective way to keep the story immersive, but McCaffrey, it doesn’t work when all of your characters are called subtle variation on B’lon, K’lon, M’don, F’gon, T’lor, G’hor, J’for, C’rir, R’vir, N’dir, W’aht, T’ehh, F’rick, P’less, St’ahp, etc.
I honestly felt like Pern was really lacking in worldbuilding. They have colonised an entire continent…but there seems barely a population to fill a country. Also, what is Pern actually like in terms of landscape and fauna, apart from the mountains, and the ‘runners’ (just call them horses for Pete’s sake). Unfortunately, whilst the medieval high fantasy setting was cool in fantasy back in the 80s, but now, it’s the most mediocre and overused setting imaginable.
What has aged well about this book, however, is the fact that it’s all about the girl power. Pern, unlike just about every other medieval fantasy world ever, is not a violent patriarchy *gasp*. No-one gives a crap about the gender of warriors (apart from the the lead warrior/ weyrwoman gender divide), or controlling women, or preserving their virginity for marriage *GASP!!*, and women are allowed to take as many partners as they want *SURELY NOT!!*. Most of the important relationships in the book are female friendships (yaaay!), and there are plenty of non-sexual male/female friendships as well. Pern is also free of homophobia. It’s pretty tragic (read: disgusting) that a fantasy novel over THIRTY YEARS OLD should still seem ‘radical’ or ‘refreshing’ for portraying a gender equal society, and its a sad testament to the raging sexism which for unknown reasons still permeates most high fantasy.
(It did strike me that although Pern is a land descended from “Earth Colonists”, when you read the wiki these basically seem to be almost all Anglo-Saxon types, with the occasional French person chucked in for #diversity. But hey, its the 80s, so I’ll let that one slide.)
All in all this book was never anything more than mildly enjoyable, and frankly, I expected more. Clearly, McCaffrey is excellent at writing characters, but honestly… can someone hand the woman a plot please? (Hand her son a plot. She’s passed. Don’t hand her a plot. That would be weird).
TWO STARS FOR THIS MOFO