Sunday, 13 January 2008

‘Dragonharper’ – Anne & Todd McCafferey (Bantam Press)

There are many of life’s little lessons that I steadfastly refuse to learn and one of these is my complete inability to stomach even the mildest Indian takeaway. I love the taste but my stomach ties itself in knots trying to get away from the food itself… Anyway, 5am Saturday morning sees me in the spare room waiting for the stomach cramps to stop. There’s no way I’m getting back to sleep so I thought I’d have a quick read of something short and sweet. Anne & Todd McCafferey’s ‘Dragonharper’ has been on the pile for a while so I thought I’d give it a go…
Anne McCafferey’s ‘Pern’ has always held a special little place in my heart, purely because it was these book covers (amongst other things) that got me reading fantasy in the first place. In a strange twist of fate however, I only read the first few books and then moved onto other stuff. Years and years later, I pick up the latest ‘Pern’ book to find that it’s not just Anne McCafferey writing them now, her son is starting to take up the reins as well (‘approved literary heir’). So, what would my first trip back to Pern be like after a long time away?
Kindan (a character from previous books, I think) is an apprentice at the Harper Hall. This is a boy of many ambitions, most of which will fail over the course of the book. I’m not telling you which ones bite the bullet but this is a character who wants to be a Harper, have his own dragon and try his luck with the Lord Holder’s daughter! Circumstances conspire against him not only in his daily life but also on a world-wide scale. Plague engulfs the planet and all dreams must be put aside in a fight just to survive…
‘Dragonharper’ makes some allowances for the first time reader but it does help if you’re someone who has been reading the series since it began. It’s assumed that the reader already knows a lot of the names and history which I found a bit confusing, especially when trying to place this book in context with what little ‘Pern history’ I already knew. Once you get past this though Kindan’s story is surprisingly easy to follow and invest time in. It’s made very clear (a little too clear sometimes) that he’s a good guy and someone we’re supposed to root for. The McCafferey’s are not afraid to lay on the pathos and tragedy which meant (for me) that Kindan’s character became even more likeable.
The only thing that really got me (and it’s a pretty big thing for me) was that for all the urgency implied in the plot, the story itself carried no sense of urgency at all. This was in part due to the fact that an important plot point is given away in the prologue and I just found myself waiting for it to happen. If you know what’s going to happen at the end of the book then you’re not going to spend time worrying about what’s going to happen. The other thing was that the concentration on the plight of Kindan, and his friends, is at the expense of the world-wide situation which became sidelined and almost irrelevant. Again, I just knew how this one would turn out.
Having said all that though, I really got into the story and wanted to know how it finished so I read it from start to finish. It was just based more on wanting to know about the characters rather than the overall threat…
‘Dragonharper’ will be a good read for fans of the series who know what they want and what to expect. For me though, it felt just a little too comfortable to be truly gripping.

Seven out of Ten

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