|“||Of course, an exhausting day at sail lines and nets left little energy to expend on running or laughing. Perhaps that was why her parents couldn’t appreciate her music—it wouldn’t appear to be hard work to them. Menolly shook her hands, letting them flap from her wrists. They ached and trembled from the constricted movements and tension of an hour of intensive playing. No, her parents would never understand that playing musical instruments could be as hard work as sailing or fishing.||”|
The American Library Association in 1999 cited the two early Pern trilogies (Dragonriders and Harper Hall), along with The Ship Who Sang, when McCaffrey received the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award for her «lifetime contribution in writing for teens».
When Menolly, daughter of Yanus Sea Holder, arrived at the Harper Hall, she came in style, aboard a huge bronze dragon, followed by her nine fire lizards. The Masterharper of Pern, aware of her unique skills, had chosen her as his only girl apprentice. But the holdless girl had first to overcome many heartaches in this strange new life. Two things sustained her — her devoted lizards, a subject on which she was fitted to instruct her Masters — and the music… music of compelling beauty, music-making where at last she was accepted. In the Great Hall, Menolly could fulfil her destiny.
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Continuing on from the end of Dragonsong, Dragonsinger opens with T'gellan conveying Robinton and Menolly to the Harper Hall, where they are met by a crowd of harpers, and Robinton introduces Menolly as «Petiron's lost apprentice» — and adds that she has secured two fire lizard eggs for him and his apprentice Sebell — before Silvina, the headwoman, escorts Menolly inside to a room, where she sleeps.
The next morning, Menolly goes down to the kitchens to get food for her hungry fire lizards. To help, Silvina sends Camo, a mentally-deficient drudge to give them food scraps in the courtyard, where Menolly and her fire lizards inadvertently interrupt a chorus by singing along with them. Menolly later heads up to Robinton's quarters, where she checks the fire lizard eggs and talks with Robinton about her future at the Harper Hall. Menolly is also diagnosed by Oldive, the Masterhealer, who prescribes a salve for her feet and a series of exercises to bring her hand — weakened following an injury becoming infected — back to its original strength.
Following this, Silvina shows Menolly to the cot where the girls attending the Harper Hall are housed, before sending her to Master Jerint, the instrument maker, where she chooses a gitar to practise on — and plays in front of Master Domick, the composition master, whose manner makes Menolly lose confidence — before heading to the Dining Hall, where she befriends Piemur, an apprentice.
After eating, Menolly is approached by Master Morshal, the musical theory master, who quizzes her with question after question, each of which she answers successfully, before asking her to play several songs, the last of which Menolly is unable to play due to the injury to her hand. Morshal dismisses her, inadvertently revealing he disapproves of the idea of a female harper. Piemur arrives to take Menolly to Master Shonagar, the voice master, who criticises the way Petiron taught her, but notes she can sing.
In the afternoon, Piemur joins Menolly and Camo in feeding her fire lizards, before they head into the Dining Hall where he tells Menolly to sit at the girls' table, where she meets the others staying at the cot — unlike Menolly, none of them are apprentices — before Piemur guides her back to the cot so she can rest.
The next day, Menolly wakes to find Dunca, the owner of the cot, angry with her — not only because Menolly didn't check in with her the night before, but also because she dislikes Menolly's fire lizards. To escape Dunca, Menolly heads to the Harper Hall, where a journeyman sends her to practise musical scales with Journeyman Talmor and the other girls — who she plays better than. Sebell arrives, and reveals that Menolly was supposed to meet with Master Domick, and that Dunca claimed to have informed her. Sebell and Menolly head to the Dining Hall, where Master Domick angrily asks where Menolly was, causing Menolly's fire lizards to fly at him. The girls in the Dining Hall panic, and one of them, Audiva, informs Domick that Dunca didn't tell Menolly to meet him.
Some time later, Menolly returns to Dunca's cot to fetch the pipes she made while hiding in the Nerat cave — so that Master Jerint can examine them — only to overhear Pona, one of the girls, angrily stating to the others that Menolly doesn't belong with them. Menolly is unwilling to enter the cot, but her fire lizards help by retrieving the pipes for her, allowing Menolly to proceed to Master Jerint's class — and later to Master Shonagar's, before heading to the Dining Hall, where Robinton informs her she has accomplished much.
