I remember as a younger reader, thinking this book wasn’t quite as good as Dragonsong and Dragonsinger. However on this re-read, I liked it nearly as much, found the storyline just as engaging even though it has a different main character and a slightly broader outlook. By which I mean, it’s not so focused on one individual point of view, but also has events from the greater world and those impacts on everyone. A few chapters are from the viewpoint of the Masterharper Robinton, or of Menolly and Sebell. Menolly in this book isn’t quite recognizable to me. She’s so self-assured! It took me a while to find the one reference that notes the timeline- three years have passed. So Menolly is well-settled in the Harper Hall now.
This book is centered on the mischievous young man, Pieumr. He was a soprano singer but when the story opens, his voice is breaking so he’s no longer part of an upcoming performance. Instead he’s moved to the apprentice dormitory on the drumheights- patterns beaten on large drums being a main way of conveying messages on Pern. Robinton and Menolly have hinted at a special task they would like Piemur to do for them, but only if he can learn discretion. So when he incites jealousy from his fellow apprentices by learning the drum measures super quickly, and being singled out by the senior journeymen for special jobs as well, he keeps his mouth shut when they start to play dangerous pranks on him. Feeling like he doesn’t quite fit into the Harper Hall anymore, he adroitly picks up other opportunities instead and soon becomes involved- in a backstage kind of way- in local politics. Gets himself into an unexpected scrape -of his own making, really- and suddenly winds up in the Southern continent, holdless and on his own. Afraid to be accused of thievery (deservingly) he avoids people for a while, finding ways to survive- remembering well Menolly’s stories about how she’d lived alone in a cave. He doesn’t have a cave here on hot sand beaches flanking the jungle, but he finds ways to live through the dangerous Threadfall, and acquires a few animal companions as well. Then finally reconnects with representatives from the Harper Hall who’ve been searching for him, and realizes he can find a new place for himself, that doesn’t necessarily require returning to where he came from. I’d forgotten how well the details around Piemur’s adventure and survival story fill in the reader on how things work on Pern- from interhold politics, strife between the dragonriders of different times, the scantly described indigenous wildlife and how the fauna and flora vary on northern and southern continents. All this in a coming-of-age story with intrigue, spying and smuggling, dragons and the delightful fire lizards! Good reading.