Dragonflight was S&L’s April book pick. I’d long been aware that there was this series with dragons in it that looked interesting. However when I was younger and more liable to read such a book there just seemed too many to start. Anyway this gave me a reason to check it out.
Dragonflight follows Lessa on the planet of Pern. At the start of the book she’s a lowly servant girl, a “drudge” in the hold once owned by her family but which was taken by force when she was ten. She’s now twenty-one and a chance for revenge occurs when the hold’s new lord arrives for a visit. He brings with him a couple of dragon-riders. One of these, F’lar, will soon become an unwitting tool of her plans but also she becomes interesting to him in another way. Pern is overshadowed by the Red Star – another planet whose orbit brings it close to Pern once every few generations. So close in fact that there’s a threat from the Star, a threat that Pern’s dragons are uniquely suited to protect against. However the dragon numbers are down and the riders are no longer held in the respect they once were. F’lar believes Lessa could be the key to restoring the dragon-riders’ fortunes and saving Pern itself.
One interesting thing about this book that I’ll get out of the way first is whether or not it’s fantasy or not. Of course it is – dragons! – but it’s set up in such a way that many consider it SciFi. It begins with a prologue that tells how Pern was colonised from Earth but that the colonists have long since lost any contact with or knowledge of their home planet. Also their technology and society have regressed to medieval levels. I see this merely as a way to clear the decks. Sure it’s also saying that this world could exist (apparently in later books explanations are given for some of the more fantastical elements including dragons themselves) but really it’s just saying this is the way it is, deal with it. Similar to “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…”
I have to say I wasn’t very taken with this book. There were things about it I liked. There’s a certain puzzle element to the way the plot resolves that’s quite pleasing, I liked the logic of it. The descriptions of dragon lore and how the society was organised were interesting too.
However the sexual politics of the book were questionable. To be fair this book was written in the 60s when it was probably seen as forward-looking and even radical. But some of the attitudes felt off to me. Yes it’s a medieval hierarchical society with defined gender roles – but it’s that way because that’s the way she made it up so that doesn’t immunise it from all criticism. Having said the thing that bothered me most was the way the characters were written. Lessa was clearly stated to be a woman in her early twenties but she behaves and is treated like a young teenager. You could see her I suppose as an independent woman making her own way with her own agenda and unwilling to be cowed by male authority, but she does it in a rebellious and mainpulative manner rather than hit opposition head on. Meanwhile F’lar treats her like a child. He berates he for the actions she takes to find things out but deliberately keeps her in the dark about what’s happening to her. He teaches her about dragons and lore but only as much as he thinks she needs and he disciplines her if he thinks she needs it. His favourite way of making an emphatic point seems to be to shake her.
In the end because it was hard to like either of these characters I think it hurt my enjoyment of the book. I do wonder if I’d read it when I was 12 whether the sheer fact of dragons and my naivety would have meant I liked it more.
6/10 – dragons are cool but you need more for a good book.