I first wrote about my love for Anne McCaffrey’s epic Dragonriders of Pern saga after Anne’s death in 2011. The Pern books are amazing, and beloved by many fans. There are more than twenty Pern books, so knowing where to start can be a challenge. I put this blog post together to help readers figure out which reading order is best for them as they explore the tales of Pern.
I should note that I include only the Pern books that Anne herself wrote here. Both of her children have written books set on Pern, but these are not well regarded by most fans. These books are also set in time periods that Anne largely ignored, and are unimportant to the overall tale of Pern, in my opinion.
For the brand new reader:
Dip your toe in the pool by reading Dragonflight first. It’s the first book in publication order and I believe also the best book in the series. This novel has clearly defined problems and solutions as well as a satisfying ending. You could stop here and be content, if the world of Pern doesn’t grab you enough to continue. I suspect it will grab you, though, so you’ll probably want to see what’s next.
After Dragonflight, move to the second published book, Dragonquest. After that book, you’ve got two options. If you are interested in Harpers and the role they play in Pern’s society, read the Harper Hall trilogy next. These three books (Dragonsong, Dragonquest, Dragondrums) are short reads, but good ones. If you’d rather read about dragons and what’s happening with their riders, don’t worry too much about the Harper Hall trilogy just yet, and simply move right on to The White Dragon.
After The White Dragon, you’ve completed the original trilogy. You have more choices to make at this point. If you are interested in learning about the distant origins of Pern, this would be a great time to check out Dragonsdawn and/or The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall. Bear in mind that these two books have a serious tonal shift, details on each below. If you read these two books, All the Weyrs of Pern (the book that follows The White Dragon chronologically) will be a richer read. I wouldn’t say both books are absolutely required but Dragonsdawn is strongly recommended, for sure.
If you don’t care to go back in time, and want to continue to see what happens next in the Pern saga as quickly as possible, move on to All the Weyrs of Pern. This book is a high point in the series. The biggest problem has been solved (or at least, it will be solved in the near future), and it’s very epic. Honestly, this might be a pretty good place to stop reading the series entirely, if you are growing weary of Pern after the four to six books you’ve read so far (nine, if you took time to read the Harper Hall trilogy).
Want more? How MUCH more?
Past All the Weyrs of Pern, there are only two books left in the series chronologically: The Dolphins of Pern and The Skies of Pern. If you want to know what Anne had in mind for your favorite characters and their society after the big changes in All the Weyrs of Pern, these two books will fill you in. In my opinion, neither book is as good as the original three or All the Weyrs of Pern, but you might feel differently. Most fans, I suspect, will want to continue reading these two books to see how the tale ends. Besides, the investment of time needed to read the final two novels is relatively low.
Now, one could stop right here and be content. The overall arc of Pern, spanning from its earliest days to the farthest future point Anne chronicled, is complete. However, if you still crave more, the good news is that there’s still lots of Pern left to explore. At this point, you can pick and choose from the remaining books that interest you. This might be a good time to read the Harper Hall trilogy if you haven’t already. Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern is one of the best books in the series, and definitely worth reading for most fans. There are a few books that give alternate perspectives on events, like Nerilka’s Story and The Renegades of Pern. I’d suggest browsing my short reviews below to see which stories you find intriguing.
But what if I’m a Megafan?
Maybe you’re like me. You’re a huge fan of the Pern books. You’ve read nearly all the books once, and have reread your favorites multiple times. Why not experience the Dragonriders saga again, in its completeness, by reading all of Anne’s books in chronological order? I recently finished doing this myself. It took me about three years to do so, fitting a Pern book in between every two or three other books I read. I truly enjoyed this experience. There were a handful of books I had skipped before, for various reasons, and placing these where they needed to be chronologically gave important context for each. To be perfectly honest, some of the books I had not read before left me unimpressed. But a few stinkers out of seventeen isn’t a bad ratio, and completeness is its own reward, right?
