Blue-Eyed Bandit

The Midnight Moon

The Renegade's Heart

Lord of the Dark Sun by Stobie Piel
(Love Spell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52505-4
There are two ways to view Lord of the Dark Sun, the latest futuristic romance by Stobie Piel. If youíre looking for a meaningful piece of fantasy reminiscent of Sharon Shinn or Susan Grant, youíll be sorely disappointed. However, if you can be happy with brain candy that never rises above the level of Buck Rodgers, youíll enjoy the ride. Piel is an earnest but unfocused writer, but at her best she is enjoyable in a campy sort of way.

The novelís first 50 pages are its strongest. Ariana of Ravenwood finds herself held captive by a strange group of robot-like creatures called Automon. Along with a group of friends, she is dumped onto a strange, dark world where a group of primitive men await them. A large brute, the groupís leader, claims Ariana as his own, but a young, handsome man with kind eyes challenges him. After a fight to the death, the young man becomes the new leader and, eventually, Arianaís lover. Although they cannot communicate verbally, Ariana finds herself falling in love with her barbarian because of his kindness, courage and nobility. But in this cruel, dark world, the men are forced to mine a valuable source of fuel, and then massacred when they become old enough to rebel. Ariana and her lover try to escape, but he is forced to use himself as a decoy when the Automon come after them.

Heartsick, Ariana returns to her home world, but she and her barbarian lover are destined to meet again, years later. But will she recognize him when she sees him? What force drives him now? Will their love still bind them, or are the secrets that they both hold too numerous to overcome?

The first section of the novel has a certain thrill in a Planet of the Apes type of way. But the transformation of Arianaís lover from kind, non-verbal barbarian to a smooth-tongued, technologically savvy pirate named Damen doesnít ring true. As a barbarian prince, he had primitive appeal, but as Damen he seems like someone out of Central Stock Casting, Fantasy Hero Department.

Although weíre told that the beauteous Ariana is supposed to be brave and daring, her behavior leads to quite a different impression. Our heroine comes off as a delicate, sensitive flower who frequently needs rescuing. Her gentleness and compassion could have made her a interesting, fey heroine, but Piel confuses the issue by trying to convince the reader that she is a Susan Grant-type butt-kicking aviator, and she fools nobody.

After a promising start, the novel settles into mediocrity as Ariana and Damen reunite, make love, fight over whose secrets will be revealed, and gradually work their way towards uncovering the secret of the force behind the Automon. There is much overblown dialogue, New Age mumbo-jumbo and purple prose. The final revelation is disappointing and not worthy of the big build-up. Also, in the last third of the novel, too many characters from Pielís previous futuristics pop up and crowd out this storyís hero and heroine.

When Stobie Piel becomes too ambitious, her reach far exceeds her grasp and the novel falters. But as long as it maintains its cartoon serial fantasy tone, Lord of the Dark Sun is not a bad read. If you donít expect a great deal of consistency or logic, Pielís latest offers some mindless fun.

--Susan Scribner

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