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Dragon Harper, by Anne McCaffrey, Todd J. McCaffrey Book Review | SFReader.com
Dragon Harper, by Anne McCaffrey, Todd J. McCaffrey Genre: Science Fiction Publisher: Random House Published: 2007 Review Posted: 5/15/2008 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Dragon Harper, by Anne McCaffrey, Todd J. McCaffrey
Book Review by Edward F. McKeown
Have you read this book?
Stale characters running through a cardboard plot. Sadly this sums up the latest return to the Pern, the world of dragons. We have been here before but in better company. In a strange choice for this book, the thing that Pern is most known for is notably missing, dragons, the telepathic and empathic companions of this forgotten colony of humans deposited on Pern. The dragons and their lesser cousins, watch-weyrs and firelizards were genetically engineered so long ago that for most of Pern's history, their origins were lost. Here they make only rare appearances and we are not bonded with them nor do we hear dragon voices.
Dragon Harper is the story of Kindan, a boy from a mining community who, in a previous book has become admitted to Harper Hall. Here at "Harper High" Kindan the young apprentice gets into dispute with school bully (Pern seems overrun with these) Vaxoram over a girl. Clueless masters seem to run the place and permit the two to fight an actual duel. Once again the stew of clichés is used to move around characters who seem to have no organic motivation.
The duel itself is improbable, with Kindan overcoming a larger, more powerful and better-trained swordsman after a week's training. As a black belt and former fencer I can assure you that it isn't persuasive, people don't learn this stuff this fast. Equally improbable, the bully goes on to become a devoted friend. Also something I haven't seen in real life. I fought a bully once and got respect, but friendship from such a person was neither wanted nor forthcoming.
Kindan is prospering at Harper Hall when once again a plague devastates Pern. One wonders why there are such plagues on Pern. The colonists who were originally sent out would have been healthy and not brought such organisms with them in their bodies or their animals. It's unlikely that an alien organism would infect creatures from another world. I'm closer to a pine tree than I'd be to any creature that was native Pernese life. If something did jump from alien life to Terran life it would probably be 100% fatal as there would be no resistance to it at all. Well perhaps something fell somewhere as Woody Allen liked to say.
Improbabilities pile up in this book. In the province of Fort Hold, with a population of around 10,000, the sole healer dies of plague. It falls to Kindan to replace him, apparently there are no other medical personnel. This is repeated as Kindan's friends step into positions of authority as other Masters die. We don't know why the Master Harper favors Kindan, nor why it falls to three youngsters to search records for the answers to Pern's survival. You would think that this would have been handled at higher level with greater assets. Apparently Kindan's friends are the best and the brightest, quite a posse. It strains credulity that this early teen would be the only qualified person or that the adults would defer to him and his friends in battling a plague. This is the stuff of Saturday morning cartoons.
Voice is an issue in this book. While the character is a teen (if his age is ever specified I missed it) his voice is that of a much older person and as a result I never bought this character. He even seems nebulous physically, there's little description of him and I never had a visual picture to follow. Beyond modest talents as a harper there seems little to recommend Kindan as a protagonist. Unlike Jaxom, an earlier hero from "White Dragon" who is clearly a young man of promise, Kindan doesn't impress with wit or intellect. So why is this our protagonist? Why is he gifted with the high honor of a fire-lizard when others more deserving and of higher rank are not? Why does he rise so far so fast?
Kindan's relatively minor contributions to weathering the disease (thermometer paste and face masks) don't really influence the course of the epidemic. He doesn't really alter the course of anything in this book. He simply observes and weathers it. Perhaps realistic but hardly inspiring. So this is neither a coming of age book, nor a heroic adventure nor one of those books where a small struggle becomes symbolic of a larger battle or issue. It's just sort of there.
Torches are not easily passed (as we can see from the Olympics this year) and unfortunately it seems that this fails more often then it succeeds. We can also see this in the pastiches written by writers teamed with the great Andre Norton. The add-ons authors may be good individually (or not) they may love Norton but they are not Norton and the resulting product is the worst sort of compromise in nobody's voice. The bonds of family are not enough to make up for the fact that Todd is not the writer that his mother is. Putting the name McCaffery on this book doesn't make this good. One really feels that the franchise is being milked like "Stars Wars" or "Forgotten Realms" or some other "product" that is just filling shelves with inked wood pulp as opposed to real books.
One of the more difficult things to do in a long run series is to make each book fresh and yet to provide enough of the back story that a new reader is not lost. Dragon Harper does not succeed in this. You'll have difficulty figuring out Pern and how and why it works. Nor will you find it persuasive. It's as if the author didn't feel he had to come up with a viable functioning society.
The Pros: This is an amiable little tale, which if you had not read the vastly better and more original stories might serve to whet a taste for Pern. But why would you enter Pern here rather than through the best-selling "White Dragon?" Why soldier with Kindan when you could ride with Moreta and scream involuntarily NO! at her fate. When your fists could clench and your eyes narrow as Lessa confronts her enemies. Or when your heart could be in your throat as you watch every dragon on Pern roar into the air, to literally form a living ramp with their bodies, saving F'nor and his dragon Canth from plunging to the ground after their assault on the Red Star...well may be there weren't really any pros for this book after all.
The Cons: Weak characters who are either clichés, pale copies of earlier characters from the series, or mere devices to move the recycled plot along. Improbable action scenes and too little time spent on what makes Pern special, dragons.
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