Cameron's Reviews > Dragonsong

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
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Jun 16, 10

bookshelves: reviewed, appalling-wastes-of-trees
Read from May 31 to June 15, 2010

Thanks to this book, I now know who the anti-Jules Verne is. Those of you who've read any of Verne's works know that he loves to go into excruciating detail when he describes the world and the things in it. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that at least half of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is made up of descriptions of various fish, wildlife, and submarines. Anne McCaffrey, on the other hand, takes quite a different approach to description. That is to say that she approaches it with a ten foot pole while wearing a biohazard suit.

Description has the power to do many things. Good descriptive text allows the reader to imagine just what the author wants them to see while still keeping the pace of the story intact. Bad descriptive text, however, gets in the way of the story (a la 20k Leagues) and non-existent descriptive text keeps a reader from even getting into a story (a la Dragonsong). Now, perhaps "non-existent" is a bit harsh when it comes to this book, but it surely isn't far off. Less than the bare minimum of description is provided to the reader. I can't remember how many times I stopped reading to think "Wait. What is this person/creature/place supposed to look like?". I'm all for using my imagination in conjunction with inconspicuous description, but the author has to give me something to work with.

Granted, I'm pretty sure I don't need to be told what a dragon looks like and I'm pretty sure I can guess what a fire lizard is, but what kind of a fish is a packtail and what the heck is a spiderclaw? Don't know, McCaffrey didn't tell me. I might as well have just imagined that a spiderclaw is a tarantula-like crustacean with the head of Bill Murray (and I did) because the author didn't tell me otherwise. It's not that she doesn't know how to describe things. Take a look at this:

"Felena, a tall, willowy woman with very beautiful, curved black eyebrows and green eyes..."

Good stuff right there, but it's one of the few lines of descriptive text in the whole book. It comes pretty late in the book too and by that time I was so used to the lack of imagery coming from the book that I had to stop for a second to make sure that I was still reading Dragonsong (wish I was kidding).

As you can probably tell, description (or lack thereof) is what primarily bothered me about this book, but there's plenty of other things in the book worth criticizing. There's the medley of unimportant support characters and the uninspired main character. Not to mention the "girl grows tired of gender based oppression and rebels against it" storyline which is actually a "girl runs away from problems only to have increasingly better circumstances fall into her lap" storyline. But mostly, it's the whole description thing that really drags this book down.
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