published in 1976
Dragonsong is the first novel in the Harper Hall trilogy of novels that Ann McCaffrey wrote in 1976-1978 as a continuation of the original Pern novels, cite>Dragonflight and Dragonquest, weaving in and out of the main series. The heroine of the series, Menolly, would also show up in the later Dragonriders books, e.g in The White Dragon as a supporting character, occassionally hinting at her adventures in her own series. I hadn’t actually read this particular subseries before, as I never came across them until recently. All I knew was that the Harper Hall books had been consciously written for a young adult audience, unlike the original Pern books.
And reading Dragonsong that impression turned out to be right. This is as close to the platonic ideal of a certain kind of adolescent power fantasy as I’ve ever read. It’s even better than Harry Potter in this regard. You have the young heroine, on the verge of becoming an adult, with a special talent that’s not only unappreciated by her family, but actively suppressed and forbidden from practising it. She of course runs away from home, only to find people who do appreciate her and to find out she’s capable of more than not just her family, but she herself thought she was capable of. That’s the daydream of almost every misunderstood teenager at one point or another.
Menolly is the youngest daughter of the masterfisher Yanus, Sea Holder of Half-Circle Seahold, who is a dour, rigidly conservative man and who rules his hold and family in the same manner. In this he does not differ much from most of his subjects, all focused on the hard task of fishing in Pern’s oceans. Menolly is different, encouraged in her musical talents by the Hold’s resident harper, Petiron, as she works as his assistant in teaching the children of the Hold proper music and songs. Petiron was an old man and over the years Menolly took over more and more of his tasks, but after his death is forbidden by her father to practise her music anymore, especially not where the new harper can hear her.
One of the ways in which Menolly instead flees her miserable existence at the Hold is to undertake all the long, dreary foraging tasks that take her outside for most of the day, away from her family, none of whom are all that sympathetic to her plight. On one of those outings she discovers a group of fire-lizards flying over a cove, where a steep cliff leads down to a sandy beach. These are the creatures that the original Pern colonists genetically engineered to create dragons from, but of course the Pernese don’t know this yet. For Menolly, they’re magical enough on their own.
Meanwhile at home her situation worses and after an illness caused by an infection when she cut herself gutting fish, she decides to run away early one morning. Unfortunately that’s the day that Thread is due to fall. Thread is the reason the dragons were created in the first place, alien spores drifting in from one of Pern’s neighbour planets when its orbits are close enough. Caught out in the open during Threadfall is a good way to get killed. For Menolly there’s no other option than to head to the cave in the cove where the firelizards are living. She arrives there at the same point as the queen’s eggs are hatching and she frantically tries to feed the newly hatched fire-lizards to stop them from flying out into Threadfall. She manages to save nine of them, all of whom imprint and bond with her…
In the wider world meanwhile, the harpers from Harper Hall are busily searching for the mysterious apprentice Petiron was raving about, not realising “he” is a girl. Things come to a head when Menolly is out during a second Threadfall and is rescued by a dragonrider and taken to one of the dragonriders’ Weyrs, at Benden. There she finally realises there is a future for her outside the seahold and that there are other options open to her than either living miserably at home or all alone in a fire-lizard cave…
So yeah, this really is a story in which everything is set up to drive home how special Menolly is. The people who oppress her are all dull, miserable, loathsome if not actively evil, while all the cool people — dragonriders, masterbards, fire-lizards — all recognise her talents immediately. In the hands of a lesser writer, even a J. K. Rowling, this would’ve been tedious, but McCaffrey is good enough to overcome this. This is nowhere near as good a novel as the original two Dragonriders ones, but I would’ve eaten this up when I was twelve.