Book Review: Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (Ballantine Books – 1968)

Launched into the unexpected role of leadership among the dragonriders of Pern, Lessa who had only ever meant to rule the Hold to which she was heir finds herself in the complex world of politics and war—politics among the dragonriders and the Lord Holders of Pern and the war against the destructive Thread spores that fall from the sky and threaten to destroy all life, human and otherwise, on the surface of the planet. As she struggles to navigate the new life that chose her, she is faced with a riddle of generations-lost dragonriders and decisions that could even the playing field against the Thread or send Pern into even steeper decline.

First off, much as I do love this book, it is an older style that’s just a little drier than modern fantasy. That said, Anne McCaffrey was a pioneer in dragon literature, taking dragons from monsters and omens to intelligent and even noble creatures. She also was one of the earlier sci-fi writers to have realistic and relatable female protagonists. Lessa is ambitious, she’s clever, but she’s also vulnerable at times (like everyone is!) and she has a lot to learn about her new society.

Dragonflight is by far the best of the Dragonriders of Pern series and one of the best Pern books that McCaffrey wrote. Incidentally, it’s also the first book, which makes it perfect for reviewing. Dragonflight takes us deep into the world of Pernese dragonriders and their customs, ideas, and ideology. It’s ambitious in a way that’s exciting and fresh—deeply invested in, rather than destroying Thread, finding a better way to fight it.

In later books, McCaffrey becomes a bit too ambitious and, in my opinion, occasionally gets a little tangled up in whatever it is she’s trying to do, but that’s a talk for another review. Dragonflight stands on its own, although other books do build off of it.

Almost every book I’ve read with dragons as intelligent beasts capable of good or evil were written after Dragonflight. Not to say that all are, but this has been my experience. It’s a wonderfully vibrant world, and you can quickly see how it inspired other dragon literature, from McCaffrey’s use of telepathy to the bond she creates between dragon and rider.

If you’ve read it and have thoughts or haven’t read it but still have thoughts, leave a comment below!

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