Book Review: The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Posted December 14, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 6 Comments

Book Review: The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Published by Del Rey Books on January 12, 1998
Pages: 431
Format: Hardcover
Source: my own shelves

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Also by this author: Dragonflight

Thirteenth in the chronological order for the Pern fantasy / science fiction series and revolving around dragonriders and harpers. The focus is on Robinton, a harper who goes on to greatness. The stories are a mess in following a chronological order. It’s one reason I undertook a re-read of the series. Click this link if you want to explore my version.

My Take

This one is a biography which provides the background for the three primary stories of the Pern series: Dragonflight, 14, Dragonquest, 15, and then The White Dragon at 17. (The three books in the Harper Hall subseries take place between Dragonquest and The White Dragon.)

It’s Robinton’s background, the forces that shaped him, and how he came to be Masterharper of Pern. In some ways, Robinton is the pivotal character in this last half of the series. Yes, I know that F’lar and Lessa and the dragons are the whole point of it, but it’s Robinton who connects everyone on Pern, who makes Pern and the Pernese mean something to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the dragonriders; they’re what pulled me into the series in the first place, and I can’t get enough about them. That said, the different factions of dragonriders have their point-of-view, there are the Lord Holders, and the craftsmen with their particular angles.

The fostering system finds the Lords sending their sons and some daughters to other Holds to learn how that Lord handles things. Those boys who are of the Blood have the chance to become the Lord Holder when the current Lord dies because the Conclave votes in the heir they believe will be the best ruler. The girls are sent out to find husbands, which is a bit of a comedown from the crew who came in with Dragonsdawn, 1. Having a craft based in your hold is prestigious and profitable, and fortunately, the craftspeople are also autonomous. It’s a relatively good system with apprentices and journeymen learning their craft, whatever it may be. Only a complacency has crept in.

I wanna smack Petiron up one side and down the other, repeatedly. He’s such a jerk. He has the most amazing son — writing compositions since he was three that the Hall has been sending out ever since. And I do adore how well the Harper Hall maneuvers around him while respecting that jerk.

It’s a good bit of history of Robinton’s birth, family life, education, loves, his exposure to the various holds, and the rise of anti-Harper malice with an explanation of other characters who play roles in the coming stories, from F’lon, F’lar and F’nor’s father; Camo; Sebell; the man who discovered Menolly’s abilities; and, a set-up of the Lord Holders. As well as the rise of Fax, and how he got his start in conquering Pern. It’s a good set-up for events in Dragonflight.

The Story

Too many no longer believe Thread will fall and Harpers are falling into disrepute, derided, attacked, even beaten. The educators of Pern, they are being turned away from teaching the people of Pern their rights even as Fax conquers Hold after Hold, murdering as he goes.

It’s a world the colonists would never recognize on too many counts. A world Robinton is determined to save.

The Characters

The characters range through the years, and I haven’t made a distinction as to when they appear.

Robinton is a baby being born at the start. A boy who will become the glue that holds Pern together and a brilliant musician and politician with a taste for wine and the ladies. MasterComposer Petiron is an exacting harper and Rob’s father — and quite jealous of Merelan, Rob’s mother and a MasterSinger, spending any time with his own son.

The Harper Hall is…
…where Pern’s musicians and healers are taught and is beholden to Fort Hold. The harpers are entertainers, news broadcasters, silent diplomats, judges, and teachers. MasterHarper Gennell is the leader; Betrice is a healer and his wife; Sirrie is another healer along with Ginia, a MasterHealer. Oldive is Ginia’s assistant. Washell is the Master who teaches the youngest; Kubisa is another teacher. Lorra is the cook. Master Ogolly, the Archivist, teaches musical notations and the value of the mechanics of notes. Master Bosler teaches gitar. Master Gorazde teaches drums. Severeid is another master. Nip Kinsale is Gennell’s spy who, well, nips in and out to rescue people.

