Singing with the MasterHarper

Masterharper of PernFor 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:

Other reviews:
265 Book Blog
And I’m finding a sad lack of reviews!  Anyone else want to share theirs?

Buy it here: The Masterharper of Pern

15 thoughts on “Singing with the MasterHarper

  1. Pabkins

    Of all the Pern books I have read – I can’t believe I’ve never gotten around to reading this one. I think its because I was always so twitterpated with the dragon rider ones. I should get to this finally especially since the book has been sitting on my shelf for years next to my other often reread Pern books.

      1. Pabkins

        Ok I will. I did always love the harpers but of course you know I’m such a big dragon lover that these would still get purchased but just continued to sit there unread. I’ll have to set myself a goal to change that this year!

  2. This is one of the Pern books I haven’t actually read yet! I usually get a hankering for Pern and start from the beginning, but by the time I get to the books I haven’t read, I’m kind of burned out. I’ll have to pick this one up on its own sometime; it sounds like it would be a nice glimpse back into that world.

  3. I’ve read most of the Pern books, but haven’t read the most recent ones co-written by Anne and her son Todd (except for 2). Masterharper was a favourite of mine. I really want to go back to re-read the Pern novels. Unfortunately, they’re all in Canada right now.

  4. This book brought me back to Pern a few years ago and, as you said, it was so wonderful revisiting a planet that I’d forgotten I loved so much. I came to a halt again when the technology started to be rediscovered and I thought it was just me… but perhaps you have the right of it and it does become less interesting then. I really must get back to it though, I miss it.

    1. We’re not the only ones to mention having issues with the technology in the later books. I think that’s what did it for me…but if you go back to it and read more, I’d love to hear how it goes!

  5. I’ve only read Dragonflight but I enjoyed it very much. I can see why you feel the way you do about Pern, it is a romantic place…not one we would probably enjoy as much in real life, but a great place to dream about visiting.

    1. Yes…when I’m sitting comfortably reading, I can ignore how uncomfortable stone couches would actually be, how much I’d miss the printing press, and the rather vague nature of restroom facilities on Pern… But it IS great fun to read about!

  6. I haven’t read the Pern books in a long time. I devoured them as a teenager and then reread them again and again. I haven’t read any of the more recent ones, or the ones by her son. When (if?) I ever get my books out of the attic in my parent’s house I think it’ll be time for a reread.

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