In "Star of Danger" we get to see one of the earlier works of Marion Zimmer Bradley. First published in 1965, it was the fourth Darkover novel written. The reason this is worth mentioning is that even thought it was only the fourth novel published in the series, it is the twelfth novel in chronological order, and if the "Clingfire Trilogy" is counted (which was mostly written by Deborah J Ross in the years after Bradley died), "Star of Danger" is the fifteenth novel in chronological order. It is in this order that I am experiencing the world of Darkover, from the earliest era of the planet through to the novels that take place deeper in the chronology. Bradley had not yet developed many of the ideas that would encompass the world of Darkover and she had not yet begun to truly tie these novels together. One theme that does remain strong throughout the entire series, including this novel has to do with the clash of cultures.
Larry Montray is a Terran youth who arrives on Darkover for the first time with his father Wade. For years, Larry has dreamt of traveling to distant planets and experiencing alien cultures, but when on Darkover he is not permitted to travel outside the Terran Zone. It is only through disobeying that he is able to maintain a friendship with a young Darkovan native named Kennard Alton. Kennard is a son of the powerful Alton clan on Darkover, a clan which holds much authority on the planet. Even though Larry is forbidden to leave the Terran Zone, he is invited by the Altons to spend several months with the family at their countryside estate. This is a huge opportunity for Terran Intelligence as the ruling class of Darkover is very restrictive regarding who is permitted to roam freely outside the Terran Zone. This is nearly unprecedented access. But to Larry, it is simply the fulfillment of a dream and a chance to spend time with a friend. It is also the beginning of an adventure that risks the lives of both Larry and Kennard, as well as the still tenuous relationship between Darkover and Terra.
Bradley uses this novel, as she does with most of the Darkover series, to explore a culture clash. In this case, it is Larry Montray who is out of his element. Larry is thrust into a situation where everything that he knows is alien to the life he is living on Darkover and he tries to fit in as best that he can. But, the difference of culture also causes conflict in his friendship with Kennard.
"Star of Danger" is a relatively short novel, coming in at just over 200 pages, but it is packed with action and adventure. So much so that one might thing this was geared towards a slightly younger reader, but the storytelling is such that any reader of fantasy can enjoy this book.
My only complaint about "Star of Danger" has to do with continuity, but because this book was written so many years before the rest of the series and Bradley has always been willing to sacrifice continuity if it would help telling a particular story. The continuity issue that I am referring to in this book has to do with Larry's father, Wade Montray. Wade is a minor character, and he did admit to having been on Darkover before, but the text suggests that Wade does not know nearly as much about Darkover as we see in the "Renunciate Trilogy". It is also surprising that Larry does not know about this, because I would have expected that he would have learned about his father and grandfather's role on Darkover. In particular, I would expect Larry to have known about his grandfather, who had a prominent role in the Terran government on Darkover. Again, since this was written years before the bulk of the series, and with Bradley's willingness to sacrifice continuity for the good of the story, this does not trouble me as much as it otherwise would, but since I am reading the series in chronological order it was a small distraction.
Overall, "Star of Danger" was a short, enjoyable reading experience. I have long been a fan of the Darkover series, which doesn't seem to get nearly as much attention as it should merit. This is good, but not great fantasy (and overlaps with science fiction at times). Most of the Darkover novels can stand alone, and this one certainly does, so it may be a good entrance point into the world of Darkover.