By Anne McCaffrey
Published by Ballantine Books in 1968.
Dragonflight is the first in the Dragonriders of Pern series.
HOW CAN ONE GIRL SAVE AN ENTIRE WORLD?
To the nobles who live in Benden Weyr, 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. . . . (Goodreads)
Dragonflight is another book that will need to be added to my “not what I was expecting” shelf. For one thing, the packaging of the book led me to believe that Lessa was going to be the main character and protagonist. After all, the back of the jacket says “How can one girl save an entire world?”, and the beginning of the book starts off by following Lessa’s point-of-view as she wakes one morning to see the “menacing” Red Star pulsing in the sky. And I really enjoyed the parts about Lessa, but then suddenly the book becomes a jumbled mess, focusing not solely on Lessa’s experiences in the unfamiliar Weyr (where the dragons and their rides reside), but also on the dragonrider F’lar. And the more the book begins to focus on F’lar, the more Lessa is characterized as a silly girl who doesn’t think things through and needs constant supervision.
Now, I’m not going to focus too much on this next point, because I’m trying to keep in mind when this book was written, but there were a lot of negative reinforcements of gender roles in this. The description of this book made me think that Lessa was going to be strong, independent, and (with the help of the dragon queen Ramoth) would ultimately lead the Weyr to victory against the Threads (evil spores from space that destroy all organic matter they touch). Instead (as I mentioned above) Lessa is treated as a petulant child. Not the heroine we all know she can and should be.
And then, of course, there’s the domestic abuse and implied rapes, which I found incredibly hard to read about with a non-critical eye. I don’t think I could even count the amount of times when F’lar grabs and shakes Lessa when he’s angry. And it’s implied that he forces himself upon her every night (she bathes twice a day, which F’lar takes as an insult to him and the fact that they “share a bed”), because their dragons mated. They don’t do it because of love. Or consent. But because their dragons mated and now he gets to mate with her… because reasons. I can’t even talk about this particular aspect of the book without getting angry. So, moving on…
Sexual assault, misogyny, etc. aside, the writing in Dragonflight is not really that good. My main issue with Dragonflight is how McCaffrey can’t seem to pick a character to focus on. The book is told in a very close third-person omnipotent point-of-view, and switches liberally between the thoughts of F’lar, Lessa, F’nor, R’gul and whoever else is also in the vicinity. It’s confusing and unnecessary. The book would have been much stronger if it hadn’t flopped around all over the place with its character POVs.
It also could have done with some more clarity and creativity. Sometimes a dragon or other character would say something, and instead of McCaffrey bothering to think of something to write, she would write something along the lines of “and then Ramoth told a very funny joke and Lessa roared with laughter.”
Okay, criticisms aside, there was actually a lot going on in the book that I did like and did find interesting. For instance, I liked the more science-fictional aspects of the book, such as how the main threat to the planet were spores from outer space, how the dragons were able to travel between, and McCaffrey’s hints at the loss of a more sophisticated technology.
I also liked the overall premise of dragons imprinting on their riders (and vice versa) and, generally, thought the politics were interesting, though I don’t think I’d be willing to read another book of it. There was a lot that did work, and I thought the threat of the Threads was unique, though the real danger wasn’t really from the Threads, but from the decline of traditions, morals, and technologies while the Threads were absent.
McCaffrey’s story is an interesting one, though it has a lot of less desirable qualities to it. Dragonflight is the first in a trilogy, which is part of a larger series of books set on the world of Pern. It can be read as a standalone, but I felt like much of the book was filled with world-building and setting up for its numerous sequels. Dragonflight sets the stage for many more epic battles to come. And although it ends with a feeling of hope—that Pern can defeat the Threads—the book also hints at greater political drama to come.
Dragonflight is a notable fantasy book, and readers looking for a tale with dragons, dragonriders, and a vaguely medieval setting, will enjoy some of what this book has to offer. Others might find it dated, its views on women belonging back in the time when it was written, with repetitive, and often flimsy writing. Ultimately, I thought this book was okay, and I can see the mass appeal, but it’s not for me in the end.