Revisiting Pern, the great McCaffrey reread: THE MASTERHARPER OF PERN

Tehani and Marisol bonded over Pern (and Doctor Who) at a science fiction convention, decided that it was time for a reread of the series, and really, they should blog about that. They are reading in Anne McCaffrey’s preferred way, which is basically publication order.  

gl49of4nx3uzug5weu1fPern Series – The Masterharper of Pern

M: *rubs hands together* I’ve been looking forward to this one since we decided to do this readthrough. And going through all the other books has only heightened my anticipation.

Robinton is one of the longest running Pern characters, and this fills in an incredible number of gaps about his history. Not only that, but this is the only book in the series which concentrates around one person’s story. There’s very little headhopping, no scenes with Robinton not present, and the book shines because of it. This is the meatiest book in the series, and it’s a read of pure satisfaction. Even if his personal life was filled with tragedy.

24870T: I remember when I bought this book! It was on my only international trip ever, and I read it on a plane and it was (and remains) one of my very favourites in the series (partly because of sense-memory, probably!). And my gosh, it’s hard to believe it’s nearly 20 years old!

M: Petiron was a huge surprise in this book. In the Harper Hall trilogy, he comes off as someone who really loves Menolly, and this sort of old man who, despite being a type A stickler, is all right. Now we find out that Petiron, who is Robinton’s father, is a great musician, and a terrible human being. He’s incredibly selfish, and everything in his life revolves around him. I know there’s a huge push for us to see how badly he treats Rob as a baby – doesn’t care about him, pushes him away and ignores him, sees him as competition for his wife’s attention – but I think what really drives home the point is how he treats his wife. She’s his favorite, most precious toy. Virtually all of his decisions revolves around how he can dress her up and show off his prized possession. Getting denied results in sulks and tantrums. About the only redeeming quality to him personally is he will fuss over her if she’s sick. but even then, it’s like his toy has to be brought back to pretty.

T: I found this FASCINATING. Did her death really change him so much? Did he regret his behaviour towards Robinton his whole life, and try to redeem himself in Menolly? Although even then, really, he didn’t actually come into the “modern” world, because he never told the Masterharper that Menolly was a girl. So he changed a bit, but not heaps?

M: The flipside of this is getting to watch the Masterharper grow from childhood prodigy. I’d never really thought about that, but looking back again at things said in other books, it’s clear part of his deep connection with Menolly stems from almost identical pasts – neglect is still abuse, and being a sensitive, prodigal child leaves its own mark in any situation.

T: And he’s so very gifted, which makes it even more sad that Petiron only saw him as a rival for his mother Merelan’s attention. Not even jealousy of his talent (although Merelan clearly did worry that would also be an issue) but literally that Robinton competed for her time.

M: It also clears up why Sebell got picked as Masterharper rather than Menolly, which rather piqued me in previous books.

T: It never bothered me, actually, because Sebell was always presented as older and more, hmm, well-rounded, I guess, in the Harper craft. Menolly has insane talent, but without the full grounding the entire Harper world. But yes, nice to have some explicit explanation of why.

M: Biggest surprise still for me was seeing how much Robinton spoke with dragons. I’d gotten the impression he’d not had many spoken interactions with them in previous books, and re-reading this made me wonder if that was a misunderstanding on my part, inconsistency, or a deliberate misconstrue.

T: It’s really interesting when a person who you know as an older character, with a lot of responsibility from the first moment we meet him, is revealed to us from childhood. It would be a great exercise to have a new reader START with the Masterharper book and read in internal chronology, to see their different responses to characters.

M: And speaking of inconsistency – what the heck was with the big change in the Charter and handling upstart Holders? Reading Dragonseye back to back with this made me feel like I’d lost something. The Charter clearly makes provisions for Holders committing atrocities. Wouldn’t there have been enough between the escapees and not allowing people to learn the Charter? I thought the last book laid out clearly that’s a violation of the people’s rights? Gah!

T: I thought that was cleverly done! The way I read it was the loss of knowledge was accelerating (due to plagues, deterioration of records and the like), so fewer people actually knew and followed the Charter. Maybe that was just my interpretation though…

And it wouldn’t be a Pern book without sobbing – I was beside myself when Robinton walked the tables as a journeyman (even just glancing at the page again now brought tears prickling!).

Previously, in the Great Pern Reread of 2015:

Dragonflight

Dragonquest

The Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums)

The White Dragon

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern / Nerilka’s Story

Dragonsdawn

The Renegades of Pern

All the Weyrs of Pern

The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall

The Dolphins of Pern

The Chronicles of Pern: Red Star Rising

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