Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stargate: SG-1- Trial by Fire by Sabine C. Bauer

It's Thanksgiving, and since all the other team members of SG-1 are off doing stuff, and with no family to go home to, Daniel Jackson decides to head to a national park to do a little Rogue Archaeology. But while he is there, he stumbles across something that he never expected to find: a Phoenician stela in the midst of a Native American site. And worse, it has the Stargate symbol for Earth, the Tau'ri, on it.

Daniel isn't an expert on the Phoenicians, but he knows someone who is: Siobahn Kelly, a graying Archaeologist who wants nothing to do with Daniel after he disgraced himself and his professional reputation by insisting that the ancient Egyptians had really been visited by Aliens in Ancient times. Of course, that belief led to the discovery of the Stargate, and to the entire mission of Stargate Command, but Daniel can't publish his real findings anytime soon, so his professional name is still tarnished with the image of a crackpot.

However the very British Miss Kelly isn't to be fobbed off with false explanations, and as soon as Daniel has copied the glyphs from the other stelae she has discovered in an Ancient Phoenician temple, he returns to SG-1 to find out where those coordinates lead. Kelly follows him with the consent of her own government, who decide to let Stargate Command sort it all out, and General Hammond reluctantly let her join their mission to the new world they have discovered, which for some reason, isn't in any catalogue of gate coordinates they have ever found.

The team finds that the world on the other side of the gate is known as Tyros, and the people who are descended from the Phoenicians on the other side of the gate believes that the team are servants of their God, Meleq, sent to help them with their problems. Someone, you see, is stealing their young children, and they believe that these people are Phrygians. The Phrygians are heretics who don't believe in Meleq, but they also cannot be found when the children are stolen away.

SG-1 finds all this out from Hamilqart, one of the priests of Meleq. He, his wife Ayezebel and his son Luli live together in the town, and Luliis to be a Chosen One of Meleq. He is also pleased with the presence of Teal'c, who he thinks of not as a Jaffa, but as a "spirit" of Meleq. He has been taught all his life that the gate is a passageway to the Realm of Meleq and therefore, anyone who comes through a gate must be from Meleq.

At first, the team is concerned that Meleq might be a Goa'uld, but no one, not even Teal'c, can recall a Goa'uld with a Phoenician God's name, so that seems to be the High Priest and Council's way of enforcing order. But when Luli and the other children of age are taken away to the temple to begin their initiation into the rites of Meleq, O'Neill decides to slip out and find out what is really going on. Nor is he alone- Siobahn Kelly, whose peppery personality hasn't exactly endeared herself to the team- especially O'Neill, is extremely curious about these rites and decides to go mufti and do a little snooping of her own

But the temple is raided under the cover of darkness by the Phoenicians and both of them are captured. The men get Professor Kelly to give up and go with them by threatening to kill O'Neill unless she surrenders, and she reluctantly does so. They are taken by sea to another island, with O'Neill suffering the indignity of seasickness en route, and discovers that while the men might be sailors, they are actually Roman.

Once on the island, O'Neill gets into a fight with one of the men, knocking the man out, then suffering the same himself. When he's only half-conscious, he's drugged, and Professor Kelly finds her hearing O'Neill's nightmares of being tortured by the System Lord Baal, which both disturbs her and makes her feel some sympathy for him. The next day, he is taken to the leader of the group of raiders and find that they worship Ahura-Mazda, and they know that Meleq is actually a Goa'uld and evil. They are trying to rescue the children and let them grow up free and happy, away from the religion that worships who they see as Ahriman, the most evil one.

Meanwhile, Samantha Carter asks General Hammond's permission to send out a flying scout machine to see where the attackers took O'Neill and Professor Kelly, and then lead a party of natives to rescue them. She gets this permission, and convinces the natives to let her lead it when most of them think a woman cannot do anything. But the native priests have their own ideas about what they will be doing, and it's not negotiating the release of O'Neill, Kelly, and the children. They want to run in and cut them all down to prevent any future problems. But Hamilqart has a secret. His wife, Ayzebel, is actually a heretic who Hamilqart rescued from a village that was supposed to be wiped out. He found her too beautiful to kill, so he hid her and pretended she came from a different village when he married her.

