This is the latest in the Pern saga which now stretches through some 18 or so books. This is the first however to be co-written by Anne McCaffrey's son, Todd McCaffey. Despite this the book remains true to the style of previous books and the addition of a new author has not affected the feel of Pern.
What has changed is the novel's focus, rather like the Dolphins of Pern, this novel features not dragons but watch-whers, creatures who were bred from fire-lizards, like dragons, but whose value has been neglected under the glory that dragons receive for protecting Pern. We've seen these creatures mentioned before in the series but this is the first time that we have seen them in any kind of detail.
The book's characters are the usual brave, noble, and admirable lot that we see in the Pern series. They may seem a little two dimensional in their outlook and character development but as usual are endearing. The Pern novels aren't so much about character development as the story being told.
The plot surrounds a small mining camp that has been set up to explore the possibilities of shaft mining. The miners work in the usual danger of the mine, but are helped by a watch-wher, a kind of dragon which cannot fly or breathe fire, or communicate as well as its larger brethren, but can see in the dark and works well in mines. The tale follows events that transpire following a disaster in the mine as the community seeks to rebuild itself.
The book is perhaps one of the more original works to come out of the Pern saga to date, dealing with mining and watch-whers rather than dragons. This works in its favour, as the issues that are dealt with are novel and entertaining. One of the disappointing things about this book, and the main reason why I haven't given it a higher score is its length. There was a lot of good material here that was not thoroughly explored. The ending was rushed, and plot lines tied up neatly but with no post-climax denouement. This book could have been twice as long and would have worked much better.
Sometimes packaging is a bad thing, but here it was necessary in order to be more memorable. I can't help but feel that I've read a good short story - but that's it. A little bit more description, a few longer passages surrounding watch-wher training and this would have been a true re-birth for the Pern series.
In the end, an enjoyable book and I hope the next one is as promising in its scope but better explored.