The final book in the initial trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, The White Dragon is both the farthest reaching in scope and the most enjoyable to read. With the focus of the book away from F’lar and Lessa and a better developed cast of characters, the world-building is allowed to shine along with the growth of the new protagonists. While the dragons were a pleasant diversion previously, they now take center stage with the namesake of the novel.
In Dragonquest, McCaffrey set the stage for her third novel when the young Lord Jaxom bonds with a unique white dragon (dragons typically come in gold, bronze, brown, green and blue on Pern) named Ruth. As the book follows Jaxom and Ruth while they thwart various plots by the oldtimers (dragonriders who teleported forward in time) and greedy lords, the growth that both rider and dragon show as individuals and their relationship to one another is a refreshing departure from previous novels. Jaxom is at times impetuous and stubborn and new supporting characters are also flawed in a way that the previous novels lacked.
The plot of the book is perfuctonary to a fault. Bad guy steals something or commits evil act. The cast of characters are largely confused or baffled or act in wrong-headed fashions until Jaxom and Ruth have an epiphany and save the day. What saves the plot is innocent detachment of Ruth, who is deeply committed to Jaxom but ambivalent about tradition and customs, as well as the increased exploration.
McCaffrey walks the border between science-fiction and fantasy in this novel. As the characters explore the long abandoned Southern continent it becomes increasingly apparent that their ancestors were extremely technologically advanced. With impressive capabilities in genetic engineering and space flight implied, there is an untold mystery to how the modern day descendants have been reduced to a feudal medieval era society. The book refrains from tackling that question but it hints at a wide variety of possibilities that are, perhaps, more fulfilling in the absence of a concrete answer.
The third novel is also heavily supported by the Master Harper of Pern, the world’s foremost bard, by the name of Robinton. While appearing in previous novels, The White Dragon makes it apparent that he has a rich history of his own. His relationship with F’lar and Lessa as well as a former student, Menolly, are eminently believable with episodes of unrequited love, tense disagreement and jovial celebration. Robinton is almost certainly the best developed character in the novel.
It’s unfortunate that The White Dragon can’t truly be read as a stand alone novel. The back story from Dragonflight and Dragonquest is crucial to understanding what goes on in this book. By itself, this is a decent book with characters that the reader can root for and a world filled with potential, even if not all of it is realized. The drudge work required by the first two books will keep most from reaching a far more satisfying conclusion than expected.
Rating: 3 out of 5