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Todd McCaffrey
Reviewed by: Stephanie Cage © 2005

Del Rey / Random House
US Hardback
438 Pages; $24.95
Date Reviewed: 22nd March 2005

Index: Science Fiction  Fantasy

Like any author who adopts an established story universe, Todd McCaffrey has a difficult job to do, working within the confines that have already been established, yet stamping his own vision on the world. On the whole he does it well. In 'Dragonsblood', he gets under the skin of the planet Pern as only someone raised in the grand tradition of Anne McCaffrey's 'Dragonrider' books could do. Every aspect of life on Pern is here: craft hall, weyr and hold, fire lizard, watchwher and possibly the biggest cast of dragons yet. The story takes in a staggering range of subjects. From the green-goo-spitting fire lizards that arrive from the future to warn Wind Blossom of the threat to Pern's stability, to the tensions and jealousies that threaten to tear apart the previously harmonious network of weyrs, this is a complicated and intriguing book.

'Dragonsblood' spans two time periods. In the earlier one, geneticist Wind Blossom and her apprentices (including her daughter Emorra and the injured boy Tieran whose life she has saved) battle the gradual loss of scientific equipment and knowledge, attempting to guard the planet they are sworn to protect against a distant and only dimly-envisaged threat. In the later time, artist and healer Lorana is saved from a shipwreck and drawn into the thrilling world of dragonriders, only to discover that this wonderful new world is balanced on a knife-edge, and its destiny linked to her own in baffling ways. Ultimately the two stories build together to a satisfying climax, but along the way McCaffrey sometimes struggles to hold together a dazzlingly complex plot taking place in multiple time-periods and locations with a cast of dozens, many of them dragonriders named in the best Pernese tradition of unpronounceable consonant-and-apostrophe-combinations.

Lorana is perhaps the nearest character in this book to a 'typical' McCaffrey heroine, and she is certainly an appealing one. With her innate talents, natural modesty and hitherto undiscovered talent for leadership, she is a worthy successor to women like Lessa and Moreta. However, because of the book's broader scope, 'Dragonsblood' lacks the detailed character portraits and the touching evocation of still-developing personalities which made 'Dragonflight', 'Dragonsinger', 'Dragonsong', and 'The White Dragon' such extraordinary books.

Instead of the simple separate but interlinked volumes of the early Pern chronicles, which together built up to an epic vision, 'Dragonsblood' attempts to cover an epic canvas in a single book, with predictable results. The characters are less three-dimensional, the emotions less convincing, and the story consequently less absorbing, but against that can be set a much more convincing science fiction world with a much better developed sense of history and science. We learn more about the origins of the drum codes used by the Harpers to communicate over long distances, the origins of the genetically engineered creatures that help humans on Pern to fight the ever-present enemy 'Thread', and the differences between DNA and its Pernese equivalent PNA.

'Dragonsblood' may not appeal to every dyed-in-the-wool lover of Ann McCaffrey's pleasant fantasies, but on the other hand an infusion of fresh blood may have been exactly what the series needed. Todd McCaffrey's more scientific, more masculine approach could well attract previously sceptical science fiction lovers to this new vision of Pern. Todd's first solo flight in the Pern universe proves that his is a talent worth watching, and with several more early Pern novels in the pipeline, McCaffrey Junior is sure to build up his own following as well as capitalising on the family heritage.

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