Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Dragon's Time

by Anne and Todd McCaffrey


Deep down I'm a sadist. I like characters to suffer, argue, plot against each other, and ideally to push each other off cliffs in jealous rages. In a world where deadly Thread falls from the sky to maim and kill the unwary, and dragons and their riders live cramped together in tightly-knit communities under the unrelenting pressure to save lives, there should be ample opportunity for the kind of emotional and physical torment I like to read about.

The dragons of Pern have recovered from a plague that killed off many of them in previous books. But Thread continues to fall, taking more and more of them each time. There are too few dragons left to defend the world. Those who remain are weak and sleepy, as are their riders. They don't fully understand why, but they suspect it has to do with time travel. Lorana takes a dragon and jumps through time in a desperate attempt to save everyone. She loses her own baby in the cold and dark of a long jump between, but she finds an empty, hopeless future, and no answers. Instead she jumps back in time and meets a young man who is convinced he's doomed to die very soon.

Meanwhile in Telgar Weyr one of the riders keeps sneaking off in the night and returning exhausted. His wife thinks he's seeing another woman, but the tight-lipped rider tells her he loves her a great deal. Some of the Weyr's women have fallen pregnant, but the worries they endure and the ever-present threat of death could cause them to lose their babies. The community is undermanned and exhausted, and if they can't find a way to increase their numbers they won't survive.

This situation could result in a gripping story, if it weren't for the added complication of time travel. When characters can skip back and forth through time at will it ruins some of the uncertainty about what will happen, as well as giving the characters an easy way out of almost any crisis. There are some rules which stop the book turning into a time-hopping free-for-all. "You can't break time," the characters state regularly, which seems to mean that people must die at their appointed times and when future characters meet those in the past things must take place as they were remembered. I don't think this works very well though, since it makes so many of the events predetermined and that undermines the suspense. Add to that the appearance of Tenniz, a young man who can see the future, and we have a situation where far too much is revealed in the earlier chapters about the way things might end.

The tension is slow to build because Dragon's Time focuses on everyday domestic trivia. There's an awful lot about practice drills, pregnancies, food, sleeping arrangements of the dozing off kind, and oiling dragons. The friendly, telepathic dragons are more like glorified ponies than massive ravening carnivores. They're dull, but they have nothing compared with the humans, who all conform to the template of nice, brave souls who pull together in the face of adversity. This is in spite of the Weyrwoman Fiona's very open relationship with two men, and their loose relationships with a number of other women. It could be a fertile ground for jealousy and intrigue, but instead there's a surfeit of hugging and good feeling. It makes me want to pull the wings off fairies.

The writing also tends to be repetitive. Twice we're told about an incident when one character spits in someone's soup, for instance. Characters tend to relate information that readers already know. It makes the story easy to follow, but slow-paced and obvious at the same time. This novel isn't entirely uneventful: there are high points of disaster and excitement as they deal with new challenges and dangers, face tragedies, or encounter new creatures for the first time. But the writing tends to de-emphasise the scary and strange and play up the everyday nature of life on Pern. It's a love-in full of bland characters and polite dragons, and it's nowhere near vicious enough for my tastes. It makes me long for fierce dragons, hot-blooded schemers, and some solid, full-on wickedness to spice things up. If you need me I'll be bludgeoning some puppies.

13th July 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books


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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson