Turning The Pages: ‘Dragon’s Code’ Glides Through Familiar Territory

Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” series was very influential for me as a teenager in the late 70s. I dreamed of being a rider bonded to one of McCaffrey’s telepathic dragons. Or maybe to have a fire lizard, the tiny relatives of the great beasts. So I was very excited when I learned at SDCC that a new “Dragonriders of Pern” book was on the way.

In “Dragon’s Code,” Anne’s daughter Gigi has written a nice refresher for those of us who haven’t been to Pern in a long time. It’s also a little bit of an introduction for those who’ve never read the previous Pern books. The book fills in gaps and missing moments from the period covered in 1978’s “The White Dragon.”  While I usually love these kind of stories, after six years of waiting for a new Dragonriders book, “Dragon’s Code” fell a little short.

A Tale Told From A Different Point Of View

Journeyman Harper Piemur is the main character of “Dragon’s Code.” He’s a familiar character who was featured in the original Pern books – particularly the “Harper Hall” series. Indeed, “Dragon’s Code” reads much more like a Harper Hall novel than a Dragonriders novel. The Harper Hall books were coming-of-age stories, and this too is a coming-of-age story.

Piemur is 17 and unsure of his place in the world. His spectacular boyhood treble lost to adolescence, he’s working as a spy for the Masterharper of Pern. While keeping an eye on the exiled Oldtimers (a time-displaced faction of dragonriders), he stumbles across a plot – but no one recognizes it until it’s too late.

That plot, and its resolution, are well-known to readers of the original Dragonrider books. The most interesting thing Gigi McCaffrey does is give us a different view of the plotters. Her mother’s Oldtimers seemed, for the most part, to be irredeemable villains. The worst of them remain so in “Dragon’s Code.” But the younger McCaffrey also introduces Oldtimers who were “offstage” in “The White Dragon,” and manages to make us feel some sympathy for them. These people traveled centuries into the future to help save a world now changed beyond their recognition. We meet Oldtimers who can’t quite manage all the changes, but neither do they want to completely stick to their old ways. She’s added layers to a situation we thought we knew. I think that will change the way I read those original books in the future.

A New Look At Old Friends

McCaffrey also brings in other characters we knew and loved from the original books, but we only get brief glimpses of most of them. Harper Hall leaders Menolly, Sebell and Masterharper Robinton all make appearances, but they feel more distant from Piemur than I would have expected. They also feel distant from the characters I adored so much (to the point that I wept over Robinton years ago). We get a better look at the dragonrider N’ton, especially when he rescues Piemur from Pern’s deadliest peril, Thread.

I wanted more of these characters, and more of the Harper Hall. And I especially wanted more dragons. I missed “hearing” their mental conversations with their lifebonded riders. But I still liked the alternate look we got at a vital Hatching (capitalization intended). I also liked seeing Lessa and F’lar, Pern’s leading dragonriders, through the teenaged Piemur’s eyes. Again, it gives a new perspective to a scene I’ve imagined many times over the past 40 years.

But I will praise Gigi McCaffrey for adding some exquisite detail to Weyr life, a glorious description of N’ton’s dragon Lioth, and for giving us some wonderful scenes of Piemur and his original family in a Crom runnerhold. All through “Dragon’s Code,” she gives us new images of this planet we love.

And she also changed my long-held mental image of runners. Apparently they’re not horses after all!

So, Is It Worth The Read?

I wanted to like this book more than I did. “Dragon’s Code” doesn’t quite soar the way so many of Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders” novels did. Instead, it glides over many familiar spaces, at a pace that lets us see things we hadn’t before. It doesn’t quite satisfy the craving for more of Pern, especially for more about Lessa and F’lar, their dragons Ramoth and Mnementh, and more of Jaxom and his white dragon Ruth. But, six years after Todd McCaffrey published “Dragongirl,” this does take the edge off. It’s still worth a read by any Pern lover while we wait in hope for “After The Fall.”

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