Often when I read series books to my children, they like to take a break and read something else before we pick back up and continue on with it. This, time, however, the moment we finished Dragonsong, the first book in the Harper Hall trilogy, they were both clamoring to find out what happened next. I was happy to spend some more time on Pern revisiting favorite characters from my childhood.
The story picks up right where the first book left off, as Menolly arrives on dragonback at Harper Hall with Masterharper Robinton. Whereas the first book was contained a strong survival story element, this one is more along the lines of a boarding school story. Menolly is strong and talented, but she is a timid soul, and thanks to her harsh upbringing by parents who held no respect for her musical talents, she has very little self-confidence. She is befriended by a young scamp named Piemur, and while she suspects that his friendship is inspired by an acute desire to get to know her fair of fire lizards, she quickly comes to appreciate his very real kindness.
The last thing that T'gellan, the dragonrider who accompanied her to Harper Hall, tells Menolly (upon seeing how terribly nervous she is), is that she has nothing to fear from harpers. As the young teen navigates her bewildering new environment, trying to figure out how things work, inadvertently making embarrassing mistakes, not to mention outright enemies of some of the students, his words repeat themselves in her mind. She keeps thinking how wrong he was.
Still, she comes to recognize the fact that she has unique gifts, and the more time she spends in the company of Masterharper Robinton and his journeyman Sebell, the more she realizes that the songs she used to get beaten for composing are actually something that people not only enjoy, but that can help the people of her planet better understand one another. And that, Robinton tells her, is something that is much more important than she realizes.
I discovered these books as a tween and fell in love with them. They were among those treasured books that I read again and again, and I was so excited when I saw that while the books from this trilogy were the only YA Pern books that McCaffrey wrote, there was a plethora of them for adults at my public library. This series also made me realize that, even though I considered myself a reader of fantasy, science fiction was a genre that I wanted to explore. And I'm so glad I did! I did warn my girls that the protagonist of the third book in the trilogy is Menolly's friend Piemur, because I didn't want them to suffer the letdown I did when I first opened the book. They still want to read it - but this book concluded Menolly's story so successfully that they don't mind taking a break between this and the final one.
McCaffrey creates in Pern a world that is real and appealing, full of that sense of wonder that permeates the very best speculative fiction, and her characters are complex and memorable. No wonder I enjoy rereading these books again and again. When I open one of McCaffrey's Pern books, it feels like coming home.
Books in the Harper Hall Trilogy:
Dragonsinger (#2 in the Harper Hall trilogy) by Anne McCaffrey (Bantam Spectra, 1977)
Also reviewed at:
Bogormen: "This is one of those books that would have been too short practically no matter how long it was. One of my very favourite books, and one of my introductions to the fantasy genre."
Bookshelves of Doom: "Harry Potter she is not -- she is eager to please and quick to assume that she is at fault, whereas he does a lot of "It's not fair" and blaming others. Interesting, because I like them both so much."