Friday, June 7, 2019

Forgotten Books: ZORRO AND THE DRAGON RIDERS by David Bergantino (1999)

In writing book reviews, I do my best not to include spoilers. There are times, though, when it's damn near impossible, either because the book cannot be adequately described without them, or because the whole premise is so silly it cries out to be mocked. This is one of those time where both reasons apply.

So I'm issuing one big, honkin' SPOILER ALERT right now. You've been warned! (I feel partially redeemed, anyway, in that the back cover blurb - shown below - reveals almost as much as I do.)

A few weeks back (HERE) I talked about Zorro and the Jaguar Warriors by Jerome Preisler, the first of three new novels issued by Forge to capitalize on the Antonio Banderas flick The Mask of Zorro. I didn't completely hate it, but I didn't like the villain - a guy calling himself the Hidalgo of Cazador who had mind control powers, the plot made no sense, the Jaguar Warrior stood around doing nothing, and the action scenes were incomprehensible.

This second book was authored by someone else, a guy named Bergantino, so I was hoping for something better. (Bergantino, I have since learned, also wrote a few Freddy Krueger novels, something called Wes Craven's New Nightmare, and a couple of Shakespeare-related horror books. Had I known that in advance, I would have been less optimistic.)

It started off okay, but there was a little too much talk about what happened between Zorro and Cazador in the previous book. I did appreciate being reminded. Don Diego is introduced, and handled competently. For reasons unexplained, he has acquired an interest in Japanese weapons, and ordered a crate of them by mail. That's still okay. I like Japanese weapons too.

But then things get wonky. A gang of fire-breathing dragons come rampaging through a peasant village (on horseback, no less), laughing like maniacs and generally wreaking havoc. This nonsense goes on for seven pages, which is seven pages too long. I almost quit reading right there.

Eventually, the dragons are revealed as former samurai - now ronin - warriors imported from Japan by Cazador (yes, he's back from the dead) to get revenge on Zorro. Bergantino handles the ronin well. He displays a good understanding of their place in Japanese culture and the history of the time. But he has them riding around in those batshit-crazy dragon suits.

Cazador's place in all this, his master plan (if any), and his very reason for being is every bit as vague as in the first book. The only good thing is that we see less of him.

As if Diego's sudden interest in Japanese weapons and the appearance of the Japanese warriors isn't too big a coincidence, a mysterious Russian also arrives in L.A., one who just happens to have visited Japan and been trained as a ninja. He even trains Zorro - for about fifteen minutes, enough for Zorro to use their weapons to defeat the ronin.

Yeah, it's mostly pretty silly. In between the silly parts, though, there's some fine interaction between Zorro and the ronin, and if they could have faced off without the dragon suits, the extraneous Russian and the annoying Cazador, this might have been a pretty good book.

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