Book Review: The White Dragon and a Teen Boy Who Gets Away with Too Much

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Now, it’s been a while since my last Anne McCaffrey novel, having read Dragonquest near December or November of 2011. The next book in the series, The White Dragon, heavily references the events and world building of the first two books, Dragonquest and Dragonflight before it. I thought about quitting The White Dragon to begin the series again. I thought about finding Pern’s Wikia page to remind myself of the plots of the earlier books. I did neither. I assumed that I would catch up, and for the most part, I did, though my memories of those events and those people remained much fuzzier than the memories of the characters.

That didn’t help me to fully enjoy the tale.

Jaxom was also not the precocious kid that I remembered from and enjoyed in Dragonquest and in fact doesn’t seem to be friends anymore with F’lessan, puncturing holes into what I thought would be an adorable bromance about which I wanted to read books.

Jaxom’s not interested in bromance, unless it’s with his unusual white dragon, Ruth. Jaxom has become a very “proddy” teenager, and I, for one, was not pleased to have to read about his ill-advised adolescent flings.

First, there is Coranna, the daughter of a Holder subservient to Jaxom. Jaxom isn’t interested in her till another gets jealous of Coranna’s preference for Jaxom, which everyone involved admits might be based more on his title than on Jaxom’s own merit. Once her preference is noted, however, Jaxom admits that she is pretty, and then it is not long before he is working towards giving her a “half-breed” son. The worst of it comes in one scene where Jaxom, having witnessed the Rising of a green at Fort Hold, is awash with the dangerous swirl of hormones that comes with a dragon’s Rising, and though he does admittedly not tell Ruth to go elsewhere, Ruth takes him to Coranna. Coranna begins to complain, “I wish you wouldn’t—” The narration calls this a “half-teasing scold,” but she resists Jaxom when he kisses her, possibly even attacks him with her hoe before he disarms her. This attack is admittedly is ambiguous and might be accidental, but their lovemaking here seems as ambiguously consensual as Jamie and Cersei’s in the sept (637; Martin, A Storm of Swords, 851). At any rate, the forceful taking of Coranna doesn’t sit well with me nor with Jaxom, whose solution to his ill-sitting conscience is to never again see Coranna, to drop her like a hot sack of potatoes and run. This action is repulsive and not at all heroic, but he is not punished for dropping her. Instead he falls ill during another adventure, is trapped in a tropical paradise, and finds new love in the form of one his nurses. McCaffrey is often hailed as a feminist writer, but that’s a disgusting instance of excusing patriarchy and of the wanton use of women. Admittedly, it’s possible that McCaffrey meant for these things to sit poorly with her readers, to draw attention to the flaws of the male-dominated and sex-driven society of Pern (and by extension the societies of many of the countries on Earth). I will never be able now to ask her or to ask her how she felt about Jaxom’s behavior as an older woman looking back from the twenty-first century, but I think that this is an example of the male domination and masculine template of the fantasy genre, which we’re only just beginning to counter, and the effects that that model has on even the most feminist writers.

I’m a proponent of parents knowing what their children are reading. No one younger than a teen probably ought to be reading this series for the sex scenes alone, but I think that even parents of teens ought to be ready to address Jaxom’s behavior involving women in general and particular his final scene with Coranna. It is also fair to note that while there are several, none of the sex scenes are detailed.

In The White Dragon, more broadly, the exiled Oldtimers are worried about their continued existence, looking with wobbling chins at their forthcoming destruction by old age. Meanwhile, the Oldtimers’ indolence has bred an industrious spirit into those men who moved South. The Northerners are eying the South with ideas of conquest, dominion, and self-reliance besides. The backdrop is a forthcoming war over land, which the dragonriders of Benden Weyr hope to settle through deceit before it can come to war.

I think the plot is supposed to center around Jaxom’s sense of being between—not child, not adult; Holder and not; dragonrider and not—that theme giving the book a particularly teen feel.

I enjoyed the outlandish, arrogant, and cynical Piemur and his runner-beast Stupid. Menolly is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak landscape of deceitful or easily lulled women, though even she is lured away by sexual pleasures and hints that she’s given her heart to a man too much her elder and supervisor. Master Robinton is as delightful as ever, his easy demeanor winning over characters and myself whenever he enters the stage. Next time I give McCaffrey a go, I think I had better choose a book about the Harpers because they really seem to be the best characters.

A quick survey of the backs of the McCaffrey books owned by my roommate leaves me wondering how far in advance McCaffrey was able to craft everyone’s backstory. The White Dragon may be third in the series, but it seems that nearly every other book on the shelf happens prior to this tale (and many happen to center around the Harpers besides).

Certainly, McCaffrey seems to write with the wider epic in mind. Certainly this book and Dragonquest hint towards the widening of the world and end with the first notes of the next book’s musical movement. I don’t know what the next book is in the series chronologically, but I can almost guarantee that it will have to do with the movement of the dragonriders to the South and Toric’s fight to extend his territory and/or maintain the territory that he’s taken, based solely upon the ending of The White Dragon.

**

McCaffrey, Anne. The Dragonriders of Pern.  New York: Del Rey-Ballantine-Random, 1988.

The White Dragon first published in 1978.

This review is not endorsed by Anne McCaffrey, Del Rey, Ballantine Books, or Random House, Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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