If you have any comments on this review, please email me at the address at the bottom.
Jael LeBrae is a young rigger on a out-of-the-way world. She has been fully trained, but is having difficulty being hired because of her late father's bad reputation in the business. She is hired eventually by an unregulated shipper.
Once en route, the unregulated shipper, Captain Mogurn, introduces Jael to an illegal device called a pallisp, which induces happy and contented feelings when used. It is highly addictive, Jael quickly becomes addicted. Mogurn himself is addicted to the device. Jael eventually discovers that he's shipping illegal goods.
Meanwhile, Jael is happy to be piloting the ship through the flux. A rigger's feelings and thoughts influence the travel of the ship through the flux; the rigger can visualize the ship as any type of object, such as a plane, raft, island, while guiding it through the flux. Jael inadvertently travels too close to "mountains" in the flux; the mountain route is rumored to be dangerous and riggers have seen strange things there, so it is generally avoided. Jael encounters a dragon named Highwing. Jael and Highwing become close friends over a period of hours, and Highwing helps Jael come to terms with her father's behavior toward her and her feelings toward him.
When Jael leaves the visual reality image of the flux, Mogurn confronts her about taking the dangerous mountain route. The captain becomes violent, and eventually Jael is forced to kill him in self-defense. When Jael arrives at their destination, she is detained for questioning, but is found innocent of any wrong-doing.
While she is at the port, she encounters an alien named Ar, who is also a rigger. They team up and are hired for another ship, this time a regulated shipper who is clearly has no designs on them other than making a profit.
After a successful trip, the captain hires Ar and Jael to make unsupervised trips to deliver goods. Jael has told Ar about her encounter with the dragon, but Ar doesn't believe they are real. During one trip, they have problems with the ship and end up drifting through the flux to end up near the mountains.
They encounter dragons again, but this time they are hostile. Highwing has been imprisoned and will soon be executed. An evil dragon has been casting spells on the other dragons and is trying to take over. Jael and Ar manage to rescue Highwing and break the spells on the dragons. The dragons are now free to fight the evil one themselves. Jael and Ar manage to move their ship out of the mountains and into a safe area of the flux.
The real-space interactions between Jael and other characters are the most interesting. Jael's frustration at her inability to get an assignment is understandable and easy to relate to. It's also quite believable that in a small community her father's reputation would have a large effect on her. Putting Jael and Captain Mogurn together on a ship created a tense situation. Mogurn was a truly despicable character, although that was gradually revealed. The menace emanating from him when Jael was alone with him on his ship was substantial. I found it a relief when he died, although that also surprised me. In addition, it was a pleasant surprise that Jael was relatively quickly found to be innocent involving his death.
The idea of ships traveling through the flux seemed as plausible as any other faster-than-light traveling method. However, the way that riggers used virtual reality to visualize moving the ship seemed extremely difficult. The concentration required to maintain a consistent image over hours seems nearly impossible, even with training.
However, the part of the book I really have trouble with is the idea of dragons (or any "living" being) existing in the flux. Possibly I could accept some very foreign life-form living there, but not a creature as obviously human-originated as a dragon. What does it breathe? Or eat? For that matter, how can the dragons build living places in the flux, and other places like gardens? I had initially thought that the "terrain" in the flux corresponded to gravitational wells in space time - so, for example, mountains might be where the center of a globular star cluster is located in real-space. However, that doesn't mesh with the details that exist in the "homes" of the dragons.
Of course, these inconsistencies could be solved by saying that the dragons cast spells that allow these things to happen. Which is the second part of the dragons I have a problem with: the completely arbitrary nature of the magic. The magic seems to run along the lines of "if we wish really, really hard, whatever we want will happen". There are no rules for it. In that case, any self-consistent logic is tossed away and anything can happen. I dislike that idea a lot, and it's a major reason I don't read more fantasy books.
The only way that the dragons and spells could possibly be redeemed in my mind is if the entire situation was created by Jael's subconscious in the flux. She knows the rumors about the mountain route, she's in an uncomfortable real-space situation, so when she encounters the mountains, her subconscious supplies this fantastic episode involving dragons and the virtual reality environment used in traveling the flux manufactures it. The dragon even helps her relate to the memories of her late father.
Unfortunately, I do not think that we are supposed to read this into the book. Once Jael's friend Ar meets the dragons, he is completely convinced of their objective reality. Jael and Ar are also put into a great deal of physical danger, which one wouldn't expect Jael's subconscious to do. We are left with no alternative except to believe that there are literally dragons in the flux.
In the end, I found the real-space parts of Dragons in the Stars to be quite interesting, but the actual dragon part of the book was wanting.