Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dragonsong (book) by Anne McCaffrey

Dragonsong is technically a science fiction book, although it deals with a low-tech colony on a far-away planet and includes dragons, so it reads like fantasy. I don't know if it was marketed as YA when it was first released in 1976, but it certainly could be today.


I think this was the very first Pern book I ever read. A friend let me borrow it during our required reading hour in school (maybe middle school?), and I was hooked. No wonder: the Harper Hall trilogy had a lot of features that I tended to gravitate towards.

In this first book, Menolly is a nearly 15-year-old girl living is an isolated fishing village on the planet Pern. Harper Petiron, her friend, teacher, and the one who most understood her love of music, has just died. Her parents grudgingly allow her to continue teaching the village's children, at least until the new Harper arrives, but they absolutely forbid her to create or sing any of her own songs, fearing that she will disgrace the village and confuse the children into thinking they're real Harper-composed songs. Although Menolly has been told her whole life that girls can't be Harpers, music is so much a part of her that she can't bear to let it go, and life at Half-Circle Sea Hold starts to become more and more unbearable.

I had forgotten that this book began with a foreword explaining the colonization of Pern and the existence of the Thread-producing Red Star. I'm almost certain that Teen Me completely dismissed it and approached several of the Pern books, including this one, as though they were fantasy, rather than sci-fi. At any rate, this was a good book for me at the time, since I was still primarily a fantasy reader and had only recently and warily started reading sci-fi.

Nostalgia rereads don't always work out well for me, but thankfully that wasn't the case here. I enjoyed Dragonsong just as much as I remembered enjoying it when I first read it. I sympathized with Menolly, who managed to come across as being stifled without being annoying about it. I could also understand Menolly's parents' perspectives, even though I didn't agree with their actions. The village's survival depended upon everyone pulling their own weight. Although Harpers were important (they didn't just entertain, they carried news and new teachings, acted as judges when necessary, and more), there had never been a female Harper that they knew of, so Menolly's focus on music seemed like a waste of time and effort to them.

The thing I was really looking forward to was the fire lizards (tiny dragons). They took a bit to show up, which is one of the reasons why I've reread Dragonsinger more than Dragonsong, but they were still just as wonderful as I remembered. I loved reading about Menolly's efforts to try to make a life for herself and her fire lizards outside the Sea Hold, but it was her reentry into civilization that really brought a smile to my face. It was lovely to see her finally get to be around people who didn't constantly dismiss her and tell her that her dreams were both worthless and actively harmful to the people around her. And her first conversations with Master Robinton! I had forgotten how charming he was.

Although this would be a pretty good starting point for Pern newbies, there were a few things that would be confusing: Brekke's situation, and the uproar surrounding Jaxom's Impression of Ruth. Menolly learned some of the background info, but further details weren't really important to her story. To newbie readers whose interest was piqued, I'd say either start from the beginning and read Dragonflight, or try the books that deal more directly with Brekke and Jaxom (I think Dragonquest and The White Dragon, respectively), keeping in mind that those are books 2 and 3 and might bring up further questions. But hey, that's the fun thing about reading a series.

Back to Dragonsong: all in all, this was a quick and enjoyable read that reminded me of what I loved about this series. It could have used more fire lizard scenes and Master Robinton appearances, but that's what Dragonsinger is for. On to the next book!

  • Arrows of the Queen (book) by Mercedes Lackey - This is fantasy. Here we have another young female main character who feels stifled in her isolated village and wishes she could go to a particular faraway place she'd only heard about. Talia would like to become a Herald (a person who has bonded with a Companion, a magical white horse, and who acts as a traveling judge, soldier, spy, carriers of news, and more) but thinks it isn't possible for a farmgirl like her. She is, of course, wrong. I've written about this book. Another good one, if you looking for a musician heroine, would be Lackey's The Lark and the Wren.
  • The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono - This is fantasy. It might be a good one for those who'd particularly like a "physically/emotionally abused child ends up in a place where they are loved" story. I've written about this book. While it's my personal favorite in the Twelve Kingdoms series, The Twelve Kindoms: Sea of Shadow might also work as a read-alike for those who found the survival aspects of Menolly's story to be the most interesting.
  • The Cloud Roads (book) by Martha Wells - A sci-fi story about Moon, a young non-human being (there are no humans in this series) who can't seem to find a place where he belongs, until he learns that he's a Raksura, someone who can shapeshift from a groundling form into a winged form. Unlike Dragonsong, this does include some romance. I've written about this book.
  • First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce - In this fantasy school story, Kel struggles to become the first official female knight (the true first female knight had to pretend to be a boy). This might actually be a better read-alike for Dragonsinger, but it hits a lot of the same "girl power" buttons as Dragonsong, so I figured I'd include it. I've written about both the audio and the paper versions of this book.

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