Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
Originally published 1976
Bantam, 22nd printing, 1986
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, young adult
Synopsis & Review: This is actually the second installment in the Harper Hall Trilogy. After the events of Dragonsong, Menolly of Half-Circle Sea Hold is taken to the Harper Craft Hall at Fort Hold as an apprentice. As Petiron’s lost apprentice, for whom harpers all over Pern had been assiduously searching, Menolly is welcomed by many. However, just as her own parents could not accept the notion of a girl harper, there are elements at the Harper Hall who would prefer that Menolly not be apprenticed. Resentments about her fair of nine firelizards cause Menolly some difficulties, with some people enchanted by the firelizards while others view them as noisy nuisances. Also troublesome is the antagonism of the Hall’s female students and their caretaker Dunca, who do their best to make Menolly miserable. But as Menolly proves her craft and skill to the masters and journeymen, she also gains friends and champions, such as the headwoman Silvina, the journeyman Sebell, the drudge Camo, and fellow apprentice Piemur. While learning the ways of the Harper Hall, Menolly must also come to term with her gifts, and accept her place in the Harper Hall and on Pern. Dragonsinger is a much more personal story than Dragonflight; it closely follows the details of Menolly’s first sevenday at the Harper Hall, illustrating the trials and tribulations of an adolescent girl struggling to fit into a new environment—albeit one she dearly wishes to join. Characters tend to be better developed than in Dragonflight, with far more reasonable and believable motivations. Though possessed of reserves of strength and courage, as evidenced by her living alone and Holdless, she also experiences doubts and fears, and is self-effacing almost to a fault. Much of this is due to her upbringing, or can be explained by her adolescence, but such details add to the depth and reality of Menolly’s character. Most supporting characters are similarly complex; Piemur plans for a future in which he is no longer a talented boy soprano.Importantly for those who read Dragonsong, Dragonsinger offers vindication after all Menolly’s suffering at the hands of her family at Half-Circle Sea Hold. Suitable to its more intimate tone and smaller scale (no one is saving the world here, not directly, anyway), there is more levity, though McCaffrey tugs the heartstrings with Brekke’s song and the incident leading to it.
Pern seems more sanitized than it was in the earlier trilogy. There is still some violence and a definite emphasis on disparate social status, but there is little of the lower classes depicted here other than the drudge Camo, a mentally disabled young man. Pern is moving toward a utopia.
One of the two McCaffrey’s I own (both “liberated,” this one from the Hawaii Kai Public Library—sorry, I’ll make up for it one day!), I’ve re-read Dragonsinger a number of times. It was also one of the last Pern books I read; as I matured, I lost interest n subsequent books, perhaps due to some deterioration in quality in later efforts. But the Harper Hall trilogy is a charming young adult fantasy, with a sympathetic heroine and fascinating background. An excellent addition to any young adult library.
Cover: Mediocre. The firelizards are nicely done, but scaled. The artist also chose to depict a moment of high stress, but it serves to make Menolly appear possessed. Though I like the wraparound style, Canth and F’nor on the back cover. There are some very nice older covers.
She could hear the sounds of workshop industry: hammering, the scrape of saw on wood, toots and thumps; but the instant she opened the door, she and Beauty go the full impact of various noises of tuning, sanding, sawing, pounding, the twanging of tough wherhide being stretched over drum frames and snapping back. Beauty let out a penetrating shriek of complaint and took off, straight for the bracing beams of the high-ceilinged workshop. Her raucous call and her flight suspended all activity in the room. The sudden silence, and then the whisperings of the younger workers, all staring at Menolly, attracted the attention of the older man who was bent almost double, gluing a crucial piece of inlay on the gitar in his lap. He looked up and around at the staring apprentices.
Beauty gave another cry, launching herself from the rafter beam back to Menolly’s shoulder now that the distressing sounds had ceased.
“Who made that appealing noise? It was animal, not instrumental.”
12 May – 13 May