Immen's Reviews > Dragondrums

Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey
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's review
Dec 29, 2011

I reread this over Thanksgiving, having just read that Anne McCaffrey died. Resurgam. This is mostly going to be about its prequel, because I am useless at reviewing like that.

I picked up 'Dragonsinger' at a sidewalk sale for 50 cents when I was quite young, young enough that stopping at the sidewalk sale on the way home from school was naughty, and the couple dollars I spent at the sale came close to bankrupting me. I loved that book. It's a wonderfully straightforward story about a talented girl and all the pitfalls society tries to put in her way. Rereading it now, with my stone heart and beady eye, I think the ending is a little rushed, and incredibly heavy-handed, basically coming out and saying GOSH IT'S TOO BAD PLOT-SPOILER-HERE THAT WOULD SOLVE EVERYTHING, which severely undercuts my pleasure when plot spoiler occurs. When I was reading 'Dragonsinger' for the first 10 times, this did not bother me at all. You see, Menolly is just so perfect in every way even though her life is so hard, and plot spoiler is her oh so richly deserved reward, and then my childish happiness for her brims over and I have to run around the apartment to relieve my feelings. Rereading McCaffrey makes me feel like I haven't been giddily happy in far too long.

So imagine me, tiny, bankrupt, reading 'Dragonsinger' over and over, because it gave me great pleasure, and because I kept going back to try to puzzle out how people thought in the story. There were lots of places where people would react in some way, and I would have no idea why. For example, when Sebell joshes Menolly about sucking up to Domick, I couldn't figure out that he's implying that Menolly is sucking up to Domick. I could tell that he was saying Menolly was lying about liking contrapuntal music, but why??? Not to mention, accusing people of lying is mean. So I was very naive, and this amuses me in retrospect.

The thing is, I'm still naive. I can read 'Dragonsinger' now and tell that the society is practically a caste society, with the dragonriders at the top and the drudges at the bottom, and that Menolly is a remarkably innocent girl surrounded by conniving back-stabbers, bigots and bullies, and it really, really bothers me. It's so cynical! It makes me sad that everyone always expects the worst, instead of happy when Menolly defies expectation, and the abject deference towards the nobility makes me wince. There's a particular sad thing which used to really confuse me -- a moment when the Masterharper says "It is never easy, sweet child, to have a real gift: something else is withheld to compensate.... If you won't surrender the mark, you'll never be more than half alive." I still don't know what the hell it means. I remember clearly that it pops up again in 'Masterharper of Pern', though, so I might flip through that to see what I think now.

What I think it means, though, after reading 'Dragondrums', is that if you're good at what you do, people will be jealous and make your life a living hell. The depiction of bullying in 'Dragonsinger', but especially in 'Dragondrums' is shocking to me. I was somewhat facetiously throwing out the idea that McCaffrey must have gone to Evil English Boarding School, like Captain Hook, but I read her wiki article, and in fact she did go to boarding school. Also her family is military -- is this another clue? Or a false cognate from my mulling over her ideas about pulling rank?

About 'Dragondrums' -- it is a peculiar, peculiar duck. It very much feels like McCaffrey was on contract for a trilogy and had to pump something out, even though she ran out of story. The other two books are nice and tight and concern Menolly, and fire lizards. This book is bewilderingly about Piemur, and the Southern Continent (and the foulness of human beings). It's still a quick, fun read, and plausibly makes more sense when taken in the context of McCaffrey's other books. That's all.

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