Book Review – Dragonflight

Sometimes I wonder if books I had read and loved when growing up would still stand up if I read them again now. One of my book clubs decided to read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey a few months ago, so I had a chance to evaluate that idea.

As a pre-teen and teenager, I read everything that Anne McCaffrey had written, including multiple re-reads of the Dragonriders of Pern series. I have to say that Dragonflight certainly still stands up as one of my favorite books of all time. While it is the first book in a series, it can also be read as a stand-alone.

Here is the blurb, which is a bit spoilery:

To the nobles who live in Ruatha Hold, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise—and take back her stolen birthright.

But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa’s world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world. . .

The first sections of this book were originally published as novellas in Analog Science Fiction Magazine. The first of these, Weyr Search, won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards for Best Novella, making McCaffrey the first woman to win either award.

The story follows two main characters, with Lessa being the more dominant lead character. She came across as more prickly and less trusting than I remembered her to be. The plot moves quickly and introduces the reader to the telepathic dragons and the civilization that has adapted to Pern and the unique threat of Thread that falls from the sky.

I have always felt like the Dragonriders of Pern were more fantasy to me than science fiction, but on this re-read I do see how the science fiction aspects are woven in to hint at the underlying science background to the world of Pern to a greater extent than I remembered in this first book.

If you’ve never read anything by Anne McCaffrey, this is a wonderful book to start with. You can also continue with books 2 (Dragonquest) and 3 (The White Dragon) to complete the first section of the series. In my opinion, the eleventh book, All the Weyrs of Pern should have been the last book, as I felt like nothing else needed to be resolved after that ending. I read one or two in the series after that, but it just wasn’t the same world to me.

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Book Review – Fire and Blood

I had heard mixed reviews about George R. R. Martin’s latest book, Fire and Blood after it came out, so I approached this one with some apprehension. Sitting at 719 pages, this was going to be a long read.

Fire and Blood is the first half of the history of the Targaryens after fleeing old Valyria and arriving in Westeros. The book is written as a history rather than in a direct narrative style, which may make it a difficult read for some.

I enjoyed the book once I got into it far enough. Despite the way the author has chosen to tell this story, it is still *quite* a story. The Targaryens are all unique characters, and you get to spend enough time with each of them in this book to become invested in many of the outcomes.

Much like reading The Silmarillion, many names are similar within the Targaryen families, so it is helpful to reference the family tree at the back. I wish that the book had also offered a chart of which Targaryens had claimed which dragons, as this became confusing to me in the later half of the book.

Toward the end of this book, we learn about what happened in the Dance of Dragons, the Targaryen civil war. This tragic tale is supposedly the basis of HBO’s current Game of Thrones spin-off, House of the Dragon. If HBO will allow enough of a special effects budget, I think this will be a fantastic story to watch.

Fire and Blood is only the first half of the 300-year history prior to A Game of Thrones and I’m looking forward to the next part. Use my Amazon link to pick up your copy here. Or if you’ve never read any of the books, start with A Game of Thrones here.

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Book Review – Blood of Tyrants

Blood of Tyrants is the eighth book in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, and takes us to yet another part of the world, following Laurence and Temeraire as they continue to fight against Napoleon’s expanding empire.

In this book, there is a bit of a disconnect at the opening. Laurence awakens after washing up on foreign shores. He has no memory of the last eight years of his life — that portion that contains Temeraire and his life as a naval aviator. What could have been an exciting scene, as he is swept overboard in a storm, is left out and we begin with Laurence as he has to figure out what happened. He turns out to be in Japan, where he taken in and cared for, but is also a prisoner.

Some of Laurence’s actions as he tries to take in the oddities of Japanese culture are entertaining, but overall this part of the book was slow and ultimately has no bearing on the greater plot of the series.

While Laurence has been lost at sea, Temeraire refuses to give up hope that he still lives, but cannot begin to know where to look for him. The remaining crew and dragons head to China, where they have political business.

Of course Laurence and Temeraire are reunited eventually, and the story moves on to two other geographically distinct sections. While the overall plot moves forward, the book at this point feels like a series of novellas.

Even with the disjointed structure of this book, the series continues to improve following the chore of reading Tongues of Serpents. Familiar characters return, and the story moves back to a more direct conflict between Napoleon and the other world powers. While this still wasn’t as strong a book as the first three in the series, it sets up a reasonable expectation that the author can wrap the story up in one final book.

