I really like that Baen has been reprinting Andre Norton’s works (though there are times when I wonder why they chose the novels they did to combine into each of the omnibuses). This would almost be one of those times, except that I can kind of see the logic since both novels deal with adults (or near adults) who are responsible for the welfare of children in a dangerous situation. Dark Companion is the omnibus edition of Dark Piper and Dread Companion. This is my first time reading both of these books because I generally kept to her Witch World novels with only occasional forays into her science fiction.
Dark Piper is narrated by one of a handful of survivors of a research colony on a planet called Beltane. A war has recently ended and the inhabitants of the planet are anticipating peace–what they get instead are an influx of refugees, some of whom may have turned to piracy. The “Dark Piper” of the title is a retired soldier named Griss Lugard who has settled down in an abandoned government military installation. He tries to warn the colony’s ruling council about taking in refugees. His warnings are ignored.
The survivors are a group of teens and younger children who belong to the “Rovers” which is this planet’s equivalent to the Boy or Girl Scouts. Griss invited these kids to explore some caves near his hold with the idea that the caves would make a good bomb shelter just in case the refugees turn out to be pirates. He turns out to be quite correct about the situation with the refugees, but the resulting explosions create a panic with the kids–Griss dies trying to keep everyone alive and the kids are left alone on the Planet of Dr. Moreau.
The scientists on the planet had been experimenting with mutant animals, some of whom would be used by the military. These are very smart mutant animals and once the refugees accidentally killed themselves and most of the colony while using a weaponised disease, the mutants decided to take over. The book ends with a kind of uneasy truce, and the narrator telling us someone else will be continuing the story.
I liked this book, though it is probably one of the more grim novels by Norton.
In Dread Companion, a young woman named Kilda c’Rhyn with no options available to her (she is a girl so her options are very, very limited) decides to take a job as a governess. One of the kids is a fairly normal little boy named Oomark, the other is a very odd little girl named Bartare who has an “invisible friend.” When various strange things happen, Kilda realizes that Bartare might be an esper. Unfortunately, she is not able to warn anyone or arrange for the kid to visit a parapsychologist because Bartare already owns all of Kilda’s bases.
During a hiking trip, Bartare heads off into the woods with Oomark in tow. Kilda is not able to call attention to the disappearance of the children or ask for help. Since the kids are her responsibility, she chases after them. It turns out that Bartare is a changeling and she is trying to get into Faerie. Kilda is many hundreds of years past being “genre savvy” for Faerie and nearly ends up in more trouble than she knows what to deal with, but she is helped by someone else who stumbled into Faerie and is eventually able to rescue the children.
There was some imaginative use of faerie folklore here, made all the more alien and confusing given the character’s view point. What I liked the most is that despite how extremely dated a great deal of the setting is, Kilda manages to be a very strong willed and interesting character.