Eric Van Lustbader,
Mistress of the Pearl
(Tor, 2004)

I have been a fan of author Eric Van Lustbader since the 1980s. He has probably published two dozen novels (at least). The best revolve around the character Nicholas Linnear, first introduced in The Ninja. The most bizarre (in my opinion) are the fantasy-based Sunset Warrior series. Recently, Eric penned the latest Jason Bourne novel, The Bourne Legacy, a series brought to life by the late Robert Ludlum.

I have not kept up with Eric's writing in the last couple of years, so it was a pleasant surprise to find out he was releasing the third title in a series of sci-fi/fantasy books known as The Pearl Saga. Mistress of the Pearl is set on the world of Kundala. The inhabitants believe their world was created by the goddess Miina with the help of dragons. Over the eons, Kundalan society suppressed technological progress such that it would not override their spiritual connection with their religion. Kundala is a place where magic is an every day part of life. And dragons really do exist.

Contrast that to the spacefaring invading V'ornn. This race has eschewed religion in favor of the magic behind technology. The V'ornn are an aggressive race so immersed in technology that many of them are part machine. I was reminded of the Borg of Star Trek fame, except that the V'ornn have individual personalities versus a hive mentality. The V'ornn have been ruling Kundala for generations. Why the invasion? I don't know. That is not explained in this novel. I can only guess that they view themselves as conquerors of all they come across.

The indigenous inhabitants of the planet have a prophecy that a savior, the Dar Sala-at, will release them from their oppressors. This novel focuses on Riane, this messiah, whose female body also acts as host to the spirit of a V'ornn male of noble birth. Over the course of just under 600 pages, Eric will take you on a wild adventure as Kundala fights V'ornn and both sides also have their own civil wars of sorts.

I generally enjoy Eric Van Lustbader's writing style and this story was no exception. The author has a knack for writing fighting sequences that maintain your attention. Unfortunately, I did have some problems with this book. To begin with, since I jumped in to the saga with the third installment, I lacked a proper vocabulary to easily follow the plot. With words such as "Khagggun," "Stogggul," "Sarakkon," "Mesagggun," "Kalllistotos," "warrnixx" and the like, I wondered if Eric's keyboard kept getting stuck. I often felt like I was reading a novel in a foreign language in which I was only 80 percent fluent. Also, without the proper background, I was often confused about who was fighting who and why (even if I did enjoy the scenes). Furthermore, there was mention of another spacefaring race known as the Centophennni. I know they are mortal enemies of the V'ornn, but I am at a loss as to why they are mentioned throughout the book. Either they showed up in the first two novels (The Veil of a Thousand Tears and The Ring of Five Dragons) or this is some foreshadowing of what might be coming in future novels.

Eric Van Lustbader is a better novelist than most. He has the ability to switch between contemporary settings, science fiction, fantasy, spirituality and a combination thereof. Eric and his wife have lived on Long Island, New York, for a couple of decades. He has a degree in sociology and besides writing has had careers in elementary education and the music business (as a music critic). As far as Mistress of the Pearl is concerned, if you like his writing style, you will not be disappointed. However, I would start at the beginning of the saga. The dust jacket suggests that one can jump right in with book 3. I strongly disagree.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 4 December 2004

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