Libby, Curtos, Lexey (Bosler’s daughter), and Barba are more of the children; Rulyar is Searched (he becomes R’yar). Londik is senior boy soprano. Silvina is Lorra’s daughter. Camo is the son Silvina bears. Saltor, the head guard, and Emfor, his burly assistant, are lent by Groghe to teach the harpers self-defense and how to hide their trail.

Halanna is a new student from Ista Hold housed with Isla, a foster mother for students from outside the Hall. Halibran is Halanna’s father; her brothers include Brahil, Landon, and Brosil.

Apprentices in the dormitory include Shonagar, Grodon, Falawny, Shelline, Jerint, and Lear while those apprentices who progress to journeyman include Kailey and Evenek. Domick is another promising new apprentice. Traller, a.k.a., Tuck, will be a new apprentice, to Nip.

MasterHarper Creline, the MasterHarper back when the weyrs were first found abandoned, wrote “The Question Song”.

Fort Hold is…
…resided over by Lady Winalla and Lord Grogellan. Maxilant is their Harper; Grodon will follow him. Groghe is their third son. Benoria is his lady.

Sucho and Tortole argue over who is responsible for a fallen wall. Saday is Tortole’s wife; they are parents to Valrol who is married to Pessia; Torlin is a brother; and, Klada is a sister.

Benden Weyr is…
…the only weyr still occupied. S’loner, the weyerleader, rides Chendith. Carola is the Werwoman and Hayara’s niece who rides Feyrith. Stolla is the headwoman. Miata handles basic lessons. T’rell is the Weyrlingmaster. Tinamon is the Healer. S’bran rides Kilminth, a bronze. Calanuth. C’gan rides blue Tagath and is their Weyrsinger. M’odon is 110 years old and rides Nigarth, a brown. Milla.

More of the weyrlings (children born to the weyr) include Bravonner (Falloner’s younger brother), Pragal, Jesken, Morif, Manora, and Larna is Carola’s daughter (she’ll bear F’lon a son, Fallarnon).

Other weyrlings and candidates found on Search who impress Feyrith’s last clutch include Lytonal from Ruatha who becomes L’tol with brown Larth; Rangul becomes R’gul with bronze Hath; Sellel impresses as S’lel with a bronze, Tuenth; Falloner (the friend Rob makes who is also S’loner’s son;) becomes F’lon with bronze Simanith; and, Jora impresses a queen, Nemorth.

Manora will have a son with F’lon as well, Famanoran. F’lar will Impress Mnementh, a bronze while F’nor Impresses Canth, a brown. K’net rides bronze Piyanth, B’rant rides Fanth, and B’refli rides Joruth, both browns.

G’ranad was the previous Weyrleader.

Fort Benden is…
…the only hold to still have access to dragons and their riders. Lady Hayara, his second wife, and Lord Maidir are its rulers. Raid, the oldest son, is next in line. Maizella is their oldest daughter and has the potential of a good voice; Cording will be her spouse. Hayon, Rasa, Naprila, Anta, Jonno, and Drevalla are more of their children at Benden. Evarel is harper there. Master Yorag is the Healer. Wonegal is the MasterVintner based there.

A belligerent cothold finds Targus and his sons Sheve, Sortie, Erkin, Mosser, and Brodo hostile to Robinton, but the woman of the house, Kulla, welcomes him.

Southern Boll was…
…second. Karenchok is their Harper. Matsen is the Seaholder. Laeala helps Healer Saretta with patients. Lord Sangel is its holder. Master Sev Ritecamp is the Station Master. Dalma is one of the young mothers in the wagon train. Rochers is one of the traders.

Pierie Hold is…
…where Merelan grew up and where Gennell sends the young family. Aunt Segonia (married to Dugall) gave Merelan her first training. Rantou is a timberman who doesn’t want to be a stupid when his son arrives; Carral is his pregnant wife. Then Rantou has a grandson, Sebell.

Telgar Hold is…
…one of the largest Holds. Bristol is its Harper. Lord Tarathel is its holder. Larad is up next. Vendross and Harper Falawny are his mentors. Thella is Larad’s half-sister. Macester leads Robinton’s escort to Ruatha.

