Welcome to Dragondrums, the third and final book of the Harper Hall trilogy. In the last book, Menolly has gone from being the youngest daughter of an abusive Sea Holder to a journeyman Harper after a seven day whirlwind tour including Mean Girls and asshole teachers. Maybe now we can actually get some plot moving.
Dragondrums: Chapter 1: Content Notes: None
The chapter opens with Piemur being roused from sleep because…
Piemur is the viewpoint character for this story? So we spent two books spinning our wheels, plot-wise, only to have the narrative decide that since Menolly is safe and not the potential victim of abuse and drama, she’s no longer going to be the main character? Then what was the actual point of the first two books? Gratuitous violence, abuse, and damage to a female character as filler before a man steps into the protagonist role and things can finally go forward?
Cocowhat by depizan
[The Loudest Profanity I’ve Ever Heard]
Unacceptable. I’m sure Menolly will stay on as a principal character here, but the narrative will have to work logarithmically harder to convince me of the need to change viewpoint characters for this final volume.
So, Chapter One opens with Piemur roused by drum code messages sent from Ista Hold, another useful datum in his storehouse of interesting things that he obtained by being small, quiet, and a light sleeper. Piemur wonders if drum code will be phasing out because of fire lizards, which turns his thoughts to the time when he will have his own, at some indeterminate point in the future. And then there is the care and feeding of fire lizards before chorus lessons.
Under Domick’s direction, Piemur is to sing Lessa’s part in a score crafted by Menolly and Domick about Lessa and Ramoth. Normally, singing is very easy for Piemur, but the first time he tries, nothing comes out.
“Wake up, Piemur,” said Master Domick, irritably rapping his stick on the music stand. He alerted the chorus, “We’ll repeat the measure before the entrance… if you’re now ready, Piemur?”
Usually Piemur could ignore Master Domick’s sarcasm but since he had been ready to sing, he flushed uncertainly. He took a breath and hummed against his closed teeth as the chorus began again. He had tone, and his throat wasn’t sore, so he wasn’t coming down with a stuffed head.
The chorus gave him his entrance again, and he opened his mouth. The sound that emerged ranged from one octave to another, neither of which were in the score he held.
Piemur has apparently just arrived at that dread thing, puberty. After a quick diagnostic scale to confirm, Domick sends Piemur to Shonagar. Who had been expecting him, and the two chat about Piemur’s future.
I might note, at this point, that both Domick and Shonagar have been explicitly, narratively, confirmed has having sympathy and compassion in their voices as they discuss this turn of events. Menolly occasionally gets gentleness of voice from them in the last book, but here, they are portrayed as sympathetic right from the beginning, because Piemur is male. The Distaff Counterpart conversation, if Menolly started menarche, for example, would be highly unsympathetic from the Masters, but maybe sympathetic from Silvina. Which reminds me – there has been almost no mention of menstruation in these books, either. That’s good, I suppose, in that no man is complaining about it, but I have to wonder whether there’s some form of widely-available hormonal birth control or something that makes a period not a big deal.
That said, what passes for sympathy among the Masters is perverse, indeed.
“You have been without doubt the most troublesome and ingenious, the laziest, the most audacious and mendacious of the hundreds of apprentices and voice students it has been my tiresome task to train to some standard. Despite yourself, you have achieved some measure of success. You ought to have achieved even more.” Master Shonagar affected a point. “I find it altogether too perverse, if completely in character, for you to decide on puberty before singing Domick’s latest choral work. Undoubtedly one of his best, and written with your abilities in mind. Do not hang your head in my presence, young man!” The Master’s bellow startled Piemur out of his self-pitiful reflections. “Young man! Yes, that’s the crux. You are becoming a young man. Young men must have young-manly tasks.”
I’m sure, somewhere, it’s comforting that the Masters are equal-opportunity assholes, but still, if this is sympathetic, there needs to be a calibration adjustment. Shonagar sends Piemur to the Masterharper for a new assignment, although he leaves the door open for Piemur’s possible return once his voice settles. The now unsettled Piemur wonders what will happen now that his single talent, singing, is in jeopardy.
