This review is written with the express understanding that the reader is familiar with the entire saga of The Dragonriders of Pern. It contains quite a few plot spoilers, so it is not intended for a reader unfamiliar with the story. The Harper Hall trilogy is an offshoot of the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy and takes place at the same time as the events in those major three books. Since the stories dovetail and overlap, Anne McCaffrey assumed that the two trilogies be read either at the same time or back to back.
The first two books of this series, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, tell the story of Menolly, a brilliant fourteen year old musician and songwriter escaping the confines of her brutal and ignorant family at Half Circle Sea Hold on the far eastern peninsula of the northern continent of Pern. Dragondrums, the third installment, is a distinct departure from the smooth relationship of the first two books, which occur right around the time that Brekke loses her queen dragon, Prideth, and her lover, F’nor, rider of brown dragon Canth, takes his dreadful trip to the Red Star. They dovetail perfectly, with Dragonsinger beginning right where Dragonsong ends, but Dragondrums skips ahead three full turns, much in the same way that The White Dragon skips ahead several turns in the main trilogy. And just as the main trilogy shifted focus from Lessa to Jaxom, this book changes the focus of character from Menolly to Piemur, the young rascal with the soprano voice who befriends her.
In the very beginning, Piemer’s voice breaks just as he is preparing to sing the role of Lessa in a new composition by Domick and Menolly, written especially for Lord Groghe’s Spring Festival. Without his voice, the boy’s world is turned upside down. Fearing for his future he visits his voice master, Shonagar, only to find that he will be replaced as the man’s apprentice. Shonagar sends him to the Masterharper of Pern, Robinton, for reassignment. His depression over his change of circumstances changes to elation as he finds that he will become Robinton’s apprentice now, but there are, of course, complications.
Robinton plans to use Piemer as a kind of clandestine agent, so no one, except Menolly and Sebell will actually know that he’s working for the Masterharper. To cover his real role and to enlarge his education, he is reassigned to the Drum Master, Olodkey, to learn drum messages. Only Olodkey will know that he is really working for the Masterharper.
His apprenticeship in Drum makes him the newest apprentice there, so he gets the worst jobs and is put upon by Dirzan, the senior journeyman under Olodkey. To make matters worse, he makes enemies of the other apprentices by learning too quickly. Dirzan is quite familiar with Piemer’s reputation as a troublemaker, so he assumes that every little slip of information is Piemer’s fault. In addition, Menolly frequently calls for Piemer’s assistance as a “messenger” in which he makes his clandestine trips.
The first leave of absence occurs when Menolly has him join her riding down to the seaside to meet Sebell, who has been journeying in the Southern Continent and for the first time he sees that Sebell has fallen in love with Menolly, although she appears to be oblivious. They treat his saddle sores and take care of him, but his absence only makes the other Drum apprentices meaner to him. His second leave of absence is to make a trip to a Miner hold some distance away in the mountains. While there, he witnesses T’ron, who had been banished to the Southern Continent, forcing the Miner to give him precious sapphires, reserved generally for new Harper Masters. Hiding the jewels he was sent to pick up, he plays the ignorant stable boy and returns to the Harper Hall the next day with his treasure. Every time he goes away, the other boys in the Drum heights become meaner to him and Dirzan keeps giving him more and more difficult measures to learn.
The third leave of absence is huge because he is taken by Menolly and Sebell to a Gather at Igen, on the southern shores of the Northern Continent with the assignment of gathering information by playing ignorant. Although he doesn’t learn much, Menolly and Sebell take him by dragon to Benden Weyr to witness a hatching. There he meets Menolly’s friend, Mirrim, who appeared in the first of this trilogy. She is fostered to Brekke and made friends with Menolly when she was picked up in Dragonsong trying to outrun thread. Piemer is put off by her haughty attitude, but Menolly cautions him that he shouldn’t judge her too harshly because of everything she had been through with Brekke and F’nor. Trying to keep an open mind, he witnesses the hatching with a great deal of envy. Three years earlier, Menolly had promised him that when her queen fire lizard, Beauty, clutched, he could have a fire lizard of his own. Apparently, fire lizards mature slowly because three turns have passed and Beauty still has not risen to mate. The main feature of the hatching is that Felesson, the only child of Weyrleaders, F’lar and Lessa, impresses a bronze dragon, Golanth. Things go a bit off plan, though, when a newly hatched green dragon rejects all of the remaining candidates and flounders toward the viewing tiers, seeking Mirrim. Although the girl protests that she wasn’t supposed to have a dragon, F’lar and Lessa encourage her to go ahead an impress Path. She is the first female green dragon rider in known history.
When Piemer returns to the Drum heights, he finds that all of his clothes have been soiled by the jealous apprentices, led by a big dummy named Clell. And even though he has kept his mouth shut about drum messages, several are leaked and Piemer is suspected as the cause, being well known as a rascal and scamp. He doesn’t even tell Menolly about the abuse from the other apprentices, but that all comes to a head when Lord Meron of Nabol gets seriously ill and sends for Masterhealer Oldive. Piemer is given the message to deliver and Oldive gives him a reply with instructions to have a dragon waiting for him to fly to Nabol. On the way back to the drum heights, Piemer slips on the stairs and bashes in his head. As he passes out, he is certain that the steps and railing were greased. It turns out that they were. Annoyed, Silvina, the headwoman, nurses him back to life, then he joins Sebell on a trip to a Nabol Gather, pretending to be a stupid herder boy. As Meron is close to death, Piemer manages to steal a queen fire lizard egg from his hearth and escapes by hiding in a supply room, then he’s secreted to the Southern Continent in a bag of merchandise illegally traded by Meron to the Southern Oldtimers.
Escaping, he lives in the wild, waiting for his queen fire lizard, Farli, to hatch.
There are two considerable plot advances in Dragondrums. First, there is the maturation and freedom of Piemer with his escape from the Harper Hall and acquisition of Farli, and second, when Menolly and Sebell travel to the Southern Continent in search of him, Sebell’s queen fire lizard, Kimi, rises to mate and Menolly’s bronzes, Rocky and Diver, fly to mate with her. Diver is the successful male to mate with her, but the mating leads to Menolly and Sebell consummating their own relationship.
As the entire saga of the Dragonriders of Pern develops, these two major plot advances figure prominently. For one thing, Piemer is permanently relocated to the south, where he will be instrumental in later books in the discovery of the original settlements of the colonization of Pern (as written in the prequel Dragonsdawn) and will find his own mate, Jancis. For another, Sebell and Menolly will themselves be elevated from Journeyman and Journeywoman into becoming Masters of their craft and eventually running the entire Harper Hall, all the while having and nurturing their own children.
Even though this story is pretty well divorced from the first two books of the trilogy, it is very well placed alongside them because it tells of the major players in the Harper Hall’s future. Piemer was already a very well developed character in the second of the three books, so it is natural, once Menolly has found her place in the saga, that Piemer’s story would take over. I can never get enough of Menolly, as I think she is probably the best character in the entire saga, and even though she is a secondary character in Dragondrums, she does appear in abundance and it is great to see her relationship with Sebell grow and mature to consummation.
It is a very well written novel, fun and fast to read, and absolutely essential to the overall development of the Dragonriders of Pern.