Ruatha Hold is…
…the third oldest Hold. Lord Ashmichel is its holder; Lady Adessa is his wife. Lessa is their young daughter born when Gennell finally explains his plans for Robinton’s future. Kale is Ashmichel’s son; Struan is the harper at his hold. Jez is one of Kale’s handlers. Donkin is a younger nephew while Lady Gemma, also of Ruathan blood, is but one of many women espoused to Fax. Lady Tela is with her at Ruatha when Jax is born.

Tillek Hold is…
…named for James Tillek and held by Lord Melongel and Lady Juvana. The MasterFisher is Captain Gostol of the Northern Maid; he’ll be succeeded by Idarolan. Vesna is Gostol’s daughter and going for her second’s ticket. Melongel has nine children including Oterel; Kasia is Lady Juvana’s youngest sister. Holder Bourdon and his spouse, Brashia, are Kasia and Juvana’s parents. Minnarden is its Master Harper; Mumolon and Ifor are his journeymen. Clostan is the Hold Healer with an excellent sense of dress and fit which he passes on to Robinton. Valden will take over a new hold in a forest. Kalem is a journeyman shipbuilder. Emry manages a Storage and Shipping hold. Merdine aims to be a ship’s captain. I think Marlifin is an artist. Chochol is a worried holder.

Captain Gifflen and Kepiru are two of Fax’s minions.

Captain Idarolan of Wave Eater and his second mate and wife, Lissala, rescue the young couple. Ellic is one of the crew.

Nerat Hold is…
…another of the holds where Robinton is sent.

Bitra Hold is…
…held by Lord Sifer.

Igen Hold has…
Lord Tesner as its grumpy holder.

High Reaches Hold is…
…where Journeyman Robinton is sent to Master Lobirn. Lotricia is Lobirn’s wife. Mallan is another Journeyman and born at High Reaches. Murfytwen holds at Murfy Hold. Masterminer Furlo works mainly copper there. Faroguy is the Lord Holder with his Lady Evelene. Fax is one of Faroguy’s nephews with a profitable holding, gained by whippings and threats of eviction. Fargouy’s sons, Farevene and Bargen, have been warned. Sitta, Triana, and Marcine are young ladies with whom Robinton dances.

Crom Hold is…
…held by Lord Lesselden and Lady Relna. Evenek is to be their harper but not to teach any harper nonsense. Germathen is the healer who steps in when he is beaten almost to death.

MasterSmith Fandarel withdraws all Masters from the contested seven Holds, and other Craftmasters followed.

Thread is a tangle of starving organisms that fall from the sky and devour anything organic in its path. Klah is a type of coffee. Fellis is a pain reliever made from a plant. To be Searched is to be chosen to try to Impress a dragon. The Charter is similar to our Constitution with the rights of all laid out. Holders are expected to allow harpers to teach all their tenants their rights. Shipfish are dolphins.

The Cover and Title

The cover has an orange sky with a paler orange sun and a blue dragon ready to spring off the cliff on which he’s perched. I suspect it’s C’gan on Tagath’s back with Master Robinton standing inside a swirl of Tagath’s tail, a glass of Benden white in one hand, a harp in another, and a wine bottle and another glass sitting on the clifftop in front of him.

The title introduces the pivotal man in the core of the series, The Masterharper of Pern.

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6 responses to “Book Review: The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

  1. Do read Masterharper first! When I first read it, I felt annoyed that McCaffrey hadn’t written it first. Although, to be fair, it might not have meant as much before as it did after.

    • I agree with you, Laura! I adore the Dragonriders of Pern, although my collection is an odd collection of paperback and hardcover. And I will not buy the Todd McCaffrey versions!

      • I read a couple by Todd and wasn’t impressed but I do love his mother’s books. This one I enjoyed but didn’t love. I liked learning his back story but it also felt like filler, like she was shoehorning a story for him. Still, it was interesting and enjoyable.

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