The Renegades of Pern does not neatly fit into the pattern of all of the other books covering the 9th Pass of the Red Star. It is splintered into lots of little stories and covers the time period just before the beginning of the main Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, running all the way up to the very beginning of All the Weyrs of Pern. It contains both vital information regarding the main story line and vast amounts of story that just don’t really matter at all. It is fragmented. Telling several semi-coherent stories all at once, it covers a vast amount of time and makes for difficult reading. It is based around some of the characters from the short story, “The Girl Who Heard Dragons,” contained in the story collection of the same name, most notably the girl Aramina and K’van.
The Prologue jumps around, compressing a full eleven years before the 9th Pass begins. It sets of the idea of holdless men and women, from Fax’s taking of various holds, driving smaller holder into homelessness, to Toric storming out of his native sea hold to make a fresh start, to the artist Perschar’s travels, all the way up to Fax’s death before the real story begins in Chapter One. The Prologue also introduces a female villain, the older half-sister of Lord Larad of Telgar Hold. Lady Thella, a headstrong young woman, was betrothed to a lesser holder by her dying father, but she will have no part of it. When Larad confines her, she escapes, stealing maps, horses, and supplies.
The Lilcamp trading train is surprised by the first fall of Thread as the 9th Pass begins, suffering many casualties. Kimmage Hold agrees to put them up, but only if they work and tithe. Jayge, son of the head trader, accepts the constriction, but his favorite Uncle Readis leaves them and joins Thella’s band of thieves and murderers. Twelve Turns pass and Thella develops her gang into a cunning and tough, holdless bunch, fugitives sought by both holders and dragonriders. Masterharper Robinton, at this point, has recruited the artist Perschar to infiltrate the group and draw portraits of the outlaws. Thella hears about Aramina, a girl in living in the Igen caverns, who can hear dragons. She plans to capture Aramina and use her to spy on the weyrs, but Aramina’s family leaves before Thella can pull it off. Her band then attacks the Lilcamp train and a number of people are killed before Jayge can ride for help. In the aftermath, he finds a roll of portraits drawn by Perschar, but he removes Readis’ picture before turning them in. Jayge joins Lord Asgenar’s army in Lemos in hopes of exacting his revenge on Thella. They discover a deeply covered cave system in Telgar and, with the aid of dragonriders, stage a morning attack, but Thella and several of her leaders escape. Searching for Thella in the Igen caverns, Jayge meets Aramina and falls in love with her, but she is taken to Benden Weyr where Weyrwoman Lessa intends to match her up with a dragon hatchling. While waiting, she is housed at Benden Hold where Thella finally manages to capture her and whisk her away. Jayge finds Readis and the two rescue Aramina, but Readis is killed during their escape. Jayge then gets them an assignment to transport runner beasts to the Southern Continent. Lost in a storm, the boat sinks and Jayge and Aramina are carried ashore by shipfish (dolphins) to the Paradise River Hold, where they settle down to raise a family. Their first son is named Readis.
I’ve read this book a number of times and I am now at the point where I completely disregard the entire “renegade” portion of the book and instead concentrate only on the advancement of the main story line, which I think must include Jayge and Aramina’s Paradise River Hold, but does not include Thella or any of the hundred odd pages dedicated to her story. If you are reading the book for the first, I’d suggest that it be read, but thereafter, it may be skipped with no loss of story at all.
Although many scenes of that story line take place in the Northern Continent, it is Southern that is the main focus, particularly the story of Toric becoming Lord Holder, Piemer meeting and falling in love with Jancis, and further discoveries at Landing, including the Catherine Caves and, most importantly, AIVAS, the artificial intelligence voice address system that will dominate the next book in the series, All the Weyrs of Pern. Piemer, during his many travels in the south, meets Jayge and Aramina when he stumbles upon Paradise River. He is fascinated by the many ancient articles the couple have found and use, most of it plastic. Afterward, Jayge and Aramina become recurring characters.
Many of the events throughout The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy and The Harper Hall Trilogy are included in The Renegades of Pern, but shown from other characters’ perspectives. For instance, when Mardra finds the empty sack that Piemer has escaped from, the entire scene is shown from Toric’s point of view as he puts up with the Weyrwoman berating him in front of his holders and craftsmen. That alone–showing familiar events from different points of view–makes this book worth reading. If you are a fan of the entire saga of the 9th Pass and can’t get enough of the story, here is a retelling of familiar events from a different perspective!
Those who have already read All the Weyrs of Pern may have been a bit surprised by the sudden intimacy of Piemer and Mastersmith Jancis (granddaughter of Mastersmith Fandarel), but she plays a significant role in The Renegades of Pern. Piemer meets her after the discovery of the Catherine Caves and she is only a Journeywoman at that point. In fact, McCaffrey seems to have deliberately created an error in Jancis’ rank. The end of The Renegades of Pern seamlessly dovetails into the beginning of All the Weyrs of Pern with no time at all allowed for her to suddenly attain her mastery. Be that as it may, she is a terrific character and a perfect tonic for Piemur’s acidic character.
The Renegades portion of the book comes a conclusion when Thella puts together one final band of thugs and sails south to find Aramina and try to kill her, blaming her for all that has gone wrong in her life. Piemer, Jancis, Jayge, and Aramina fight the band and win. Jayge gets the pleasure of killing Thella and exacting his revenge at last. During this trip, Jancis discovers a map at Paradise River, detailing the plan for Landing. She is intrigued by two sites that haven’t yet been uncovered: Amin Annex and AIVAS.
With Piemur’s help, she begins to unearth them, coming to the solar panels that allow AIVAS to power up. Jaxom and Ruth join them, then the others and at the end of the book, they find a way in and discover the long abandoned computer that drives the story forward into All the Weyrs of Pern.
In this sense, it is a vital connecting book in the main story line. The central flaw in the book is the character of Thella.
In my opinion, Anne McCaffrey, for all the wonderful characters and situations that she has created in this saga, has one fatal flaw and that is her villains. They all come across as one-dimensional characters. You can see it in Avril Bitra in Dragonsdawn, Fax in Dragonflight, Meron and Kylara in Dragonquest, and fatally in Thella in The Renegades of Pern. To be effective, readers must understand the central driving force that makes villains perform their evil acts. If there is not sufficient believable motivation, the character is flat and unbelievable. I have this problem with all of the above-referenced characters and that is the main flaw in The Renegades of Pern and it is why I always skip over Thella’s scenes when I re-read the book.
Nevertheless, this book is a key connecting the end of The White Dragon with the latter two books in the series and it contains many wonderful scenes and the development of Piemer and the introduction of Jancis.
That part of the novel is wonderful and can be joyfully read and re-read many times.