The collection of awesome Stargate books available for fans just keeps growing! One of the latest in the SG-1 collection, The Drift, is the sequel to Four Dragons, both written by Diana Dru Botsford. Since reading The Drift I realized that I have some reviews to catch up on!
Four Dragons takes place shortly after ‘Orpheus’ in the early part of the 7th Season. The story hinges largely on this because everyone is trying to wrap their head around the fact Daniel Jackson is back, and he can’t remember much about where he’s been or what he was doing for the year he was “dead.” This is especially difficult for Daniel and Colonel Jack O’Neill. Aside from Daniel’s frustrations at his loss of memory and Jack’s carefully hidden joy that Daniel is back, we don’t really see how Daniel’s Ascension and return effected their friendship and working relationship in the series. Thanks to Botsford, we get to see the toll it took, and what it took to overcome it.
WARNING! The following includes some plot summary, but nothing that would spoil the story. If you’d rather not read any details, skip down to the bottom for my rating of the book. If you want to know more about what this book is about, please continue!
Interestingly, it is the breakdown in Daniel and Jack’s friendship that leads directly to the events of the novel. After the events of ‘Fallen,’ ‘Homecoming,’ and ‘Orpheus,’ Daniel is feeling a little confused about his ability to be an effective member of SG-1. However, he feels his ability to wield a gun and protect himself and his teammates is adequate. Jack thinks otherwise. He is angry with Daniel for being a scholar rather than a warrior, for being selfless to the point of putting himself in mortal danger time and time again, and most importantly, he is angry because Daniel died and left them behind. Of course he can’t just explain this to Daniel, calmly and rationally. That’s not the O’Neill way! Instead Jack decides to be a complete jerk and drill Daniel in soldier skills until he breaks down Daniel’s usually considerable tolerance. Daniel stomps off into the Chinese ruins of P3Y-702 . . . where he is snatched up by Lord Yu Huang Shang-Ti.
Because of ‘Homecoming,’ fans know that by this time Lord Yu is a few french fries short of a Happy Meal. However, because of Season 3’s ‘Fair Game’ and Season 5’s ‘Summit’ and ‘Last Stand,’ we also know what Lord Yu can be fair, reasonable, and the least threatening of the many and sundry Goau’ld System Lords. He is less interested in dominating humans, and far less interested in hurting Earth. The fact that he’s senile with age is perhaps what makes him dangerous because he’s completely unpredictable. His logic is his own special brand, and if you can’t keep up with it, he can simply kill you. Daniel learns this the interesting way when he’s plunked down next to a Weiqi board (a strategy game more commonly known today as Go!) and told to play against Yu or die. Or maybe it was lose and die? Then again, beating Yu could mean death too. Daniel not only has to learn the game as he goes, but also try to understand Yu’s motivation without setting off his considerable temper. The results of Daniel’s careful coaxing will surprise you.
Meanwhile the SGC is caught up in the political aftermath of the relatively recent ‘Disclosure’ of the Stargate Program to several of the most powerful nations on the planet. Of course China is the one causing all the headaches. SG-1 knows that Daniel was grabbed by Lord Yu, and when word gets to the new Chinese Ambassador, Huang, he comes to the SGC and delivers an impossible ultimatum. If China’s first Emperor, the Great Yu Huang Shang-Ti, or any of his subjects are mortally harmed, China will disclose the Stargate program to the public. Tok’ra intel provided by Jacob Carter suggests that Daniel has been taken to Yu’s fortress on his home world Not only is the palace heavily fortified with some new sort of force field powered by photonic energy, but it boasts a huge garrison of Jaffa. Going in without lethal force will be impossible at best, suicide at worst.
I know what you’re thinking. How would Huang know if SG-1 breaks the agreement and kills someone? Here’s another shocker. The pain in the mik’ta Ambassador comes complete with two fist-sized long-range Goa’uld communication balls, so he can watch their every move. One step out of line and the SGC will be exposed and likely handed to Robert Kinsey and the NID on a silver platter. Of course this raises a whole new question: Where the heck did the com balls come from? It comes down to Jacob, General George Hammond, and Doctor Janet Fraiser to solve that mystery, but will they do it in time to save the mission?
