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Defender of the Flame Defender of the Flame
Book One of the Rising Flame duology


Starship pilot Terry Radnor is puzzled and outraged when he is suddenly recalled from interstellar exploration to the desolate base on Titan. His spirits rise after he volunteers for a secret project offering him extraordinary physical and psychic capabilities, yet before he can complete this new training, he is transferred against his will to a cruiser for a tour of duty he expects to hate. But the cruiser's mission turns out to be unlike anything he could have imagined. Advancing rapidly in his career, Terry finds fulfillment in love and in commitment to a cause--until an ironic twist of fate tears him away from everything he has ever cared about. He is forced to build a whole new life, far from all that has previously mattered to him, and only the effort to regain what he has lost keeps him from despair. Is there any hope that he can fulfill his pledge to protect the world whose safety is crucial--more crucial than anyone else knows--to the future of humankind?

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While this novel follows the Hidden Flame duology consisting of Stewards of the Flame and Promise of the Flame, it is a completely separate story set two hundred years later that does not depend on having read the earlier books. Unlike some of Sylvia Engdahl’s previous novels, none of these are Young Adult novels and they are not appropriate for middle-school readers. (If you are wondering why, please read Why My Flame Novels Aren't Suitable for Kids). However, the Rising Flame duology will be of interest to adults and mature high school students who have enjoyed Enchantress from the Stars and The Far Side of Evil, as it deals with some of the same themes.

"This book reaches back to the brio and speculation of Engdahl's classic books of the Seventies. . . . The reader will be taken on an exciting and suspenseful ride. . . . With an admirable protagonist and many interesting and well-drawn characters major and minor, Defender is satisfying on multiple levels. . . . I expected to like this book; I was startled that I loved it. A must read" --Nicholas Birns, author of Understanding Anthony Powell

"A fabulous twisting outer space thriller that will keep readers wondering what next will happen to the protagonist. Character driven by Terry, readers will enjoy his exploits and also appreciate his ethics as he learns inconvenient truths that tear his core values asunder." --Harriet Klausner, MBR Bookwatch, July 2013

"Compelling and a must read for anyone who loves quality SF. . . . Technology is the tool Sylvia uses to put her characters where they need to be. The real story is the choices they make and why. If you love SF for the questions it makes you ask you won't be able to put this book down." --Chris Zenchenko, Amazon.com (Verified Purchase)

"I was engrossed in it: could not put it down. . . . It raises thoughtful questions of science/logic/reason versus the paranormal and intuition, the state versus individual freedom, and conscience, but is not preachy, and the characters were real people I cared about and liked." --Laurie Pollack, Amazon.com (Verified Purchase)

"The things that happen to the hero of this book are heart-wrenching. But that's what the best hero stories are made of . . . . I've read a ton of sci-fi and this trilogy is up there among the best -- fun to read, thought-provoking, exciting plot twists, and big in scope." --Robert Haven, Amazon.com (Verified Purchase)

"Another wonderful book written by the remarkable author Sylvia Engdahl. I was hooked from page one and found myself so completely engrossed that I could not put it down until I finished this novel. . . . The only negative critique I have is that I wanted it to go on forever." --Don, Amazon.com (Verified Purchase)

"This is fun reading, about a starship captain facing many tough choices. . . . If you choose to think more deeply about the view of humanity's future, that's icing on the cake. Enjoyable and thought-provoking reading." --Sondra Eklund, Sonderbooks

"The book profits from Engdahl’s long experience as a professional writer, assuring an engaging read. The story is thoughtful and balanced in its treatment of questions pertaining to human nature. It gives material to think about, besides providing some hours of leisure in a convincing sci-fi environment. --Simon Brenncke's Book Review Blog (Germany)

"The book had a very elegantly written ending." --Jo Jones, Mixed Book Bag


Here's a short excerpt:

Then, abruptly, a starship loomed in front of him--huge, filling his viewscreen, an ominously strange shape unlike any ship he had ever seen. Incredibly, he had intercepted it precisely, despite having had no way of predicting the direction in which to fly. Was he dreaming this, Terry wondered, or had unconscious remote viewing led him to it . . . or, perhaps, had the other ship been simultaneously seeking him? It was much larger than Skywalker, larger even than Promise, and undoubtedly faster. Its sensors could have tracked his trajectory. The crew, whatever their mission, probably wouldn't want their presence to become known.

