Beginning several more Turns after the end of Dragonquest, The White Dragon shifts character perspective slightly away from Benden Weyr to concentrate on the maturing of Jaxom, the rider of the white dragon, Ruth and itinerant Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold. A number of stories are intertwined around the Renaissance of the planet Pern and The White Dragon is both a tremendously compelling story on its own and it sets up the events to occur in the final three books of main saga, The Renegades of Pern, All the Weyrs of Pern, and The Skies of Pern.
The emphasis on youth is not accidental and Anne McCaffrey develops both of her young men, Jaxom and Piemur, extensively in the final novels, adding strong, bright young women as their mates, in the form of Sharra and Jancis. But The White Dragon is almost exclusively about Jaxom, beginning in his adolescence as a ward under the guidance of Lord Warder Lytol. He is frustrated about a number of things. His milk brother, Dorse, teases him mercilessly about his “runt” dragon. He has not been allowed to fly Ruth while the white dragon matures. Ruth shows no interest in mating. Neither a Lord Holder, because of his age, nor a dragon rider, because he is a Lord Holder, Jaxom is caught between everything. Gradually, he gets to fly Ruth, so he can escape Dorse, he cultivates his own relationship with a farm girl named Corana, and he teaches Ruth to chew firestone so he can fly with Fort Weyr against Thread.
When D’ram, Weyrleader of Ista, retires, he disappears and no one knows where to find him. Jaxom, on a hunch that D’ram may have returned to a certain cove on the Southern Continent where Robinton and Menolly had been shipwrecked, goes with Menolly to the cove to get the impressions of the fire lizards there. On another hunch, Jaxom goes back 25 Turns to find D’ram, so that F’lar can bring him back to usefulness. Through this experience, Jaxom learns that Ruth always knows when he is in time, a remarkable and important talent. The Oldtimers, exiled to the Southern Continent, are all getting old and their queens no longer rise to mate, so they pull off a clandestine operation to steal Ramoth’s hardening golden egg and hide it somewhere in time. Coating Ruth in black river mud, Jaxom goes back through time to find the egg, steal it back, and successfully return it to Benden Weyr without anyone realizing he was the one who did it.
War between the weyrs is averted due to Jaxom’s bravery and Ruth’s cunning, but both he and the dragon run into Thread during their jumps between times to return the egg. Seeing the damage to Jaxom and Ruth, N’ton finally agrees to let him train at Fort Weyr to fight Thread. Even though he has the symptoms of a cold, he is so excited that he and Ruth go ahead and fly their first Fall together, but the cold gets worse. He remembers the warm cove and decides to go there because he thinks it will make him feel better, but he utterly collapses once he gets there. Concerned, Ruth alerts everyone and when Jaxom awakes, his eyes are covered and he is being tended by Brekke and a girl with a wonderful voice. This turns out to be Sharra, Southern Holder Toric’s sister, whom we met in Dragondrums.
As he recuperates, a mating flight takes place at Ista to determine who the next Weyrleader will be, but two Oldtimer bronze riders show up, T’kul and B’zon. When T’kul’s dragon Salth dies trying to mate with the new queen, he goes mad and attacks F’lar. During the duel, F’lar kills the Oldtimer and Robinton has a major heart attack. Robinton collapses and only the voices of the dragons keep him alive until Master Oldive arrives to treat him. They decide to move Robinton south for his recovery with Jaxom at what will be called Cove Hold. Jaxom, Sharra, and Piemer have had the place all to themselves, but now they must deal with hordes from the north coming in to build the new hall for the Harper.
Jaxom falls in love with Sharra and is determined that she will soon become his lady. Once Robinton is installed in Cove Hold, he recruits the young people to continue to chart the Southern Continent. On impulse, Jaxom goes to investigate the gigantic mountain that dominates the view. Sharra, Piemer, and Menolly go with him and they discover the site of the original landing of the planetary colonists, their ancestors. When Toric objects to a match between Jaxom and Sharra, Robinton and the Weyrleaders intervene and distract Toric while discussing what Southern lands should be his. Jaxom, meanwhile, goes to Southern Hold and rescues Sharra from Toric’s men, bringing her back to Landing, where Toric has no option but to approve. Jaxom reveals that it was he who returned Ramoth’s egg after the Oldtimers had stolen it and, in an afterward, Jaxom is confirmed as Lord Holder and Lytol will move south to work with Robinton.
This is easily best novel of the three that make up the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy. It reflects a maturity in Anne McCaffrey’s writing that was missing in Dragonflight and merely growing in Dragonquest. Part of this maturity comes from the depth of the characters and the evolution of the entire planet of Pern as a completely and faithfully realized world. The love for her characters that reflected a big step forward in Dragonquest blooms in The White Dragon and finally explodes in The Harper Hall Trilogy that followed hard on the heels of this great novel.
The White Dragon, together with The Harper Hall Trilogy and All the Weyrs of Pern, represents the best writing about Pern that Anne McCaffrey was to accomplish in a long and distinguished career as a science fiction writer.