For my first book for the Sci Fi Experience, I decided to revisit a favorite character on one of my favorite distant planets, and reread The MasterHarper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey.
As the title suggests, this is a novel centered around MasterHarper Robinton, a shining supporting character in many other Pern novels. Covering some 50 years, the book divides roughly into three parts. First, Robinton’s childhood and musical training, and his fraught relationship with his perfectionist composer father, Petiron. Next, Robinton’s romantic relationship with Kasia. And third, the rising threat of Fax, a greedy and ruthless man intent on conquering more and more of Pern. In the background, there’s the imminent return of Thread, burning spores falling from space. It’s a danger ignored by most, which Robinton (and the reader) knows is to their peril.
I enjoyed this read a lot, although it may be for a funny reason. The plot was satisfactory (I think the family drama in the first part was my favorite of the three plot-threads) and the characters were universally interesting though only a few were extraordinary. But I really loved visiting Pern. Since this covers so many years and explores Robinton’s life from birth on, this is an excellent book for just spending time in Pern.
We get a depth and breadth experience of life in the Harper Hall that’s beyond what’s provided in the relatively time-compressed (but excellent!) Harper Hall Trilogy. Robinton journeys to practically every corner of the continent, giving us little snippets of life in different areas. Pern has a beautifully rich and complex culture and society, and it always feels so inviting. I probably wouldn’t actually like living in it, but I love reading about a world where people live in rock-hewn Holds, drink klah, and learn history and lessons through Harper songs.
It occurs to me that this is probably exactly why I lost interest in this series in later books, when people rediscovered certain technology and began to remake society in fundamental ways. When the society is the appeal, changing it takes away much of what I like about the books!
But this installment is long before any of that happens. This is in some ways a prequel to Dragonflight, although the angle is different. Many of the characters from that book (or The Harper Hall Trilogy) appear here in much younger forms, which was a lot of the fun of the book. Although Robinton is a Harper, Pern’s famous dragons are still very much in evidence. His love of dragons was a good element, and it felt convincing rather than dragged in.
There were also some drawbacks to this particular book… After 400 Threadless turns, I found it a little implausible that certain elements of society (like respect for Dragonriders) only began to break down dramatically in the last thirty years (before everything is reshaped by the events of Dragonflight). I understand McCaffrey wanted to tell that story within Robinton’s lifetime, but it seemed a little unlikely on timing. More seriously, while Fax is a compelling plot-thread, the climax of the book is tied so closely to events in Dragonflight that Robinton ended up having little to do except observe…which is a somewhat disappointing choice for the ending.
Robinton himself is possibly more charming as a supporting character than as a narrator, but at the same time he has more depth and complexity as the lead. And he is still charming and eminently likable besides. I do love the expressive symbolism of the cover, showing him with his harp in one hand, and a glass of Benden white wine in the other! (And I don’t care if the wine looks a little reddish, it must be Benden white.)
I wouldn’t recommend choosing this book as your starting place for Pern (you’re better off with Dragonflight, Dragonsong or possibly Moreta) but if you’ve already been to the third planet in the Rukbat system, and especially if you enjoyed meeting MasterHarper Robinton while you were there, then I can recommend this one too.
Author’s Site: http://pernhome.com/aim/
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And I’m finding a sad lack of reviews! Anyone else want to share theirs?
Buy it here: The Masterharper of Pern