However you know him -- Eric Lustbader, Eric V. Lustbader, Eric Van Lustbader -- you probably know him for suspense novels set in exotic locales (often Asian) and starring American he-men (often cops). But long and long ago, Lustbader wrote sf/f (remember The Sunset Warrior, anyone?) and, with The Ring of Five Dragons,the ambitious first novel in a projected series, he's returning to his spec-fic roots. With a whole lot of blood, betrayal, political maneuvering and violent sex, Lustbader makes a good-sized splash in an sf/f pond that's grown by leaps and bounds since he last dipped a toe in.
A nomadic spacefaring race called the V'ornn invaded the spiritual and relatively peaceful planet of Kundala a century ago. Since then, the Kundalan religion of Ramahan has faltered, apparently abandoned by its goddess, Miina. A pair of twin sisters dedicated to the priestesshood grow up to play penultimate but opposing roles in the Kundalan resistance to the V'ornn. Bartta, bitter and homely, rises to a leadership role among the Ramahan, twisting a new sorcery to realize her own ambitions. Giyan, beautiful and gifted with an ancient sorcerous ability, is kidnapped by the V'ornn leader and becomes his mistress.
When the regent Eleusis Ashera is murdered in a bloody coup, Giyan flees with her lover's son, Annon. Pursued by V'ornn warriors, the dead regent's heir dies -- but his spirit is channeled into the body of a comatose young woman in a dangerous forbidden ritual. This joining of V'ornn and Kundalan fulfills a Ramahan prophecy predicting the coming of a savior, the Dar Sala-at, who will preserve Kundala against the usurpers by using the long-missing Ring of Five Dragons.
The early pages introducing Lustbader's Kundala are rife with challenges for readers -- enough unexplained Kundalan and V'ornn words fill the dialogue to keep even the most dedicated sci-fi and fantasy readers' heads a-spinning. Things become clearer eventually. The interplay between technological advancement and spirituality calls to mind Frank Herbert's Dune society, while the strict caste hierarchy of the V'ornn is reminiscent of the Hindu culture. The highest V'ornn caste, the Gyrgon, are possessed of an overweening desire for knowledge and truth that might be the only way the Kundalan resistance can overcome their oppressors. Nothing too revolutionary overall in The Ring of Five Dragons, but high fantasy/quest lovers should like it just fine.