As I stated with my annotation of Dragonflight, my decision to re-read these books stems from a desire to figure out what caused me to start writing fan fiction in the world of Dragonriders nearly a decade ago, in the hopes of also figuring out why I stopped writing fiction despite my desire to continue.
Dragonquest takes place seven years, or Turns, after Lessa brought the Weyrs of Pern forward in time in order to battle Thread once more. There are a number of plots occuring within this book, which is a bit more ambitious than Dragonflight. The chapters are divided primarily between F’lar, Weyrleader for Benden Weyr (mate to Lessa), and F’nor, his half-brother and second-in-command. The “Oldtimer” dragonriders who had come forward in time were becoming belligerent and divisive, uncomfortable with the changes in society that had occured during the Long Interval, and tired of fighting Thread after having spent 50 Turns in their own time fighting it, only to come forward to fight it for 50 more. F’nor is injured and sent elsewhere to recover, where he meets a young queenrider named Brekke. During his convalescence, he discovers and manages to bond with, or Impress, a just hatched fire-lizard, a signficantly smaller cousin of the dragons. These fire-lizards become used as messengers and pets throughout the rest of the series. Brekke’s queen ends up rising to mate at the same time as another dragon, and in the subsequent battle (which otherwise never happens between dragons), both queens are killed. F’nor, having developed a relationship with Brekke, nurses her back to health.
In the other story thread, F’lar works to keep the alliance of Weyrs and Holds together under the tensions caused by the Oldtimers. This tension comes to a head when one of the Oldtimer Weyrleaders attacks him, leading to a duel that F’lar ultimately wins. This signals a “changing of the guard”, and F’lar is made de facto leader of all of Pern. Following discoveries made in abandoned portions of the Weyrs, a telescope is discovered that allows them to see the surface of the Red Star. Following increased pressure from the Lords to go to the source itself to destroy the thread, F’nor manages to get vivid enough coordinates to teleport to the planet, and is nearly killed by the violent conditions of that other planet.
Towards the end of the book, there is a Hatching (a period when the dragon eggs hatch and Impress their riders). One egg is smaller than the others, and no one expects it to hatch. Jaxom, a young Lord Holder, overcome with emotion, frees the small dragon from the egg, and Impresses it. Due to the clear demarcation between Hold and Weyr, this causes quite a bit of contention (you can’t be a Lord Holder AND a Dragonrider). Due to the unique nature of the small dragon, (he is extremely small and white, which is entirely unheard of), the dragon’s life expectancy is very low, so Jaxom is allowed to remain as a Lord Holder.
It’s clear when McCaffrey wrote Dragonquest, she was already planning to write the third book in the series, The White Dragon, which follows Jaxom and his dragon Ruth. Overall, I’d say Dragonquest is better written than Dragonflight. The characters are more developed and engaging, the descriptions and names are more consistent (though there are still discrepancies), and the overall story is significantly more complex and robust. That said, it does not stand alone, and really requires reading Dragonflight to be appreciated.
Like Dragonflight, I still don’t see what drew me to write about Pern. There is nothing remarkable about the novel, though I do feel it was well written and entertaining. What about it made myself and literally hundreds of others decide to write about the draognriders? It’s a violent world, with only a privileged elite having a truly good life, the rest spending it in servitude or hardship. Why would we choose THAT, of all worlds, to write in?
I would recommend Dragonquest to those willing to read the rest of the original trilogy (if not more). It is an enjoyable read, and does in fact have a complete primary story arc, but I would by no means say that the book is a stand alone novel. It needs its prequel, and it needs its sequel to truly be a strong novel.
McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonquest. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971.