To Conserve and Protect, Part 2

Fresh from their first assignment as U.S. National Park Service secret agents (see my review of Russell James’s previous novel here), Kathy West and Nathan Toland found themselves quickly dispatched to Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

After squashing a giant crab uprising off the coast of Florida, West and Toland were asked to investigate irregularities near the Kilauea Caverns of Fire. They didn’t know what types of monsters they were going to encounter, but they knew that no assignment would ever be routine for them.

That’s because West and her history lovin’ sidekick were undercover agents for a shadowy section of the National Park Service. The government wasn’t protecting state parks just because they were attractive natural wonders. Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Jellystone—many of these areas were home to the most dangerous monsters on the planet. As Park Services secret agents, West and Toland’s mission was to keep those creatures secret and safely within park boundaries.

In Hawaii, the biggest mammal problem was usually feral pigs. Escaped from domestic stock, they had huge litters and destroyed the land as they rooted for food. They were pesky because they had no natural predators.

But at Volcanoes Natural Park, West and Toland stumbled upon something far more terrifying than a pack of wild hogs. They found 20-foot, fire-breathing Komodo dragons living in the lava tunnels created by the Kilauea volcano. These dinosaur-sized creatures were the kind of mutation that would have made Charles Darwin proud, wrote the author.

Without realizing it, the park rangers were caught in the middle of a nasty Hawaiian cultural war. One faction recognized the dragons as sacred children of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. They wanted to protect the indigenous creatures. The other faction was a bit more extreme. Their plan was to use the dragons to cleanse the islands and return the land to nature.

The leader of the extremist group was Romy Saturo Kang. With a name like that, you knew right away that he was a first-class MCU-like villain. With the help of the dragons, he was going to turn the white man’s tropical paradise into a blazing hell. “It won’t be long,” Kang promised. “Pele’s children will hatch, and the island of Hawaii will return to its wonderful natural state, with me as their king.”

Don’t worry. Kang the Conqueror’s evil plan was eventually undone. Because of West and Toland’s last-minute heroics, hundreds of dragon hatchlings were boiled in lava. Problem solved.

The park rangers saved the people of Hawaii, but at what cost? What would animal rights activists and native groups think of their endgame? Surely some kind of compromise could have been negotiated? Kang was a first-class asshole (and he got a fitting comeuppance), but the dragons of Kilauea deserved better.

[Dragons of Kilauea / By Russell James / First Printing: October 2020 / ISBN: 9781922323903]

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