For the Megafan, here are all of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, presented in recommended chronological order, along with my own short reviews of each.
The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall (The Survey: P.E.R.N.) (4/5 stars)
This book is a collection of short stories, most of them set after the events in Dragonsdawn. One story, “The Survey: P.E.R.N.”, is set before that book, and is thus the oldest story in the Pern series chronologically. It details the first time humankind came to the planet that would eventually be known as Pern, and is definitely worth reading.
Dragonsdawn (5/5 stars)
While books in the original trilogy will always be my favorites, this one is wonderful, too. It’s a total tonal shift to “hard” sci-fi, detailing the landing of the first colonists on Pern. While all goes well for many years, Thread arrives and ruins the colonists’ relative paradise. The native fire lizards are genetically altered to produce the first dragons, sorely needed to ensure the long term survival of the planet. This might be the best prequel I’ve ever read! It’s simply amazing.
The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall (All other stories) (4/5 stars)
The remainder of the stories in this collection either expand on events in Dragonsdawn or carry out plot threads that are not wrapped up in that book. While a few of these are not as interesting, in my opinion, there are details here that explain some of the things from the books set centuries after, which as a fan I can appreciate.
Dragonseye/Red Star Rising (3/5 stars)
This book, set a couple centuries after Dragonsdawn, is a strange one. It seems to be written less to tell a good tale than to show the gradual decline of technology that would lead to the more “fantasy” type setting of the books set later on. I first read this about a decade ago, and considered skipping it in my recent chronological read, but in the end I decided to power through it for completeness’ sake.
Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (5/5 stars)
Moreta is mentioned in songs and legends in the original trilogy, and this book gives us more information on this compelling character. A disease spreads across Pern, hastened by the teleportation of dragonriders. It reads a bit like The Hot Zone meets Pern, which makes it a real page turner. One of the best Pern books, and most fans will likely enjoy it.
Nerilka’s Story (3/5 stars)
This tale is one I’d skipped until my chronological read. It takes a character mentioned briefly in Moreta and tells us the rest of her story, as Paul Harvey might say. I enjoy Pern books best when dragons feature heavily, and that’s not the case here. Nerilka is a good protagonist, and the disease fallout is a very interesting event, but this one is largely skippable.
Masterharper of Pern (2/5 stars)
Of all the books I was looking forward to reading for the first time, this one disappointed me the most. Robinton is a great character, and learning about his early life is welcome. But the conflict between Robinton and his father never really felt real, to me. Towards the end of the book, McCaffrey pulls some authorial gymnastics to shoehorn Robinton into situations from the original books that truly strained my belief. I see no reason to ever revisit this one, and recommend it for hardcore completists only.
Dragonflight (5/5 stars)
This, I think, is the best book in the entire series. Anne’s writing is at her best here. Our first introduction to Pern, meeting F’lar and Lessa, and learning about the relationship between dragons and their riders is a wonderful experience. Lessa’s brave solution to the problem of the return of thread after a long Interval remains epic every time I read it. If you only read one Pern book, make it this one!
Dragonquest (4/5 stars)
The happy ending of the previous book was a bit premature, it seems. The Oldtimers cause problems for F’lar, and various conflicts are brought to the forefront as Thread continues to fall on Pern. While the plot points aren’t as enthralling as the urgency of the previous book, this is still a solid entry in the series.
Dragonsong (5/5 stars)
The Harper trilogy is one I only recently read for the first time, and as they were so fresh in my mind I omitted them from my chronological reread. This first book focuses on Menolly, a beloved character, as she comes of age, as well as introducing fire lizards to the series. It’s a quick read, and quite a good one. I wish I hadn’t skipped over it for so long.
Dragonsinger (4/5 stars)
Menolly’s story continues as she begins her training in the Harper Hall. The book details her struggle to be accepted as a female Harper, and all of the issues that arise from it. Menolly is the closest thing Pern has to a Mary Sue, more so in this book than the rest. Still, it’s a short read and worth a look.
