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Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey

Published by Bantam Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

At the conclusion of Dragonsong Menolly was finally recognized as the missing apprentice of Harper Petiron of Half-Circle Seahold. Immediately she was whisked away from Benden Weyr on dragonback to take her place in the Harper Hall, the center of music and culture for all of Pern, the place where all the beautiful songs come from. Except she is so exhausted that she no sooner arrives than she collapses into bed.

The next morning she awakes, still struggling to convince herself that it really wasn't all just a beautiful dream, that she really is at Harper Hall of which Petiron talked about, to which he was going to send her, except that her father disapproved of a mere girl doing men's work and Petiron died before being able to change his mind.

Moments later her nine fire lizards make it clear within her mind that they would be fed, now. So off Menolly goes to find suitable food for them, a journey that takes her down to the kitchen, where the gentle headwoman Silvina guides the half-wit giant Camo through the process of getting a bowl of broken meats for these hungry little carnivores. Camo is quite taken by them, and they respond to his simple affections, and soon he is pleading to be allowed to help feed them every time.

But Menolly can't tarry much longer, because she needs to meet with Masterharper Robinton before it's off to Oldive the Masterhealer to have her still-mending feet looked at, not to mention the old injury on her hand. He allows that it's quite possible they can still restore most of the use of it, if she will rigorously follow the exercise program he sets for her and use the salve he gives her to soften the scar tissue. She's no sooner finished talking with him than it's off to one of the cotholds around Fort Hold where she is to be staying, since she can hardly stay in the apprentice dormitory with all the boys, and then back to the Hall to meet with the various Masters so they can assess her skills and determine the level at which she should begin her lessons.

It's an overwhelming day for a young woman who's not used to being the center of attention, other than negative attention from her disapproving family who want to pressure her into the little doll daughter they want her to be. And her discomfort is only worsened by the disapproval some of the Masters show toward her fire lizards, a disapproval that feels all too similar to her father's oft-spoken feeling that she had been spoiled by the special attention old Harper Petiron showed her, and it had quite gone to her head and she needed to be brought back down to her proper station in life.

And then she gets to the dining hall for supper and sits down with the other apprentices, only to be told she's to sit at the other table with the girls who are paying students, being taught to sing and play instruments so that they can better ornament their fathers' Holds. But she shouldn't switch right now because that would draw attention to herself. Just remember for next time, and in the meantime grab food as it's being passed because otherwise everybody else will get the best portions and she'll be left with nothing.

Over the next seven days, Menolly struggles to find her place. It is not long before she makes a friend in the small and slender Piemur, whose fine boy's soprano has won him a place as the Singing Master's special student. But Piemur is also notorious for his fondness for playing pranks on others, which means that his friendship may not be as much of an asset as it initially seems. Piemur is a cheerful fellow and never plays a cruel prank on anyone who doesn't deserve it, so Menolly isn't about to turn against him, even when it means that she gets falsely accused.

Anne McCaffrey does a masterful job of showing the subtleties of the interactions of young people as their hierarchies are disrupted by a newcomer's arrival, and the various petty jabs and pokes by which they sort out their new pecking order. In particular, her portrayal of the enmity of the girls who are paying students, who feel that this crude newcomer is showing their ladylike selves up and are willing to lie and otherwise manipulate the social dynamic to eliminate their enemy, feels all too painfully real.

it all comes to a head during the Gather held by nearby Fort Hold. It's customary for the apprentices to be given the day free, and a certain amount of marks of pocket money for small purchases in the Gather marketplace. Of course all the harperfolk will be expected to take their turns singing and playing instruments for the entertainment and dancing, but that still leaves Menolly with plenty of time for Piemur to show her around and teach her the fine art of cadging as many bubbly pies out of the baker's journeymen for as little money as he can.

And then Menolly is falsely accused, and suddenly she is looking at more trouble than she's seen since her father beat the stuffings out of her for a single chord of her own devising, trouble that could easily end with her being sent down from Harper Hall to who knows where. But the truth outs itself in the most astonishing way, quite appropriately involving her fire lizards and her compassion having won herself the friendship of the gentle but strong halfwit Camo. And thus the story continues to its triumphant conclusion as Menolly's abilities are formally recognized by the Harper Hall.

Review posted August 29, 2010.

Buy Dragonsinger (Harper Hall Trilogy, Volume 2) from Amazon.com

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