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Dragon's Kin

by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey

(Del Rey/Ballantine, $24.95, 304 pages, hardback; December 2003.)

Dragon's Kin is a charming addition to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern universe, cover scanbut lacks the usual sweeping epic setting of its predecessors. Perhaps this is because the setting is almost exclusively within the bounds of a struggling mining camp and deals with the tragedy and growth of a small group of young adult characters. Instead of the stupendous dragons, charming firelizards, or erudite dolphins being the centre of the human-creature relationship in this story, the authors have reached down to the lowest end of the draconic scale and brought the plight of the dragons' cousin, the watchwher, to light. In previous Pern books, watchwhers have been consistently described as ugly and not too bright, but we find here that, inherent in their misunderstood lives, the creatures have a huge capacity for loyalty and intelligence. This is fully explored in Dragon's Kin, and the watchwhrer finally gains some credit and understanding, becoming a fully sympathetic character in its own right without infringing on the grace, charm, and intelligence of its cousins.

In this novel a young master-miner, Natalon, struggles to hold his mining camp together, to prove it before he is forced to abandon it as untenable. He is plagued by mysterious accidents that threaten both his mine and his family, and circumstances are made even more difficult by his Uncle Tarik's acid-tongued commentary on Natalon's leadership. Against this backdrop, several young people are changed forever by a disastrous accident in the mine: Kinder loses his father and brothers, and is forced to abandon his family home and live with the Harper, Master Zist; Nuella, blind and hidden daughter of Natalon, finds purpose and eventual acceptance in her love and work with the watchwher, Kisk; Zenor gives up his childhood to take his dead father's place in the mine; and Cristov finds the courage to move out from under the nastiness that his father, Tarik, fosters. Together, with the help of Master Zist and a couple of Dragonriders, they discover the worth of themselves and of the watchwhers, and solve the mystery of the accidents in the mine.

I could wish that some of the supporting cast had been handled as deftly as the main characters, and with a little more background. The adults do not seem to be fully rounded-out personalities. For example, Tarik, who seems to portray the cliché evil uncle to the camp's leader, is a little too loose in his portrayal. We read nothing of motive except a marginal jealousy and contradictory laziness. Most of the troubles at the mine, which are persistently mentioned in the story, are never dealt with as if they might have an origin in the old man's venom, or anyone else's, when it seems obvious to the reader even if not to the other characters. This is a missed opportunity for potential character and relationship development. I see where the authors might not have wanted to distract from the emphasis on the younger central characters, but I still think it might have been good for them, on the whole, to have been treated as tensions to be dealt with. The Tarik character is never successfully resolved at the conclusion of the story, after all the hints throughout the text indicating there is something behind the accidents at the mine. It is ultimately his laziness that is responsible for the climatic disaster that proves the watchwhers' abilities in the end.

This is an easily read novel, like most of McCaffrey's works, but remains slightly suggestive of being just a well fleshed outline. I believe that, although the book's well written, the writing could have done with a further tweak and edit, paying closer attention to some of the adult subcharacters and the resolution at the end. Collaborations are never easy, but I think that this alliance between McCaffrey and her son, Todd, is a very worthwhile effort. Anne McCaffrey is handing on the baton of penning the still-to-be-written Pern novels to Todd, and I am personally looking forward to his forthcoming works in that universe.


Review by Marianne Plumridge.

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