Four Dragons does an excellent job of making use of all of our favorite re-occurring characters. Unlike most novels that can focus in on SG-1 almost to the exclusion of everyone else, Botsford leaves no stone unturned. As mentioned, Jacob and Selmac come running at the SGC’s call for help. General Hammond and Major Paul Davis are present to tackle the political can of worms opened by China’s knowledge of the Stargate and the mission at hand. Doctor Fraiser is called in when Ambassador Huang’s motives and identity come into question. Lastly Bra’tac is eager to repay Daniel for saving him from a slow death in the naquadah mines of Erebus, and brings his wisdom and criticism to aid in the rescue mission. Unlike in Oceans of Dust, where it looked like Bra’tac’s involvement would be instrumental to the plot but he was woefully underutilized, each re-occuring character’s skill and personality is adequately and accurately used to enhance this complex mystery/action adventure story.
The story spends a good deal of time working from Jack and Daniel’s perspectives. Daniel has to learn how to think differently, to strategize in order to find a way out of his predicament Likewise Jack has to deal with some unusual obstacles the kind that Daniel would usually be most proficient at. It forces him to think differently as well, not that he would ever admit it to anyone, Daniel least of all.
The timeline of events is a tad confusing if you do not pay attention to what I would describe as time stamps. They detail the date, the location, and the status of the operation in progress. This story does not movie in a straight line. I suppose the best way to describe it is exactly how it’s labeled an Interlude. Don’t skip the time stamps and the story will flow very well, just as Botsford intended.
I have only one plot issue with this story. Botsford needed a reason to make Teal’c learn Morse Code. She could have devised any number of reasons to teach the code to Teal’c, including Jack’s boredom. Instead she threw canon out the window by awarding Teal’c an honorary rank of Chief Master Sergeant. Not only does she use Teal’c’s new roll in the US Air Force as a way to justify teaching him Morse Code, but it also comes up later in a much bigger way. Unfortunately Botsford either misinterpreted the Air Force regulations, made up a regulation to justify giving Teal’c a rank, or she did not consider the fact that the rule has not been enforced at the SGC on numerous occasions. Without spilling all the plot beans I can only say that for some reason Botsford felt that there was a rule that two officers must be present on a mission. When the plot forces one officer to step down and tempers flare the rule is quoted, followed by the fact that Teal’c is now a ranking officer. I could only shake my head and say, “No no no no no.” The series never quoted any such rule. As early as ‘Spirits’ in season 2, SG-1 went on a mission with then Captain Samantha Carter as the only USAF officer of the team. In season 8 Sam became the only officer of that team, and stayed so for the whole year. If you can ignore the author’s error it’s barely an issue, but if these things bug you the way they bug me, it will momentarily take the wind out of the sails of this story.
The level of research that went into developing the Chinese legends that drive this story is very impressive. While ancient Egypt is usually more my cup of tea I was fascinated by the cultural incite I gained just from reading Four Dragons. The story also tries to address a series old question: Which came first, the god or the Goa’uld? In other words, did the Goa’uld – in this case Lord Yu – influence human culture and make himself a deity, or did he assume the role of a god that humanity had already developed for themselves, unaided? In Lord Yu’s case, nothing is quite what it seems.
As I mentioned, Four Dragons is followed by the recently published novel, The Drift. While Four Dragons doesn’t exactly end with a cliffhanger, there are a multitude of unanswered questions. Who the heck is this Ambassador Huang and where did he get those Goa’uld communication balls? What is the story behind Yu’s Royal Guard? How did Yu acquire photonic energy technology? What is the significance of P4X-702 and the extensive Chinese ruins there? How will the SGC cope with the Chinese in the future? Finally, there’s the two elements that will tie both books together right from the very start: Jack’s old Zippo lighter, the one he gave to Skarra in the feature film and retrieved when Skarra Ascended in ‘Full Circle’, and the unexplained breezes he keeps feeling that remind him of certain “malfunction in the ventilation system”. Only Jack new better.
I highly recommend Four Dragons for your Stargate reading pleasure. It has everything you could want in a mystery/action adventure story. The characters are dead on, old friends return, and aside from one forced plot point, the story fits very nicely into the series canon. If you enjoy this story, you will get almost as much enjoyment out of it’s squeal Check back in the coming weeks for a review of The Drift.
You can get your copy of Four Dragons, and many more Stargate books at StargateNovels.com!