I wanted to take a moment and celebrate the book (and series) that got me truly hooked on science fiction and fantasy, Dragonsong of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey. It was one of a rare breed of novels back when I discovered it, due to the fact that it actually was geared toward a younger audience in an age where young adult novels just weren’t a thing. Imagine, if you must, me with an old, creaky voice saying “Back in my day….” but that’s what it is. Back in my day, we made do with a few classics and your parents prayed you didn’t run out of options because adult novels just weren’t okay.
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There’s a decent chance if you’ve read Anne McCaffrey’s work you’ll have heard of the Harper Hall trilogy. This story takes place within the same time frame as the second and third novels in the Dragonriders of Pern series for adults, and in fact, one of my favorite aspects of this series is how you can clearly see events from other novels throughout this one. When it comes to world building, there’s no doubt in my mind that McCaffrey was a pro. This story follows the adventures of Menolly as she’s forced to transition to life without her beloved friend, the Harper of Half-Circle Sea Hold.
In Hold culture on Pern, women are often relegated to the very particular roles fit for a woman (I’m sure you can imagine what those would be), but Menolly doesn’t fit that mold. At a young age, the Harper recognizes her talent for music making and takes her under his wing. Her parents allow it because no one dares refuse a Harper and because it was easier to let her take care of him than to deal with her attitude, but when the Harper passes on, everyone is faced with the reality that a girl is just not supposed to tune. Music making is a man’s job.
When the pressure of Hold life gets to be too much, Menolly sneaks out and hides out in the cliffs. She makes herself a home along the cliff face and, at that moment, her life begins and the lives of everyone on Pern change in an instant.
Who should read this?
Fantasy readers will likely love this book. As I said before, Anne McCaffrey does an amazing job of building a world with history, culture, conflict, and everything else you’d need to feel like you are living there with the characters. The people in her world face some of the same troubles we face, but they also are challenged with the dreaded Thread, a spore that devours almost everything it touches. Her world is rich and believable and, oh yeah, full of tiny and giant dragons!
It’s a fantastic young adult novel, so anyone in the 10 to whatever range should be able to enjoy this book. I first read it when I was 7 or 8, but I was a pretty aggressive reader. Still, if you have a kid that loves devouring books, this is probably a great pick for them too. As always with younger readers though, it’s a great idea to read the book yourself first (or at a minimum, scan through it) to make sure it’s subject and reading level appropriate for your kid!
Who shouldn’t read this?
Kids who don’t enjoy fantasy novels probably won’t get a lot out of this. I mean, they might, but it could be an uphill battle getting them sit down and actually read it. Similarly, you’d want a kid who’s comfortable figuring out definitions from context. I passed it along to my daughter (who loves fantasy) and she didn’t get past the introduction because she got frustrated with the unfamiliar words. If they struggle too much, it might be worth shelving this book until they get a little older and more skilled at reading.
And with that, I say… enjoy! The trilogy was recently re-released as a boxed set. I managed to snag a new copy at the book store (because my old ones fell to shreds) but if you’re not wanting to spend the money, this one is common enough to find at the library or even sometimes at a used book store. Not too often at the bookstore, though, because people tend to hold on to it once they find it!
Also, if your young reader doesn’t like reading books because the main character is a girl, then you’ll be happy to know that the third book in the series follows a young boy in the Harper Hall. So, if they balk at reading Dragonsong, give Dragondrums a try instead!