Last published in the series that started with the short story “The Animal-Cracker Plot” in 1949. The first novel was “Rogue Queen” in 1951. He refers to this one as a semisequel to 1988’s “The Stones Of Nomuru” co-written with his wife Catherine Crook de Camp. It’s set on the same world but many years later and with a different cast of characters.
It’s not very gripping or all that interesting. It even has a bit with the tired old character of an alien philosopher who matter of factly rattles off all the mistakes Terrans have made. The overall storyline mostly lays there. If there’s a saving grace it’s the humor injected with a strong female character who leads a cult.
Kirk Salazar is a biologist on the planet Kukulcan. At least that’s what the earth people call it. He’s doing his thesis on how a breed of small animals survive the poison spewed by the venom trees on the island of Sunga. Since he’s low on funds he has to travel with a group of bird watchers from Earth.
Causing problems is the Reverend Dumphries and his cohort George Cantemir. They’re behind an effort by an Earth corporation that wants to cut down all the trees in the mountains. Kirk does have some fun with Alexia Ritter. Her parents are horrified that she leads a clothing optional cult that live in the woods. Their last leader was dumped into a volcano. She makes Kirk grow up and he digs it.
Dumphries and Cantemir want Kirk to go away. It finally comes down to Cantemir telling Kirk he has twenty-four hours to leave or else he’ll shoot him. To help him decide to stay or go Kirk goes to a hermit philosopher on a mountain top. That’s where he learns how Terrans have screwed up Earth.
The book moves slowly and doesn’t go anywhere very interesting. The road to the end fits more with screwball comedy as Kirk dons a disguise. What happens to the womanizing Cantemir is good for a laugh but it’s not enough to justify plodding through the whole book.