The next day, Dunca tells Menolly off for improperly washing her clothes, before Menolly heads to the Harper Hall and meets with Master Domick, who wants her to play an unfamiliar tune along with Talmor and Sebell. Menolly surprises them by playing it well — Talmor tells her that the tune was written by Domick, and most people have trouble with his music. Threadfall has begun over the Harper Hall by the time they decide to stop and head to the Dining Hall, where the harpers decide to sing the Alarm Chorus and "The Ballad of Moreta's Ride" — which the fire lizards sing along with. Afterwards, Silvina approaches Menolly to inform her that Dunca complained to her about her clothing — which Silvina helps her replace. Silvina reveals she is aware of Dunca and Pona's dislike of Menolly, and tells her that she will house Menolly in the Harper Hall itself, before Piemur arrives to take her to Master Shonagar.
That night, Menolly is woken by the restlessness of her fire-lizards — shared by the Hall watch-wher and the watch-dragon at Fort Hold, who takes flight — and a monstrous image appears in her mind, along with the words: «Don't leave me alone», which she calls out. The inhabitants of the Harper Hall wake and rush to see what the disturbance was, Robinton briefly checking in on Menolly before he is summoned to Fort Hold, where Lord Groghe has had a similar nightmare. The next day, Silvina informs Menolly what the disturbance was: F'nor attempted to travel to the Red Star, and fire lizard and dragon alike was panicked by this — sharing their fear with those bonded to them.
Since no classes are planned for the day, Menolly waits in Robinton's apartments where she starts writing a song based on the events of the night. Her fire lizards sing along with her, but continue singing even after she stops, causing Menolly realises that they are singing to the hatching fire lizard eggs. Robinton and Sebell rush to the eggs — joined by Lord Groghe, summoned by his fire lizard Merga — where they Impress a bronze (Zair) and a gold (Kimi), respectively. As Lord Groghe leaves, he requests Menolly help him train Merga and casually remarks that she's «not what he expected». When Menolly asks Silvina about this, Silvina reveals that people have been spreading rumours about her — Menolly suspects Dunca or Pona are responsible.
The next day, Menolly helps Robinton and Sebell feed their hungry fire lizards. It is revealed that there is to be a gather at Fort Hold, so Robinton gives Menolly several Marks and tells her to attend it — and also to continue writing her song afterwards. Piemur joins her — first selling the instruments constructed by his friends so that they all have enough Marks for the Gather -and the two initially buy a number of bubbly pies before they head over to a tanner's stall to buy a belt. Pona and the other girls arrive as Menolly chooses one, and Pona insults Menolly, accusing her of stealing the Marks she has. Menolly claims insult, and a fight breaks out when Pona's escort Benis and Piemur start arguing — made worse when Menolly's fire lizards and Camo arrive in a panic and blindly start attacking people.
Robinton arrives and breaks up the fight, demanding an explanation. Pona claims Menolly tripped her and set her fire lizards on her, and Robinton asks the other girls to escort her to Dunca, also sending Benis and his companions away, and getting a Journeyman, Brudegan, to escort Camo back to the Harper Hall. The tanner and Audiva — who tried to stop the fight — confirm Menolly and Piemur's story, and Robinton ensures Lord Groghe doesn't find out about the fight by distracting him when he arrives with an offer of Benden wine. Menolly is invited to join Lord Groghe at the tables, and they talk about his fire lizard before a dance begins in the square, which Menolly joins — first singing along with the harpers, and later dancing.
In the morning, Menolly goes to Master Arnor, the archive master, to obtain supplies to write her song on, before heading to Master Domick to continue practising with the others. When she heads to the Dining Hall, Menolly is told by Piemur that Pona has been sent away from the Harper Hall for her actions. When one of Pona's friends reveal that she was the favourite grandchild of Lord Sangel of Southern Boll Hold, Menolly fears he will seek retribution against her, although the others reassure her he will not be able to.
Menolly later goes to Master Shonagar — who angrily berates her for singing in public when he has not finished teaching her — before she returns to her rooms, where she meets Audiva — who wants to escape the mood in Dunca's cot. The two become fast friends, and Menolly begins helping her with her musical education.
After the following days classes, four dragonriders arrive at the Harper Hall — as Piemur informs Menolly, the new Journeymen and Masters will be chosen, and the dragonriders are here to deliver them to the Holds they will work at. At the Dining Hall, Robinton announces the new Journeymen, and reveals that Menolly is to be made a Journeyman too.