Laris is a young woman with the Beast Master talent who lives on the planet Arzor. When she was younger, she was the prisoner of a circus run by a cruel man named Dedran, who coerced both her and her pet Prauo into theft and industrial espionage. But now Dedran is deceased and she and Prauo no longer have to live that way. Instead, they live with Bruce Quade, the father of the beastmaster Hosteen Storm and his half-brother, Logan.
And now that Storm has married his wife, Tani, another Beastmaster, he and she have a ranch of their own, where they live with their teams, and Logan and Laris live with Bruce Quade and Prauo. Prauo is unlike most other beast-master team animals, because unlike the animals, he isn't just an empath, but a true telepath. But no one knows where he comes from. Laris found him abandoned on a world named Fremlyn, just tossed in a can like another piece of trash. But somehow, even then, he was able to reach out with his mind and touch hers.
Just like Prauo, Laris isn't sure where she came from. but unlike Laris, Prauo and Laris both want to find out where Prauo came from so that they could possibly reunite him with his people. But it's been so long since Laris found him, and with so many worlds decimated by the alien Xik, how could they possibly track down where he might have come from?
Yet, when Laris recieves as her inheritance an old Garand space ship from the man who had been her father, she is determined to use it to track down where Prauo came from and find his people. The others she lives with agree to help her, and prepare for the arrival of the ship while Vedris, a friend of the family who is also a researcher, looks for information on anything to do with Prauo and a spacer who landed on Fremlyn. And she hits pay dirt, a man who had a friend, also a spacer, who thought he was going crazy after he picked up a small, alien cat-like being. As Vedris pumps him for information, Brad Quade tracks down information on the company the spacer worked for and where their records might be now.
With some work, they have an area of space to search. But the Space Patrol have a reason to be interested in this mission and the possibility that there might be an intelligent cat-like race of aliens that they could make contact with and trade with, so with the assistance of the Patrol, they and a patrol ship take off on the search- with the knowledge that the ship that discovered Prauo's world is still out there, having gone into hiding shortly after war with the Xik was declared. The Patrol suspects that the crew wanted to set themselves up as total rulers on a world of backwards colonists, with their higher technology and tremendous food resources, and are out there to find both worlds. Prauo's and the taken-over world. but in case Laris and company find Prauo's world first, they make Storm and Tani Ambassadors Pro Tem- able to negotiate trade contacts and whatnot with any inhabitants they might find.
And then they are off. During their time on the ship, Storm keeps Laris, Prauo and Tani and his team busy training them in Beast team tactics and various games that teach skills she may need to know- tracking and hunting and spying. He also figures out that Prauo could also be a beastmaster and lead a team of his own, which starts Prauo thinking about what he would like to do in his life.
But when they finally find Prauo's world, they are met with suspicion and even hatred from the natives, who seem to think that a human bonding with animals is a horrible abomination. Laris's bond also bothers them, but in a different way- and when Logan nearly dies in an attack by a native Water Monster, Laris and her friends get the idea that the humanoids who bond with Prauo's people consider themselves the masters and the cat-like beings are the lesser in their relationship- which upsets Laris to no end, as Prauo is friend and brother in fur to her. But the others of Prauo's kind tell them to go south and meet with another of the humanoid aliens- one which might be more friendly to them.
They go, and indeed, the second set of aliens are much more welcoming. But when Prauo meets with his mother, he finds that the truth about his people and the reason why he was taken, are much more difficult to understand. Simply because the other aliens are more welcoming doesn't make them all-good, and there is conflict between this set of people and the ones they first encountered. But when Laris is kidnapped by one of the aliens they first met, the others uncover a horrifying secret that links both sets of aliens, and explains more about why the two groups are at such odds. But can Laris and her friends find a way to reunite the separated peoples and help them heal their fractured society before the Patrol arrives and prevents them from doing so out of reasons of not interfering with the development of alien races?
I've always loved Andre Norton, and even as she got older, I've loved her collaborations with other writers. But as we get further and further from the time of her death (2006), I have to wonder how much of what is published as a collaboration is truly her work- because Andre Norton novels have a distinct feel to them- alien races and alien peoples that truly do seem alien, with motivations that are sometimes as far from human as it is possible to get. This book has only really a hint of that- because Andre Norton was content to let alien motivations remain alien from human experience- like it or not, that's the way she wrote.
And while this culture does feel authentically alien in some Andre-Nortonish ways, it's also more explainable and understandable in strictly human ways- something that, had Andre Norton remained alive to work on this book, I think would have turned out very differently- her aliens would have been more inscrutably alien and less humanish, so I find very little, in the end, of Andre Norton in this work.
This isn't to say it's a bad story- but I got the feeling it's more a Lyn McConchie story than an Andre Norton story- far, far more. And Lyn McConchie is no Andre Norton. I've been reading Andre Norton ever since Voorloper came out when I was in High School, and as an Andre Norton novel, it's a very poor one. As for Lyn McConchie, well, I think that as a writer she's okay, but that a heroine of Andre Norton wouldn't have resorted to the way that Laris ends up talking one of the villains into letting her go.
I'll have to say that I was more than a bit disappointed in this book. It's only got a very small part of Andre Norton in it, and I miss the way she made all her books her own. I enjoyed her collaboration with Sherwood Smith for the newer Solar Queen novels, and even her other Beastmaster books, Beastmaster's Circus and Beastmaster's Ark, but this one needed more Andre Norton to carry her legacy and writing talents forward. I wish Lyn McConchie had been top-billed for this one, because anyone who has read vintage Andre Norton and reads this one will certainly see that this is the case. Not recommended.