Dragonriders of Pern Series
Ballantine Books, December 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Kindan, a small boy in a small mining camp, has no reason to look out toward a larger world. He has his duties and his pleasures, and his future in his little community is set. When he is old enough he will go into the mines, like all the other men.
Kindan is different from other boys his age, though, in two ways. He has a talent for singing, and he helps take care of his fatherís watch-wher. Watch-whers are distant cousins of dragons. Camp Natalon is experimenting with them in the mines, to sense for gas, bad air, and other mining dangers. It is hazardous work, and one bad accident takes with it the campís last watch-wher and Kindanís family.
Now Kindanís view of his world must open up Ė he has no choice. He is fostered by the camp Harper, who is also the schoolteacher. Finally, desperately, the responsibility for Camp Natalonís existence falls on his shoulders, because without a watch-wher there are more accidents than the population can survive. Kindan must learn by trial and error how to bond with a watch-wher and raise and train it himself.
As Kindanís mental horizons widen, DRAGONíS KIN takes on the kind of appeal readers expect from an Anne McCaffrey story. Naturally, the story is populated by dragons and good friends meeting challenges in very human ways. Pernís population needs the rich vein of coal found by Miner Natalon, Camp Natalon needs to prove their experimental safety measures can be effective, humans and watch-whers need to learn how to work together, and Kindan needs to choose between his two conflicting talents without abandoning the broader goals of his community.
As always in a McCaffrey book, character is the foundation of its appeal. Kindanís young friends, responsible Zonor, sensitive Dalor, and talented Nuella, develop together in their different ways, helped by the Harper Master Zist and his dragonrider friend Mítal. In fact, while Kindan and his friends, especially Nuella, do deserve sequels to explore their potentials, Master Zist is the character who calls for the most examination. Zist has a past he doesnít like to talk about, contacts in unexpected places, and the leadership needed to help Pern through a crisis in some future story.
Anne McCaffrey has written from male points of view before, but there is a genuineness to this male protagonist that stands out from the others. It must come from Todd McCaffrey, stepping into his motherís most famous series for the first time. The era is new, the Third Pass, with no reuse of characters so familiar to readers. The setting is new, a mining camp whose access to the outside world is limited throughout most of the book. The beasts are new: little attention has been paid to watch-whers before, and now we find that they have some draconic abilities and characteristics they have not had in previous books.
Anne McCaffreyís main contribution to DRAGONíS KIN might well have been the world of Pern itself. This is a fully realized story from a new viewpoint. It is not just the popularity of the Pern series that has made DRAGONíS KIN a bestseller, it is also the exploration of fresh areas. It is easy to imagine Todd talking his idea over with Anne beforehand, then seeing her read through the finished manuscript with a few suggestions Ė but not many. My guess, and this is purely a guess, is that the main reason Anneís name is on DRAGONíS KIN is to pave the way for Todd to inherit the franchise. DRAGONSBLOOD, by Todd McCaffrey alone, is now selling well in hardcover. It appears the strategy Ė and the storytelling Ė has succeeded.
March 2005 Review
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