MASTERHARPER OF PERN
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When I read Anne McCaffrey's Dragonseye last year, I found myself wondering if McCaffrey had run out of new things to say about Pern. After reading Masterharper of Pern, I've concluded that she has. However, Masterharper of Pern is a much more readble and enjoyable book than Dragonseye was and deserves to be read by Pern fans.
At its most basic, Masterharper of Pern is a biography of Robinton, beginning with his birth and ending at the end of the first chapter of Dragonflight. In addition to seeing Robinton's growth (although his character is pretty much the same from the day he was born), we also get to see the rise of Fax, who played a small, but important role in the start of the Pern sequence. McCaffrey even includes a battle, although offstage, to demonstrate that war can still exist on Pern.
McCaffrey's characters tend to either be good, in which case they get along with all the other good characters, or bad (I don't want to say evil, because usually her bad characters are more self-absorbed than anything else). A good case in point from Masterharper of Pern would be Robinton's father, Periton, who is so absorbed in his own music and teaching that he has no time for his son or his wife (we are assured he loves the latter, but are not shown that love). Periton is so self-absorbed, I'm surprised he is regarded as such a good teacher, for he seems as if he would have little time or patience for his pupils (again, we are told he is a good teacher, not shown his skill in teaching). Perhaps if characters like Periton (or Fax or Chalkin [from Dragonseye]) were more three-dimensional, McCaffrey's books would seem fresher.
McCaffrey would have us believe that the events in Masterharper of Pern are occuring as attitudes towards harpers and dragonriders are in flux for the worse. However, she is unable to show a smooth progression of this change. Certain holds are pro-harper and others are opposed to harpers. How much of either attitude we see seems to be based on which holds McCaffrey chooses to show us. When an harper, Evarel, is beaten, the incident seems as contrived as the fight F'lar picks with Fax at Ruatha.
Robinton goes through several life changes events, some of which are rather surprising given what McCaffrey has previously revealed about him, however, he seems quite unaffected by anything that happens to him and some of the events raise questions about why they are never referred to in later (internal chronological) novels.
Masterharper of Pern is an interesting, if peripheral, book in the Pern sequence. In many ways, it would be a good book to read before beginning McCaffrey's original series because then there would be more narrative tension, perhaps the biggest missing element from the more recent Pern novels.
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