Joining Piemur for the briefing is Menolly, who is utterly immune to his attempts to pull information out of her about what Robinton wants. Robinton is trying to feed his fire lizard, Zair, and asks Piemur to take over long enough for Robinton to get caffeinated. Then he says that Piemur is going to be one of his special apprentices, Menolly casually asks about whether Piemur has sailed, and Piemur makes Robinton do what would be a spit take in a more immediately comedic work by correctly deducing what his mission will be.
“And what makes you mention the Southern Continent?” asked the Harper.
Piemur was rather sorry now that he had.
“Well, sir, nothing special,” he said, wondering himself. “Just things like Sebell being gone for a couple of sevendays mid-winter and coming back with a tanned face. Only I’d known he’d not been at Nerat or Southern Boll or Ista. There’s been talk, too, at the Gathers that even if dragonriders from the north aren’t spared to go south, some of the Oldtimers have been seen here in the north. Now, if I was F’lar, I’d sort of wonder what those Oldtimers were doing north. And I’d try to keep them south, where they’re supposed to be. And there are all these holdless men, looking for someplace to live, and no one seems to know how big the Southern Continent is and if…”
“So, when Menolly talks about sailing, I know how Sebell got south without being taken by a dragon. Which Benden Weyr wouldn’t permit ’cause they promised that northern dragons wouldn’t go south, and I don’t think Sebell could swim that far. If he can swim.”
Robinton is impressed, and then impresses very firmly on Piemur that he is not to tell others about what he has figured out, and his cover story is that he will be apprenticed to the Drummaster Olodkey, to learn drummer code and to have an excuse to be places at odd hours. First, though, he’s going to take a ride on a dragon, which Piemur deduces from being told to collect some wherhide from Silvina, earning himself another stern look from Robinton as he leaves.
Afterward, Robinton and Menolly discuss what to do.
“But, sir, you’ve been supporting all the changes F’lar and Lessa have advocated. And Benden’s been right to make those changes. They’ve united Hall and Hold behind the Weyrs. Furthermore,” and Menolly took a deep breath, “Sebell told me not so long ago that before this Pass off the Red Star began, harpers were nearly as discredited as dragon riders. You’ve made this Hall into the most prestigious craft on Pern. Everyone respects Masterharper Robinton. Even Piemur,” she added with a laugh trembling in her voice as she struggled to relieve her master’s melancholy.
“Ah, now, there’s the real accomplishment!”
“Indeed it is,” she said, ignoring his facetiousness. “For he’s very hard to impress, I assure you. Believe me, too, that he won’t be in the least distressed to do for you what he does naturally for himself. He’s always heard the gossip at Gathers and told me, knowing I’d tell you. ‘What a Harper hears is for the Harper’s ears.'” She laughed to find Piemur’s saucy quip so applicable.
“It was easier during the Interval….” […] “Boring, too, to be completely candid. Still, it won’t be that long an assignment for Piemur, will it? His voice ought to settle within the Turn, and he can resume his place as a soloist. If his adult voice is half as good as his treble, he’ll be a better singer than Tagetarl.”
Well, that’s interesting. Robinton-as-power-player hitched his wagon to the right place, it appears, and has been rewarded for that loyalty. I wonder what those conference sessions must have been like.
But also, we have a narrative confirmation that others really do believe as the Benden Weyr leaders do, since the last time we checked in with the Lords Holder, they were of decidedly mixed opinion about the idea of the Weyrs leading the planet, partially due to the great damage the time-skipped Weyrs were doing to the good feelings and faith accumulated for destroying Thread.
So, it looks like we’re relegating the story of a young woman who grows to power and prestige from nothing, based on her talents and her great empathy (on display once again with Robinton) to foreground a boy’s adventure story, starring a small but wily and smart boy who can sight-sing anything perfectly. Although that power is temporarily on hold due to puberty. Considering the boy’s adventure chapters written before, it will hopefully follow suit and contain a lot less violence and abuse than the surrounding stories. Which is a good thing, if it follows through, but it’s still a major mark against this story that it took away Menolly before her story was finished and backgrounded her so that we could have a male protagonist. Because there are plenty, almost a unanimity, of stories with male protagonists, whether plucky boys or heroic men, to choose from at this time in history. Menolly was unique in being a female lead, even though the narrative treated her like shit, and it produced two books that passed Bechdel (even if it hadn’t been described yet) without having to try very hard at all at it, by virtue of Menolly being the lead.
I really don’t understand this decision, and I don’t think there’s going to be an explanation as to why this change was necessary.