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Dragonflight    by Anne McCaffrey order for
by Anne McCaffrey
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 1991 (1968)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dragonflight is the first volume in a marvellous (and long-running) series about the Dragons of Pern and their Riders. It is, in the opinion of many, the best of the author's many excellent works, though perhaps the popular tales built around The Ship Who Sang give the Dragonriders of Pern a run for their money.

McCaffrey postulates a distant star, colonized by humans and then forgotten. This is Rukbat, in the Sagittarian sector, later named Pern. Unknown to the early colonists, every two hundred years a planet swinging around Rukbat in a 'wildly erratic elliptical orbit', comes close enough for its indigenous life to cross the space gap - and deadly Thread drops from the skies. To fight Thread, Pern's early scientists developed a local life form into 'winged, tailed, and fiery-breathed dragons' and trained empathetic humans to ride them and rid their skies of the menace. Over the centuries, the colonists lost scientific knowledge. Immediate danger gone, the 'descendants of heroes fell into disfavor, as the legends fell into disrepute.' This is when the tale begins.

Lessa of Ruatha has disguised herself amongst the drudges of her Hold since it was overrun and her family slaughtered by the vicious conqueror Fax. She survives and awaits her chance for revenge. Lessa seizes the opportunity when Dragonmen arrive on Search for young women who might be capable of impressing dragons. The Dragonriders are especially concerned to bring back to their Weyr any who might impress the queen dragon, soon to be hatched. Though this may sound like a Cinderella story, Lessa is not waiting around for either a fairy godmother or a prince to save her. She has long laid plans for revenge, a fiery strength of will, and a talent for manipulation of others in her cause. She uses these skills on Bronze Rider F'lar, who is excited by the potential she reveals.

With difficulty, since Lessa is stubborn as well as spirited, F'lar persuades her to leave Ruath, attempt Impression, and aid him in his plans to rebuild the Weyrs, regain the respect of the Holders, and rediscover the Dragonriders' purpose. When Lessa impresses the newborn golden dragon, she becomes Weyrwoman and gains a lifelong companion - 'Never again would Lessa lack an advocate, a defender, an intimate, aware instantly of the temper of her mind and heart, of her desires.' Together, Lessa and F'lar, with the aid of their dragons (gold Ramoth and bronze Mnementh), fight hidebound traditionalists to bring new life to the Weyrs. Then Thread begins to fall and the real struggle begins.

If you haven't discovered the Dragonriders of Pern yet, then you have many hours of entertainment in store from a master storyteller. I launched my thirteen-year-old on Dragonflight recently and he is already into the second book, delighted that there are sixteen (so far) in the series to read. If you are already a fan, then go back to the beginning and start over - Pern is a world that can be enjoyed, again and again, by young and old.

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