The Avengers of Carrig, taken on lightweight escapist terms, is an interesting and well-executed little tale. This early Brunner adventure (first published in a slightly different form in 1962) is set on a remote world, settled by Earth colonists generations before, which has since reverted to the kind of quasi-medieval society of which fantasy fans and authors are so fond. At regular intervals, natives of this world venture to the city of Carrig for the "king-hunt," a ritual in which all of the noble houses of this society choose a champion to battle a large flying creature called a parradile (which, for reasons best known to himself, cover artist D'Achille has rendered as a turquoise pterodactyl) which symbolizes notions of kingship to the Carrigians. Whoever's champion wins the king-hunt becomes the reigning noble house until somebody else wins in a future king-hunt.
It so happens that this world is being monitored from space, by both the government of the Earth (which seeks to shelter these re-developing primitive worlds from interstellar influence so that they can achieve scientific progress on their own) and a group of rapacious pirates (who look to little backwater worlds like this for slave labor). When the pirates infiltrate the king-hunt, winning it by zapping the parradile with a nasty (and unheard of to the pre-technological natives) energy weapon, and then set up their own tyrannical rule, a brash young female marine named Maddalena is assigned to the planet as a spy to help the Earth government figure out how to save the day.
As she approaches the planet, her ship is shot down by a pirate vessel and she finds herself stranded in a refugee camp in the icy north, where — keeping her cover as a native — she meets Saikmar, the beaten and dispirited champion of the clan who was the odds-on favorite to win the king-hunt before the pirates showed up. There she learns some surprising secrets, about both the parradiles and the refuge itself where they are hiding. Saikmar and Maddalena then forge an alliance to overthrow the usurpers for good.
Sometimes good things come in small packages, and, as slight as this story is, it's a satisfying read. And perhaps that slightness contributes to its success. After all, if a story is not necessarily an epic then there's no need to blow it up into one (contemporary fantasy authors take note); this is a book that needs to be no more than 150-odd pages, and so it isn't. In this brief space, characterizations are deftly handled, a fascinating premise is introduced, and suspense is servicably if not heart-stoppingly delivered. Though the plot contains odd moments of "author's convenience," in general it is still quite likable. The way in which Brunner handles the story's resolution is particularly satisfying. Better than many of Brunner's later efforts, which managed to range from rote to oddball, The Avengers of Carrig showcases the virtues of storytelling simplicity.