The Beast Master, and Lord of Thunder, by Andre Norton

Long long ago, I think even when I was in primary school (so, more than forty years ago), I read The Beast Master, and it stuck with me. Not quite so long ago, I got it and its sequel, Lord of Thunder, in a single volume, Beast Master’s Planet. Both concern a future galaxy where Earth has been destroyed in the final act of a war with the alien Xik, and our protagonist, Hosteen Storm, is (as far as he knows) the only survivor of the Navajo. He is an ex-soldier, trained to have a psychic link with his animal conpanions – two meerkats, an eagle and a big tiger-like cat, and he is sent to the planet of Arzor to earn his living as a civilian.

Arzor turns out to be a sparsely settled planet whose main industry appears to be the ranching of the cattle-like frawns, carried out by human settlers in negotiation with the indigenous Norbies, who have a complex tribal structure and totem-based religion. Hosteen Storm becomes a horse wrangler. It’s basically the Old West in space, although nobody ever says that, with Storm set up as uniquely placed to bridge the communication gap between humans and natives. Basically he is a Magical Indian.

It’s also worth noting that there isn’t a single female speaking character in either book. Storm’s mother is mentioned in passing, but she is dead. The Norbies seem to be all male. Storm’s animals are female, which is interesting.

The Beast Master

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Call in that eagle of yours,too, if you can, Storm. You’re makin’ a big impression and that can be good for us—”

Still, the first book reminded me of the magic it exerted on my mind in a Belfast classroom long ago. (I think I may have even written a book report on it.) I appreciated then the tragic burden carried by Storm as the last of his tribe, charged by his grandfather with maintaining a family vendetta (which drives a lot of the narrative) but then also caught up in both a Xik plot against the humans and the discovery of lost ancient alien tech under the mountains. The tone of the book is detached, measured and firm. The flaws are still there, but the fact is that this was an sf book featuring a Navajo protagonist at a time (1959) when the future was mainly seen as white.

Lord of Thunder

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“What had he done?” Brad Quade asked.

The sequel has some string similarities to the first book (more alien tech under the mountains) but features an arrogant rich offworlder demanding that Storm penetrate dangerous Norbie territory in order to find his lost son. There’s a strong message that messing with the aliens is best left to the experts like Storm and his new family the Quades. The offworlder disregards Storm’s advice, with disastrous consequences all round which Storm has to try and put right, providing more exciting adventure. But I was not really satisfied with the end of the story, which introduced new hither-to unmentioned dangers, and then wrapped everything up rather quickly. I would not recommend it as strongly as the first volume.

Still, bearing in mind that both are books of their time, they are good reads. You can get the omnibus here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2011. Next on that list is Baptism in Blood, by Jane Haddam.

One thought on “The Beast Master, and Lord of Thunder, by Andre Norton

  1. I don’t care about football or statistics and never heard of Lionel Messi until this post, but that was really cool anyway! I like impossible people. 🙂

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