Dragondrums (4/5 stars)
Like Dragonsong, this is a coming of age tale, but this time for young Piemur, a boy gifted with a wondrous voice… until puberty hits. Piemur gets training in drumming, a system of long-range communication used on Pern, and becomes trusted with important tasks by Masterharper Robinton. Another solid read, though I found Menolly’s two books more to my liking.
The White Dragon (5/5 stars)
The focus is back on dragons in this book as we meet the odd white dragon Ruth and his rider, the young Lord Holder Jaxom. Jaxom struggles to balance his responsibilities to his Hold as well as his care of Ruth. The white dragon, though a runt, has some special abilities that will prove to be very important later. This book is another excellent read, particularly when the story shifts as the forgotten secrets of the original colonists are unearthed.
A Gift of Dragons (3/5 stars)
This book is difficult to place chronologically, but this is the best place, I think. This book contains four different short stories, each one unconnected to the others. Only one of the stories, “The Girl Who Heard Dragons”, has any strong ties to the rest of the Pern novels, as it introduces a character who appears in multiple books. I have mixed feelings on this one; the stories are fine, but mostly feel unimportant.
The Renegades of Pern (3/5 stars)
This is another book I had not read until recently. It is an uneven read, very loosely organized by focusing on the “renegades” that don’t live in Holds like most people on Pern do. Some of these renegades choose to live Holds, while others have been banished. The differing threads come together, eventually, but then these characters are largely abandoned. The second half of the book concerns details about discoveries as the Southern Continent is explored. I’m glad I read it, but one could skip it and not miss much.
All the Weyrs of Pern (4/5 stars)
It all comes together in this one. AIVAS, the computer used by the original colonists, is unearthed. Over the space of a few years, Pern is transformed by the additions of the old forgotten technologies. The speed of this change to Pern society almost, but not quite, strains the limits of plausibility to me as a reader. But really, you don’t care too much because you’ve got dragons, spaceships, and computers here. What’s not to love about that?
The Dolphins of Pern (3/5 stars)
We learn in this book that intelligence-enhanced dolphins were brought to Pern with the original colonists. This story details how dolphins and humans begin to work together again. I didn’t care for this one quite as much as prior books. There’s less of a focus on dragons, and my favorite characters make only limited appearances. Still, the dolphin/human alliance is a neat concept and I didn’t mind reading it again the second time around.
The Skies of Pern (4/5 stars)
We come now to the end, the last Pern book written exclusively by Anne herself. This story focuses on the disaster caused when a comet strikes Pern. Dragons are instrumental in recovery and rebuilding, but some blame them for the comet and cause all manner of trouble. A new draconic ability is “unlocked” in this book. More than any other point in the series, my suspension of disbelief really falters here. The problem of finding a new role for dragons in a Thread-free future is an interesting one, but the solution Anne puts forth left me wanting. Sadly, the end of the saga of Pern is an uneven one.
Now that I’ve finished rereading the complete Pern saga in chronological order, I must say I found it enjoyable. Will I ever reread all the books in this way again? Probably not. What is probable is that I will revisit the books at some point. I love the series so much, it feels like catching up with an old friend whenever I reread them. In the future, I will probably stick to reading Dragonsdawn first, then the original trilogy (Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon) and wrap up with All the Weyrs of Pern. You’re really getting all the best, there.
I can certainly see myself rereading Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern again, too. That one is self-contained enough it would be good between other, nonrelated books. Kind of get my Pern fix without a full comittment, you could say.
I hope you’ve found this guide to reading the Dragonriders of Pern series useful. Pern is my favorite place in all of fiction, and the series itself is my favorite of all time. Hopefully you, too, will enjoy the saga of the magnificent dragons of Pern and their admirable riders.
(In the interest of transparency, pleae note that the links to Amazon in this post are sponsored links.)