The Gandalara Cycle, by Randall Garrett & Vicki Ann Heydron * * * * *
1. The Steel of Raithskar 3/18/2011
2. The Glass of Dyskornis 3/24/2011
3. The Bronze of Eddarta 3/27/2011
4. The Well of Darkness 4/4/2011
5. The Search for Ka 4/10/2011
6. Return to Eddarta 4/14/2011
7. The River Wall 4/26/2011
The Gandalara Cycle was originally published between 1983 and 1986 (as far as I can tell). I actually remember seeing them on the shelves of one of my local bookstores in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and wanting to read them but not being able to afford them.
Shortly after that they seemed to have disappeared. Occasionally I would see part of the set in a used book store, but never a whole set. Then one day a few months ago, my mother dropped off a sack of used books that she had been given and that she was going to use as trade-ins, but she decided to let me paw through them first to see if there was anything I wanted to read. Most of them I'd either already read or had no desire to read, but suddenly, at the bottom of the last bag, I hit the jackpot! The entire set of The Gandalara Cycle!!!
Ok - not really. It wasn't the entire set. It was missing books 1 & 2, but other than that, the entire set!! I easily found books 1 & 2 at a local used book store (Powell's - have you heard of it?), and quickly found myself sinking into luxurious, old-fashioned, science-fiction-y goodness!
There's a certain "feel" (for lack of a better word) that you tend to find in older Sci-Fi, especially from the 1980's, that you just don't find in newer works. At least that's how it feels to me - maybe that's just because that's when I first discovered Sci-Fi and Fantasy and the "feeling" is all in my head. But whatever, these books have them. They're kinda like "cozy mysteries" only this is "cozy Sci-Fi" if that makes any sense?
In the first book, The Steel of Raithskar, we are introduced to the elderly Ricardo, who is enjoying a Mediterranean cruise. He has recently found out that he doesn't have long to live, and has decided to spend his remaining time enjoying life as he never has in the past, as he's always been too busy being a workaholic to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. It's late in the evening, and he's walking on deck with a beautiful women he's just met, and they are enjoying the views of the moonlight on the water. Suddenly they realize that an extremely bright light is hurtling directly at them from the sky. Ricardo realizes they only have seconds to live, and closes his eyes in regret, holding Antonia close to his side. Several moments later he opens his eyes to find himself, alone, in the middle of a desert, in a young and muscular body, wearing strange clothing and lying on the ground next to a dead man. Ricardo is wounded himself, and his memories are fuzzy, but he begins walking towards the distant mountains to try to find help.
The first book then, is all about discovery, as he soon realizes that he is in someone else's body, and that someone wasn't always a very nice person. He learns that he has a telepathic link with a enormous cat that is nearly the size of horse, and that he may be involved in the theft of a rare and priceless gem, the Ra'ira, which belongs to his home city of Raithskar, and that his father (or the father of the body he's currently inhabiting) is also suspected of the crime. It takes him some time to get used to the strange people and relationships in this brand new world he finds himself in, but he decides to try to make things better and clear his family's name by tracking down the real thieves.
As the series continues, he travels quite a bit, makes new friends and more than a few enemies, learning more about the situation he has found himself thrust into, until the final book in the series, The River Wall, very neatly and pleasantly brings all the loose threads together and wraps them all up nicely. I was intrigued when he discovers where Gandalara actually is, and at how devoutly he was willing to follow what he had determined to be his destiny, and how hard he worked to be worthy of this second chance at life. With his previous life experience and 60 plus years of wisdom, he is able to avoid many of the traps and pitfalls that most young men would normally make when they are in their 20's, although it doesn't make him totally immune, and he still makes mistakes. But it's how he handles those mistakes and tries to make things right, that makes Ricardo, or Ricardon as he becomes known, such a great character.
The individual books in the series are all fairly short, which allows for quick easy reading. Shocking twists and turns make for pleasant surprises along the way as we follow his adventures. I gave the individual books mostly 3 & 4 stars, but I'm giving the series as a whole 5 stars, as the whole is greater than the sum of its' parts! I hope that you someday have a chance to try this series, and that you enjoy it as much as I did!