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The Ring of Five Dragons: The Pearl Book 1    by Eric Van Lustbader order for
Ring of Five Dragons
by Eric Van Lustbader
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the most complicated fantasy I have ever encountered, and I've waded through many complex stories. The Ring of Five Dragons is the first in The Pearl series. It combines fantasy and SF in a universe, in which the nomadic V'ornn conquer and discard worlds under the orders of Gyrgon 'technomages', whose motivations are obscure (but they do seem to be after the secrets to Kundalan magic and 'The Pearl'). Currently, the Kundala have suffered a century of the V'ornn's iron fists and brutal oppression.

The book opens on twin Kundalan sisters Giyan and Bartta, both Ramahan novices at the Abbey of Floating White. There they 'absorb the same lessons and arrive at different conclusions.' The lovely Giyan has the Gift of 'Osoru' sorcery, while her homely sister, consumed by envy, follows a darker path. Then Giyan is captured by the V'ornn and, in a Dune-like sequence, becomes the concubine of their relatively benign Regent Eleusis Ashera, and cares for his son Annon. When a coup topples and kills the father, Giyan flees with the son, using her magic to get them to her old home (this is a gross simplification, as there are many more players, races, and conflicting plots, including one amongst the Gyrgon themselves).

To save Annon's life, Giyan and Bartta transfer his soul to the body of a mysterious dying Kundalan girl, and he becomes Riane, whom they suspect to be 'the Dar Sala-at, the Chosen One of Miina, who would find The Pearl and use it to free the Kundalan from their bondage to the V'ornn.' The latter capture Giyan once more, and Riane is left to Bartta's not so tender mercies at the Abbey. The story continues with a maze of betrayals, bloodshed and brutality, as Riane slowly learns more of her role, and Giyan grows close to another V'ornn, a friend of her dead lover, named Rekkk. They end up allied with young Kundalan resistance fighter Eleana, whom Annon loved.

This episode ends with the good guys avenged on those who plotted against Annon's father, and with the winning of the Ring of Five Dragons at 'the dawn of a new day', one with hope for both Kundalan and V'ornn. Eric Van Lustbader has created a fantastic (though over-complex to my taste) universe, filled with races, agendas, and constant action - great fantasy if you can keep up with his storytelling.

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