Spoiler Free Summary: Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey is the second book in the Dragonriders of Pern series (at least what is commonly regarded as the first in the main arc). The Thread has returned, but so have the dragonriders. Lessa’s actions (from Book One) have brought back the help F’lar needed to defend Pern, but the Oldtimers are breeding dissent, and their presence may actually turn into a hinderance. As F’lar works to find a way to defeat the Thread once and for all, he’s distracted by the need to keep order among the dragonriders.
Character: So normally I hate political drama. Adding dragons to the mix helps a lot, but that’s not why this story works for me. The reason it works is the characters. After Dragonflight, I’m in love with Lessa, F’lar and F’nor and their dragons. The political intrigue is amplified because the reader understand how driven F’lar is to defeat the Thread and how frustrating it is (and thus the readers are on his behalf) to be rebelled against. That emotional conflict is the only way to make political conflict interesting. It’s the same with a cop and robber story. If you don’t understand the motivations of the cop and robber, it’s just a hollow plot line. At least with cops and robbers, there’s guaranteed action. I will say I think the Oldtimers’ points of view could have been more relevant, but with how connected I was to the main cast already, I didn’t care.
Exposition: Dragonquest is sort of a reward for making it through the first five chapters of Dragonflight in regard to exposition. Now that the world is built and defined, there are far fewer blocks of exposition. As an epic fantasy story, there are absolutely blocks of exposition, but it’s not nearly as much as there were in Book One, where we had to learn pretty much everything about how the planet works.
Worldbuilding: Things only get better with this book. Without addition exposition, McCaffrey expands on Pern and the cause of Thread. We learn more about the world of Pern and its society. I’ll ever beleive Pern is the standard bearer for worldbuilding in fiction.
Dialogue: This book continues the trend set by Book One. The dialogue is so much more than plot positioning or badly hidden exposition. Instead, the dialogue adds to the characters and it adds to the emotion of the scene. The characters aren’t narrating information like a bad play. Instead, we’re immersed in a world in which we can hear the characters and the conversations they have. They are indeed relevant to the plot, but they’re not cookie-cutter plot outlines.
Description: What shines here in McCaffrey’s description is how carefully she uses adjectives near action verbs. If I were studying in school, I might find the time to read this book and underline the verbs and circle the adjectives she uses to give those verbs additional sensory value. There’s one particular scene in the book where she artfully depicts a chaotic event without loosing the reader or slowing down the pace of the story. Sure, there’s more description than I like, but it only adds to the immersive nature of the world.
Overall: Dragonquest is proof that political intrigue doesn’t have to be boring. I think McCaffrey did right what Herbert did wrong. I’m sure others disagree with me, and I respect that opinion, but stick with me. Herbert gave the worldbuilding and political intrigue first, and then added character. McCaffrey made us care about the characters first and then added the political conflict. When we connect emotionally to characters, we’re far more patient as readers than when writers want to show off their notes for 100 pages before we really come to understand our characters. This book highlights a lot of those aspects.
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