Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Anne McCaffrey
(1984, Doubleday Books)
[original copyright: 1977]

Harper Hall Trilogy, book 2

At the Harper Hall, Menolly finds that her new life isn’t as simple as she’d thought, learning to navigate jealousy, intolerant teachers, and the jumpy moods of her fire lizards.


-- First reading (multibook hardcover)
January 19th to 29th, 2019


Although I enjoyed the day-in-the-life story, I didn’t find it all that gripping. It’s nice to see how she was treated both special and normal, in turn. The jealousy of the girls, the intolerance of the old teachers felt realistic, but they were minor because Menolly was able to deflect all of their concerns easily, perhaps too easily. The best parts by far were Menolly leading all the harpers through her rendition of Moreta’s Ride, and showing how she can defend herself against an aggressor.

Spoiler review:

I didn’t like this book as much as the previous one. In the previous book, Menolly was a talented young musician, whose talents were suppressed because of an outdated way of thinking, so she runs off and makes her own music and finds her fire lizards. In this book, she still has to battle prejudice, not only against her being a girl, but against her amazing talents, as the teachers and students alike don’t like the way she has the Masterharper’s special attention.

The book is basically about Menolly overcoming these obstacles, while she befriends Piemur, a young man whose voice is the envy of all apprentices. As such, it did a good job, though I can’t say it was super-interesting. Even the background material, the events of The White Dragon, or at least in between the events described there, don’t seem too interesting.

The girls’ jealousy probably had the most impact on Menolly. Being a young woman from a traditional Hold, she’s intensely aware of everyone’s opinion of her, and she wants everyone to like her, especially since she had such a rough childhood. The girls don’t like her very much, and their dislike grows more as she shows her natural talent, as they show how talentless they are. They fail to tell her about an important meeting with one of her teachers, they snub her at meals, and they start telling lies about her. Still, she gets her revenge, and all by not rising to their level of mean-ness. Meanwhile, Piemur tells Sebell about her troubles, and the girls are eventually expelled from the Harper Hall. When they meet at a Gather, in one of the stalls, with some of the Hold boys, things come to a head. Menolly actually slugs one of the boys as he tries to take matters into his own hands, which was terrific, but Robinton arrives to take charge.

The teachers don’t present much of a challenge to Menolly, either. Some of their tempers she weathers with discomfort. Others she earns their grudging respect, passing their severe tests which would have never been given to the boys. Once that happens, she’s invited to do private concerts with them. She masters it as if she’s been playing the complicated music all her life, and they are all super impressed.

Meanwhile, Piemur and Camo, the mentally-challenged kitchen helper, almost trip over each other to help feed Menolly’s fire-lizards. Also, Master Robinton and Sebell, his journeyman, are expecting their fire-lizards to hatch soon, and rely on Menolly to help them. The eggs get mixed up, and Robinton ends up with a bronze while Sebell gets the queen, though neither care, as the Impression makes them more than simply happy.

I found the author’s choice of “friends” for the fire lizards felt incorrect, and awkward. When Silvana was referring to Menolly’s friends, she should have been talking about Piemur and the other boys (and eventually the one girl she befriended). But instead, it was the lizards. I thought there must be a better word for these creatures’ relationship with her, more than pets, but not friends, either.

The author did a great job describing the musical process. I wonder if she knows these things firsthand, or how much research she did. If the details she provided throughout the book on tuning, voice work, stringing instruments, shaping drums and the complexities of composition, not to mention sailing, were correct, I learned a lot!

One of my favorite scenes is when Menolly and many other Harpers are caught in the dining hall during Threadfall, and Menolly leads them in a wonderfully described rendition of Moretta’s Ride, taken from the story of Moreta, when the dragonriders were getting sick. It was wonderfully thunderous and buoyed the spirit just reading it.

The book ends by Menolly, only having been at the Harper Hall for a week, taking the walk from Apprentice to Journeyman, unprecedented in both her youth and the speed at which she picked up the required tasks. A nice ending, and it’s open-ended. Unfortunately, the focus of the book was having Menolly fit in, with little other consequence. There was little else of note, and that made it feel like the story needed a little more meat.


Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 -  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.