I know this is a beloved series and McCaffrey is one of the most prolific writers science fiction writers of all time. And I know that, for its time – a time before Ellen Ripley, Katniss Everdeen and Hermione Granger, it was revolutionary to have a story, a science fiction story no less, have a strong woman main character. But… I’m glad we’ve gotten better. We deserve better.
Lessa, the main character, herself isn’t the problem. Lessa lives in a medieval like holding ruled by a usurping tyrant. Lessa’s secretly the rightful heir to the throne, but is currently masquerading as a disgusting and dusty servant girl in the keep while secretly sabotaging and causing as much havok as possible. “Oh, you want the guest rooms closed up for winter? Okay, let me just leave this shutter unlatched… There, that should get most of the winter weather blown into the room. Oh, one of the castle dogs is pregnant? What better place for her to have her puppies then in a guest bed!” All of this is a way for Lessa to bide her time until she can exact a more murderous revenge.
The story takes place on Pern, a human colony on an alien planet. There’s no mention of how a space travel society devolved into a swords and sorcery setting, but McCaffrey wrote a plethora of books about this world, so I’m sure it gets covered at some point.
There’s also dragons and people (read: men only) who ride them. They are an elite guard, even above the keep holders. Their main purpose is to combat the biological attacks of Pern’s sister planet that occurs every 200 years. Only they haven’t had a deadly spore attack in 400 years, so the world sees them as a bunch of freeloaders. Occasionally they leave their big mountain cave thing and go to the holdings to collect sassy and spunky women (gotta catch ’em all!) once a queen dragon egg is laid. So one woman will become queen and the others will just stick around in the dragon caves to be friends with benefits to the dragonriders and take care of them. Because they are the Wendys to their Lost Boys. The dragonriders are much too busy training for their regularly scheduled apocalypse to cook or clean for themselves. 200 years just flies by, you know?
So obviously, Lessa becomes dragon queen and once her dragon becomes mature, the she dragon obviously mates with Generically Chiseled Handsome Hero’s dragon. Which means Lessa, has to (yep, has to! she’s just so overcome with emotions) have sex with Heroman. Because reasons! Even in Heroman’s inner thoughts, he’s like, “this feels like rape…but, oh well, tradition!” Seriously? Naturally, Lessa falls in love with Heroman. In fact, she’s been in love with him the whole time, she just had a hard childhood and all, so she doesn’t show her feelings well. So no rape! (This is about when I pulled an eye muscle with an Olympic worthy eyeroll.)
On, it’s also worth mentioning, maybe, that he abuses her. A lot. Anytime she remotely vexes him, he shakes her. For starters, who shakes people? Does anyone really do that? In real life? And how has big strong Heroman managed to not break her neck yet, because every description of Lessa is about how petite she is. I hope lessa never gets pregnant because I have serious concerns about Heroman’s ability to handle infants.
There are, at least, a few other women in the book. Of course, Lessa believes one of the these women obviously wants to get into Heroman’s pants. Because bitches be triflin’, am I right? I did love that Lessa was more than a Mary Sue character. She has flaws – she’s rash, doesn’t think things through, is jealous, etc. And that’s great! A good character needs to be interesting, regardless of gender; that’s how you get great female lead stories is to treat the character as a human first. But in an effort to make an interesting female character, we can do without cliched women fighting over a guy entanglements.