1/8/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine. 482 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49116-9. pub: Bantam Press/Random House. 482 page hardback. Price: £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-59305-587-8)
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com, www.rbooks.co.uk and www.toddmccaffrey.org
After three years in the past, Fiona and the recovering dragon flight are back in the present. The sickness is still affecting the dragons and with no cure, can die within three weeks. When all the dragons at Telgar Weyr die by going between with their riders, as an upcoming Weyrwoman, Fiona and forty dragons and their riders have to step in. Things aren't helped by the previous demanding Weyrleader and they have to restore friendly relations with the nearby holds before the thread falls. Things are complicated when Fiona's queen dragon, Talenth, starts to cough, they have a whole new deadline.
At long last, Todd McCaffrey is learning the trick of suitably sized chapters. Some of the time. The latter half of the book drops back into his old habit but it does indicate he's getting the hang of chapter pacing.
This shouldn't really be considered a spoiler because the dragons have to survive but I can't help think he did a deux ex machina with a dragon cure off-stage rather than give some aspect of the story to it. Considering how vital it is to the story, it's a dirty trick to do it that way.
Then again, the same can be said with having so much repetition in the dialogue, especially regarding Fiona's age and Lorana's ability to talk to all dragons. If it was a running joke, then it would be acceptable but not in all the dialogue involving them. I tend to put it down to McCaffrey's inexperience still, especially with so much dialogue in this book and surprised that no one picked up on him with it and not someone reviewing like me. Excessive dialogue professionally, especially repetition, tends to come over as padding and there's certainly enough going on in the story not to warrant it.
The same can also be said regarding stepping over the sex scenes. Not that they have to be blatant and undoubtedly knowing your mum, especially his mum, might be reading them which is understandable in his case but the coyness tends to get in the way. Even more so when the sexual amores of the weyr folk gets, shall we say, more than two in a bed. McCaffrey is also a little afraid of getting inside his characters heads more to convey the emotion and emotional content when dragons and their riders die and the effects on those left behind. Part of the job of the writer is to convey the emotional impact of such times to the reader and not just say it happens and is certainly an area he really needs to focus on in future books especially with the Pern books where emotions play such an important part.
I should point out that this is only part of the plot. After the cure, there is still the problem of what to do when none of the weyrs have enough adult dragons and threadfall is coming thick, fast and deadly. There is no choice but for the dragonriders to time it and be at more than one place. McCaffrey considers the problem of knowing your own fate in rather broad terms and it is areas like this that raising the emotional content of the characters would have helped so much as it would have reflected across all their lives.
As it is, the ending of the story becomes somewhat hurried even if it is more of a lead-up to the next volume. I know it looks like I'm coming down hard on McCaffrey all the time and he really is learning on the job so to speak but after four books on his own, I'm hoping that little storycraft spark will rise and get these big niggling problems sorted out, especially those concerning emotional content. The dragonriders have to be highly emotional compared to other people on Pern or they wouldn't have impressed their dragons and that's still not coming out in the stories. McCaffrey needs to get more inside the heads of his characters and reflect it in the writing.
To keep going on in the same manner because it appears to be the accepted style shouldn't be a consideration. Jumping up a few notches and people will remember what has happened in the earlier stories but they will also note that McCaffrey has developed as a writer as well. It might also explain why, and I don't normally take into account other review comments on the backs of books, there is little from within the SF community itself praising his books. The narrative does not mean dialogue, especially the excessive this time, but story flow. There is some interesting ideas in here and it will be interesting to see how they are resolved if for no other reason how it will allow for the more straight forward relationships in the later period of time his mother wrote her books. Until then, I'll have to keep chewing the fire bricks.
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