Review: Dragonsong

Dragonsong (Harper Hall, #1)Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dragonsong is a quick light read that brings dragons big and small to life. This book would make a great transition for the How to Train Your Dragon lovers out there.

Despite this book having “Volume One” predominantly on the cover, I have no idea if this is the first book in the series or not: it reads like the first book in a variant series off an original, but I had the hardest time figuring out where to start. Since this one claimed to be a volume one, I jumped in here. But I may have guessed wrong.

Interestingly, it claims to be “science fiction,” but aside from the foreward, which tells the reader this takes place in an alternate Earth and mentions some sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, Dragonsong entirely reads like a YA fantasy novel. (In fact, the foreward mostly makes it seem like someone dared author Anne McCaffrey that should couldn’t sell fantasy as sci-fi. I guess she managed it…sorta?)

And that’s not at all a bad thing–particularly because it was written before “young adult” was even a genre.

The story focuses on the awkward and gangly Menolly, a girl from the Sea-Hold, a grim and rough sort of place. She is disparaged for having a talent in music and her parents–the leaders of her Hold–forbid it, for fear of disgracing the hold. After she badly cuts her hand, it seems music is out of the question anyway. In frustration and a fit of teenaged pique, Menolly leaves her home and stumbles into a nest of the secretive and mysterious fire lizards–pocket dragons, essentially. With her clever tunes and kind heart, Menolly wins the trust and adoration of the fire lizards, particularly nine, who follow her and are bonded to her. When she ultimately has to return to civilization out of necessity, she finds people respect and admire her for her skill with the fire lizards, and her music is appreciated rather than castigated.

This is the kind of story that I wish I’d written. I enjoy the storyline very much, but compared to modern similar stories, it’s barely sketched out, there’s not any closure or explanation (why did her father think it was wrong for girls to sing, but later other people think it’s more than ok?), and it just sort of mentions pivotal moments. It feels incomplete or hurried. I wish we could see a much longer version of this, with a great deal of backstory, richness, and detail. I want to know more about the dragons! I want to know why it’s so peculiar that she could impress nine! I want to know why some places are so closed-off but others are super-casual.

I may be in luck: McCaffrey has written a lot about the dragons of Pern, so maybe there is more for me to find out. As an introduction, this book was pleasant, easy, and… relatively insubstantial, more of an appetizer than a meal.

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