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Beast Master's Circus by Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie

1/12/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Beast Master’s Circus in the USA - or Buy Beast Master’s Circus in the UK

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pub: TOR. 301 page small hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $34.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-30042-7).

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There are a number of ‘Beast Master’ books but this is the first one I have read. I was a fan of Andre Norton’s fiction in youth and particularly remember ‘Steel Magic’, ‘Fur Magic’ and ‘Octagon Magic’ which now cost vast sums on the Internet. Although this book is credited to the late lamented prolific author and her name comes first on the title page, it was written by Lyn McConchie. Andre Norton co-wrote the outline, apparently. Lyn McConchie has done a good job of turning the plot into a very readable book.

The background of the ‘Beast Master’ series is this: The Xik, an alien race, destroyed Earth. The Corps of Beast Masters and their telepathically linked animal chums now guard Earth’s colony worlds against the dreaded Xik and other threats. The galaxy has many populated worlds and trade ships ply the routes between them. However, the worlds seem to be autonomous with different legal systems and some are more unpleasant than others. The war with the Xik left many refugees who are often stuck in camps. Some get out by becoming bonded servants to employers who may or may not be scrupulous and kind.

Laris, our heroine, is a bonded servant to Dedran who runs a circus and uses her to perform with the animals, a task for which she has a knack. Laris is an orphan and does not know who her parents were but there are indubitably Beast Master genes in her lineage. She establishes a telepathic link with Prau, a large cat-like creature, and they become friends. She soon realizes that Dedran and his assistant Cregar are actually working for the Thieves Guild and the circus is merely a cover to enable them to travel from world to world with animals. Their real job is to steal the clever beasts that belong to old members of the Beast Master Corps as the Guild wants them for some nefarious purpose. Unfortunately for them, the beasts tend to pine away and die when separated from their beloved masters.

Laris has little choice but to go along with their schemes but, when the circus goes to the planet Arzor and Dedran uses her to spy on Beast Masters Hosteen and Tani Storm and family, she gets restless. The family treat her well and she has to betray them. Can she change her life? Can she get free of Dedran and the circus while still keeping her beloved Prau? Will she go to jail for the criminal acts she has already committed as bonded servant to the evil circus owner? Will she find true love?

The story rolls along nicely and comes without too much fuss to a conclusion that is rather too predictable. It passes the time well enough and is quite pleasant in an easy, undemanding way, like a Randolph Scott western on a rainy Sunday afternoon. A good read, a cosy ride, moderately recommended in a three star kind of way.

Eamonn Murphy

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