The Masterharper of Pern
By Anne McCaffrey
Published by Brilliance Audio
Read by Dick Hill
I have been a fan of the “Dragonriders of Pern” series for a very long time. I started, as I think one should, with Dragonflight and then progressed to Dragonquest and The White Dragon, which, at the time, was the entire series. No… I take that back, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger which interlace chronologically with the first two, were in publication at the time, I just was not yet aware of them.
For a while I was a fairly avid fan, in fact, but the series started losing its luster for me when the prequel stories started being published. I did enjoy the first one, Dragonsdawn in which the original colonists arrived on the world of Pern but had a lot of nits to pick. For starters, the colonists arrived on a world already named Pern with the intention of establishing a relatively low-tech civilization. It was a sort-of back-to-nature movement, I guess, but one in which those colonists relied on high-tech to build their world first. Well, I don’t blame them. Why spend several generations carving out a life on a new world when modern tools and techniques can do it for you faster, and isn’t it a good thing they thought that way when it turned out that every two and a half centuries they had to endure waves of “Thread,” a menacing spore from space?
But what really bothered me was that these colonists called their world Pern and spoke a language that between then and the so-called “Ninth Pass” during which the original books of the series take place has not changed even though some twenty-four hundred years have passed. I suppose I should have been suspicious of that in the first book, Dragonflight, when a document is found from the First Pass that is clearly readable, even if the content is misunderstood. It is not particularly likely in a society in which suffered such an initial population reduction as this one did during the First Pass, but, that really is a minor consideration, I suppose. We are told somewhere in the series that one of the Harpers’ duties was to keep the language as it was. I just cannot believe that even pronunciation remained the same. There should have been some shifts that built up over time. Certainly some slang terms were allowed to develop…
Some of the stories following Dragonsdawn were interesting, but I felt they lacked some of the sparkle of the earlier books and some told stories we already knew as legends from books set during later times. It just was not necessary to read them all over again and in a much longer format. Or maybe it’s just that in a long series some books are going to be better than others?
That was not the case here. The Masterharper of Pern managed to recapture much of the feeling of the original books. It was light where it should be and dramatic when that was best too. This is the story of Robinton and how he grew up to become the Masterharper of Pern
While there were a few continuity holes presented (such as why Robinton was known to be able to speak to most if not all dragons (a trait unusual even among the dragonmen) why was he so surprised when it happened later? And Why does his father, Petiron, seem so diametrically different than how his later student Menolly remembers him?). Another problem is that Robinton is just too good. He is, in fact, the best at everything he does. He sings, he composes all the best music and songs, he is the perfect mediator, and excellent politician. He never really fails. He does not seem to have any real weaknesses. Without weaknesses, I thought his character was a bit flat.
If the character was flat at times, the story held me even if about half of it had either already been shown or alluded to in previously published stories. I did think that writing Robinton in to scenes he was not mentioned as being present at in Dragonflight seemed forced and bothersome to me, but in general, this was a pretty good story in what is a very long and complex series.
Story-wise, I thought it should have proceeded a few years further on with Robinton’s reactions as Thread began to fall again. [perhaps to the point when his father wrote to him about a new student who might have some trouble finding acceptance at the Harper Hall (Menolly, of course) because in some ways this more attaches to the Harper Hall stories than the Dragonrider storiesa of this series, but maybe this ended where it should. I’ve already complained that there were scenes I had already read, albeit from another perspective, why make that even worse?
Dick Hill puts in a good solid performance in this audiobook. He moderates his voice excellently and while the accents are not all consistent with a world on which the language has been kept close to unchanged, he did a fair job making voices match the characters while conveying a full range of emotions.
So, I think it is fair to say this was a pretty good story, although it is certainly not the first Pern-based story by Anne McCaffrey that I would send a new reader to, that honor still goes to Dragonflight, but for fans of the series, this story should be an enjoyable read. Similarly Mister Hill’s reading is well done enhancing the story without over-shadowing it with his own performance.