Irene Radford, The Hidden Dragon (DAW, 2002)
(Stargods Series, Number One)

Just another dragon tale? Not! The Hidden Dragon is a light sci-fi story in which hi tech clashes with barbarism. It features three stereotypical Irish Catholic outlaw brothers who travel the galaxy in search of their long-lost sister, meanwhile smuggling whatever commodities will bring them the best price. Of course, their journey is made more complicated by the fact that they are being chased by the Inter-planetary Police.

The reader is put in mind of Star Wars as the brothers pull out all the stops to escape capture, throwing themselves and their precious ship into a chaotic space "jump" that lands them on an uncharted planet with a great deal of damage and no way of repairing it.

The O'Hara brothers, sons of an absent but classically domineering Irish matriarch, are under orders to find their missing sister Katie, or don't bother coming home. Of course, as the men are forced to address their own survival, the matter of their sister takes a back seat. And here the story begins. These entertaining young men, Loki, Konner and Kim, are each endowed with some telepathic gift, and find their talents enhanced on this new planet. When a young native woman happens upon them, Kim, the youngest of the three, has a vision that leads the trio to accompany Hestiia back to her village.

Hestiia is a huntress in a society where women, once strong and respected, have recently been reduced to positions of servitude and even casualty in human sacrifice. Behind these changes is the High Priest, Hanassa, who, by means of his mysterious magical powers and threats of a dragon god, holds his village in thrall. Of course, our heroes just can't resist getting involved, and during a showdown that ends with a knife in Hanassa's back, Hestiia, standing up to her father and the whole tribe, states "I am mate and partner to all three of the Gods who came to us from the sky." This, of course, leaves the O'Hara brothers completely at a loss.

But yes, lurking about has been Ianthe, a magical dragon who has the answers that the brothers seek. He is also able to solve the mystery of Hanassa (who, by the way, is still alive and well, waiting to take his revenge out on these interlopers). Ianthe takes the trio to a burned-out volcano where the truth lies hidden....

Overall, The Hidden Dragon is not a bad read. Despite the anachronistic use of 20th century cultural references, such as the very Irish Catholic background of the three heros and the way it seems at odds with the post-apocalyptic culture of the story setting, the book is original. The cheezy dialogue, such as Hanassa's announcement, "Now you shall burn for your crimes against me!" offers a comedic quality.

[Kate Brown]

Irene Radford has a Web site here.