He had not expected anything like this. No one had thought there could ever be an intruder significantly bigger than an explorer, for the mere existence of a privately-owned starship large enough to hold more than twelve people was in itself illegal. In the years since formation of the League, Fleet had not needed to enforce its monopoly. An illegally-sized ship would have been detected during construction, or at the very least if it tried to unload cargo anywhere, so nobody had attempted to build one--and of course, undercover League conspirators could not use a Fleet ship. How had the owners of this monster managed to conceal it?

Steadying himself, Terry decided to proceed with his original plan for warning them off; it wasn't his job to deal with prior violations of League law. Setting the comm to broadcast on all frequencies, he declared, “Unidentified ship, this is FIS Skywalker. This entire system has been placed off-limits by Fleet, as maneuvers are underway here. You are required to jump at your earliest opportunity. Over.”

There was no response, though it was impossible that they hadn't heard. Terry turned on the comm's vid so that they could see him and repeated the hail: “Unidentified ship, this is Lieutenant Commander Terry Radnor, captain of FIS Skywalker. You are in off-limits territory and you must depart immediately. Know that there is a cruiser present in this system that will enforce compliance. Please acknowledge, over.” They had no choice but to obey; even a ship of this size would be no match for an armed cruiser.

The comm remained silent, its vidscreen blank; but the ship moved closer, almost as if they planned to rendezvous. Terry had no intention of doing so; while they surely would not blast him out of the sky without provocation, they might well take him prisoner if they could induce him to board--and he had had enough of being held captive by outlaws. What their ostensible aim might be in coming to this outlying solar system was hard to imagine; they couldn’t claim to be pirates here, nor could they masquerade as smugglers since they couldn't show themselves to sell any resources they might acquire--unless perhaps they planned to transfer cargo to smaller starships instead of approaching inhabited planets. Terry turned cold, for that made sense, now that he thought of it. A really large smuggling ring, controlled by the underworld, might be able to function that way. But in that case . . . maybe they would blast Skywalker. They would have a credible reason for getting rid of a pilot who knew more than their underworld bosses wanted known.

And if by chance they hadn't been warned about the cruiser, now that he'd revealed its presence they would investigate all the planets of the system, hoping to take it by surprise. While they couldn't win in an open fight, they could do a good deal of damage by a sneak attack. Expecting no trouble, the officers aboard Shepard would not be armed; the satellite alert wouldn't reveal the size of the intruder--they would send patrollers to meet it assuming that it would be easy to capture. If it carried high-yield weapons. . . .

Oh, God, Terry thought. Why had he again let the excitement of remote viewing override his common sense? Just as he had ignored normal caution when he entered the cave, he had rushed blindly into a situation in which he might be trapped. And yet . . . the cave experience had proved fortunate in the long run. Tristan had seemed to feel he had been guided by some mysterious inner impulse that had meaning. Might such an impulse account for his rashness this time, too? He alone now knew what Shepard could not foresee. Had precognition led him here to warn them? He must call even before learning the ship's identity; switching the comm to Fleet's frequency he started to do so . . . only to find that the comm panel was dead.

Dead! No power seemed to be reaching it. This could hardly be a coincidence, but what technology of theirs could kill just one power circuit within his ship? An EMP would have taken out everything.

The starship was still approaching, and it was even larger than he had thought because he had first seen it at a greater distance than he'd realized. It seemed headed to collide with Skywalker--maybe they meant to ram him! Frantically Terry reached for the AI console, attempting to change course. The override switch had no effect, and in horror he perceived that the other ship wasn't moving after all; Skywalker was being inexorably drawn toward it. A tractor beam? Such things existed in fiction, but not, as far as he knew, in real life. His instruments showed that the AI was fully operative; it was executing maneuvers leading not to a collision, but to a normal docking. Somehow they had taken remote control of his ship.

Where would anyone have obtained technology that could do that? If it was available, pirates would be using it, and he'd heard no reports in Fleet that any were. For a moment he wondered if Fleet was testing some secret new development, just as they were testing Skywalker, which would also account for the unprecedented design of the starship. But since it involved a crew other than Shepard's they wouldn't have picked Maclairn's solar system to do it in, not when there was a bigger secret here to protect. And in any case Admiral Frazer, knowing of his plan for patrolling, would have told him. He sat helplessly watching the viewscreen as, directly in front of him, a port opened in the starship and Skywalker was drawn through.




Please note: The ebook cover, shown below, has different lettering than the paperback edition (shown above) to make it more legible when seen online in a small size.



Main Flame Duology Page
The two Flame duologies, The Hidden Flame and The Rising Flame, are separate stories that can be read independently, although the backstory included in the second one may affect some of the suspense of the first.