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Book Review – Crucible of Gold

As one of my reading goals for 2019, I planned to finish reading several book series that I had enjoyed but never completed. One such series was the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, which brings dragons into the military of the Napoleonic Wars. I found that the sixth book (Tongues of Serpents) really dragged, so it took me a while to get back to the series.

Crucible of Gold is book #7 and picks up from the end of book #6 with Laurence and Temeraire still exiled to Australia. But this time, instead of wandering through a mainly uninhabited land, he is finally sent off to do something more interesting.

The French expansion now threatens Spain and Brazil, and Laurence is thought to be the best person to negotiate with the Tswana people as they threaten the Portuguese leaders in Rio. With Australia deemed reasonably close to Brazil, Laurence and Temeraire are sent off via ship for the New World. Of course, things do not go as expected, and one tragic event galvanized the story and made me truly wonder where it was going once more.

Eventually, they encounter the Inca and make a series of narrow escapes. The different human-dragon interactions and the variety of cultures was one of the more unique aspects of the story at this point. Much of the rest of the book involved travel from one place to the next, with a generally less focused story than the early books.

Interestingly, I found that starting with this book, each installment becomes less of a self-contained story. Each volume has a more indistinct ending and flows into the next book. At the same time, there are also larger jumps between places and time within one book.

This was still a better book than Tongues of Serpents and gave me hope for the last two books.

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Book Review – Dragon’s Code

I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books sometime in the mid-1980s.* These were some of the first science fiction books that I had read after first becoming enthralled with the genre by Heinlein, Asimov, and Tolkien. I believe that I found the first few Pern novels on my parents’ bookshelves. I re-read my Dragonrider books (and The Lord of the Rings) because I wasn’t aware that there were other books with dragons and fantastical places out there. My library kept the science fiction and fantasy section in the adult area of the library, so I hadn’t discovered this on my own yet.

With every trip to a book store, I asked for the next Dragonrider book, gradually collecting the entire series. By the time that All the Weyrs of Pern was released in 1991, these were my favorite books, and Anne McCaffrey my favorite author.

I read through everything else that McCaffrey had written, with her Crystal Singer books and Planet Pirates series some of my other favorites. After reading All the Weyrs of Pern, I think I read maybe two more of the Dragonrider books. But after the way that Weyrs ended, the books were no longer the same to me. Weyrs had ended the series in a satisfying way as far as I was concerned.

I have been hesitant to delve back into any books set in Pern since then, but when I see a book offered on Net Galley, sometimes I can’t resist requesting it. Dragon’s Code is written by Anne McCaffrey’s daughter Gigi and is set in the same time period as the original six Dragonrider books.

DragonsCode

More specifically, this book is told from the point-of-view of journeyman harper Piemur, a favorite secondary character, and is set alongside the events in The White Dragon. As I read Dragon’s Code, many details of the books resurfaced in my memories. I think that this would not be the best entry point to the series, but anyone not familiar with Pern could still read it and follow most of the story.

Piemur has lost his childhood soprano voice, and with that, a portion of his identity and confidence. Harpers in Pern do more that provide music and entertainment, however, and Piemur is sent to the Southern Continent to spy on the exiled Oldtimers, a group of dragonriders who have clashed with the rest of their people. Piemur knows that a few of the Oldtimers are up to no good, but he can’t get close enough to figure it all out.

As Piemur reports his suspicions, we get to see some old favorites once more: Masterharper Robinton and Menolly, in particular. This book is more about Piemur’s journey to regain his self-worth than it is the details of the plot that unfolds in The White Dragon. Readers of the other books will know what has taken place, and in the scope of Dragon’s Code, that crisis is over fairly fast. The plot meanders, with some exciting action segments, obligatory Threadfall and dragons, and a sentimental conclusion that is appropriate for this type of story being told.

Despite my reservations about returning to Pern, I truly enjoyed this book. I don’t think that it will be for everyone, but I feel that Gigi McCaffrey has done her mother’s legacy proud with this one.

* I remember having Dragonsdawn in hardcover, which was published in 1988, so I must have read Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon, and the Harper Hall Trilogy  (and probably Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern) all before that time.


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