The village no longer believed in the God Meleq or in his benevolence, and the "Phoenicians" had told them tales to make them believe this. She still believes it today, which was why she felt pain that her son was a Chosen One. And it was she who notified the raiders that the children would be in the temple, as well as telling them of a secret entrance and exit. She doesn't want her son to serve the God. Hamilqart asks the SG-1 Team not to blab his secret around, and they agree, but they also feel that something isn't quite sitting right about these stories about Meleq.

Back on the island, the Romans know that the Phoenicians are coming, and they hide the women and children, then go out to fight the priests and parents who have come along for the fight to get back their children. O'Neill, who has been initiated into the cult of Ahura Mazda (once he found out that Meleq was a Goa'uld, he agreed) goes with them to fight, and hopefully to prevent the sides from killing each other.

There's a big fight, but one of the sides of the canyon wall collapses, killing many of the Romans and even catching Sam Carter and Teal'c in its path, but Sam and Teal'c escape with only minor injuries. Due to this, the Romans are persuaded by Sam and O'Neill to surrender, and the priests round them all up and take them back to Tyros Island. But since O'Neill fought on the side of the Romans, he is imprisoned for a "cleansing" by Meleq. Now having heard the Roman's side, SG-1 does some snooping in the temple, with the help of Ayzebel, and Daniel realizes that Meleq isn't really who he says he is. He is actually Moloch, a god who delighted in children being burned to death in the altar statue, a hollow bronze bull that is heated by lava.

Worse, Moloch is actually another Goa'uld with a far better known name- Baal, the Goa'uld who had imprisoned and tortured O'Neill. And once O'Neill finds that out, he's eager to take the false God on.

Even worse than that, Baal/Moloch is also posing as Ahura Mazda. He set this whole world up so that it would constantly be rocked by religious strife and bloodshed for his own amusement. And neither side seems to realize this and certain of the participants don't want it to end. But how can SG-1 and the villagers, with only primitive weapons, take on an alien with the power of a God and the technology built into the temple? And will SG-1 be able to kill Baal so dead that even a sarcophagus won't be able to resurrect him? Because that's what O'Neill wants, and he won't settle for any less.

I really enjoyed this book. There were a lot of stories written for the Stargate series in the US, but these books are from England, and printed by an English company. Only one of the eight stories from there had also been published in the US ("Sacrifice Moon"), so I was glad to see these turn up in the donations at my library. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the stories, even if fan-written, are just as good as the licensed American stories already available here.

And this story actually managed to surprise me with a twist I didn't see coming.(that Meleq was actually based on Moloch), mainly because the Phoenician Gods are pretty much a mystery to most people. But the characters are right on target, character-wise, and dialogue-wise as well. I mean, even though the name of the publishing house is "Fandemonium", don't let that turn you off. There are a lot of really bad fan-written stories out there, but these are excellent, even if they are fanfiction. And I'm not sure that they are, I'm merely making a guess based on the name of the publishing house.

This story is excellent, and all the characters, even the original characters like Siobahn Kelly, are well done. She is something of a stereotype, but transcends the stereotype through the course of the story, and her interaction with O'Neill evoked some real laughter on my part. Her stereotype involves the "Stiff upper lip British gentlewoman" with a fondness for calling people "Duckie". And if her character pokes gentle fun at British people, well she still comes off sympathetic, and the ending made me smile. Well done!

I recommend this book wholeheartedly for anyone who loved the classic Stargate SG-1 lineup and humor. O'Neill is at his snarky best, and his grinding his teeth when Professor Kelly blithely ignored him, or treated him like a slightly dim package of testosterone, made me laugh, because I could just see it happening. In the end, they both come out of it with an appreciation of each other as professionals that was oddly sweet. Highly recommended.

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