The first book in the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffery, Dragonsong remains one of my favorite fantasy books to reread when I get a chance.
It tells the story of a young girl named Menolly, who wants nothing more than to be a Harper. There’s a problem with this plan though: only boys can be Harpers and Half-Circle Sea Hold is horribly old fashioned.
Stuck doing nothing but teaching the littlest the history of Pern, Menolly is banned from ever playing anything of her own creation because, in the eyes of her father and head of the hold, only a Harper can do that, and she is not one of them.
After a fishing accident leaves her unable to use her left hand to play any instrument, Menolly leaves the hold on morning and finds herself stranded outside when the deadly threat of her world comes upon her: Thread. With the choice of either finding shelter or burning when the Thread touches her, Menolly happens upon a cave on the seacoast where she finds the eggs of a rare species–Fire Lizards–beginning to hatch. In an attempt to save them from the deadly Thread, she feeds them all, and finds herself with nine new friends who could do with some more to eat.
Here starts the tale of Menolly living outside of the hold and on her own for the first time in her life. Living with the Lizards isn’t easy though, and when Menolly finds herself outside of the safety of her cave during another Thread-fall, she nearly runs her feet to the bone before she is rescued by those who protect Pern from Thread as best they can: the Dragon Riders.
Healed by the Dragon Riders, Menolly discovers that another guest of the Riders is none other than Masterharper Robinton himself, the head of the Harper’s guild. At his request, Menolly joins the Harpers, all nine Fire Lizards in tow, as they journey off to the Guild hall to begin her education.
While the story of “the youngest girl who doesn’t fit in” might seem old to fans of fantasy now, McCaffery was actually one of the first to do it. Her world of Pern bound together the idea of fantasy dragons and space travel, though the sci-fi aspects of Pern aren’t seen in this novel.
I will likely be tarred and feathered for dare saying it, but some of the motivations of the characters left a bit to be desired, such as just why the Hold was so against Menolly singing her own songs or becoming a Harper. While it is explained by “no dishonor to the Hold”, that explanation leaves me wondering just how a good singer/Harper could be a dishonor.
The book is quite short as well, so it’s a nice read if you’re after something quick in between meetings or classes–or that is easy to hold up with one hand while you have a broken elbow!
If you haven’t read it, I suggest it. If you have, well, then you already know that it is worth the reread. I give it five out of five starts.
…and I’m off to go get more pain pills.