The rightful heir to Ruatha Hold, hiding in plain sight from its tyrannical conqueror, is friends only with the Hold’s small, dragon-like watch-wher. When true dragons and their riders appear unexpectedly, she seizes the moment to try to win back her heritage, and finds something else entirely.
I picked up daughter Gigi McCaffrey's first Pern book recently on NetGalley (cumbersomely subtitled Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern), and decided I should go back to the original before reading it. I'm glad I did. Dragonflight was my introduction to McCaffrey and Pern, and I loved it as much as everyone else did. Determinedly science fantasy, Pern, with its pernicious and deadly falling Thread, is a world carefully crafted with just enough science to be acceptable (the baleful Red Star is a wandering planetoid with an elliptical orbit), but not so much as to make you think too hard (wait, how do those massive dragons manage to fly?).
I'd forgotten just how much is crammed into this first book; it has a lot that I thought was explored in later books of the series, which means it moves along at a pretty rapid pace - definitely adventure territory. I'd also forgotten (or not, in my youth, noticed) just how ... old-fashioned some of the roles are. Lessa, the feisty, spirited protagonist, is nonetheless in many ways subservient to the leading man. And this is mostly a story about elites. There's at least one substantial plot hole involving the serving staff, and mostly they don't get much of a look-in. The economy is borderline gruesome, and the books avoid looking at it as much as possible.
Despite those weaknesses, this is a fun book. The characters (human and dragon) are interesting, the ideas are fresh, and the action is exciting. Reading this again for the first time in two or three decades reminds me why I liked the series (and some of McCaffrey's other work) in the first place.
If you haven't read this, someone has doubtless recommended it, and you should follow their advice. If you thought 'eh, dragons in space? sounds tired', it's not. This is one the original dragons in space books, and it deserves its place as a classic.