Attempting to change his libertine ways and prove himself worthy of his princely title, Kahuel of Yalta, also known by his warrior name, Black Jaguar, sails away on his brother's ship along with Esperana, the Mutant Princess of Kassouk who is searching for her ancestry. The seafarers are hit by a violent typhoon and find themselves shipwrecked on an island that can't be found on any of their maps. Their communicators don't work either, leaving them completely cut off from the outside world. When Kahuel goes to explore the jungle, he chances upon a lovely young woman, but before he has a chance to speak with her, she runs away.
Talina is a princess among her people, The Chosen, who have the ability to read minds. They were given this gift by the Star People whom they worship and have always lived a peaceful, non-violent life. When the "foreigners" arrive, Talina finds herself intrigued by them, especially the one known as Black Jaguar. As a princess, she has been expected to remain chaste and marry another royal who is also pure. There is no suitable mate for her among her own people, so Talina had all but given up on her dream of marriage and family until Black Jaguar stirred a longing in her heart.
Vijaya Schartz sent me an ARC of her latest novel, Black Jaguar, for review, and I'm pleased that she once again gave me the opportunity to read one of her stories. Ms. Schartz's books have been consistently enjoyable for me, and Black Jaguar was no exception. It was yet another worthy entry into The Chronicles of Kassouk series.
Black Jaguar fast-forwards about 30-40 years from where the previous book in the series ended. It opens with Kahuel aka Black Jaguar, Prince of Yalta and son of Terek and Galya from book #2, Red Leopard, sailing away to the far eastern continent on his brother's ship. Accompanying them is Esperana, Princess of Kassouk and daughter of Dragomir and Tora from book #1, White Tiger. She is on an unsanctioned mission to find out more about her ancestry. Interference from an unknown alien race causes them to be shipwrecked on an island that no one knew existed and which they soon discover is inhabited by a group of indigenous humans with psychic abilities known as The Chosen. Kahuel and Esperana develop romantic relationships with the sibling Prince and Princess of the island, Vanaru and Talina, but both of their romances may be doomed when the alien Estrell aka the Star People, try once again to kill the "foreigners" in an attempt to keep The Chosen isolated for their experiments purposed to prevent the extinction of the Estrell race.
Kahuel and Talina are the main hero and heroine of the novel, and I really liked them both. Talina is a little different than the other heroines of the series in that she wasn't raised and trained as a warrior. She isn't really the kick-butt heroine I'm used to seeing from Vijaya Schartz, but in some ways, I related to her better because of that. Talina is a peaceful, gentle soul whose psychic and empathic abilities tie her to all people and animals, making the death of any one of them a very painful experience for her. She may not have innate warrior tendencies, but she is a bit of a rebel, being the first to question the Star People's motives for associating with The Chosen. She defied her brother to save Kahuel, and she was bravely willing to stand up for what she thought was right and fight when the freedom of her people was at stake.
By going on this mission, Kahuel hoped to turn over a new leaf and leave his dissolute, libertine past far behind. However, that past catches up to him rather quickly when he realizes that Talina's people value chastity very highly which causes some fairly serious conflict when he beds Talina not realizing he's making a lifetime commitment or that she expected him to virginal as well. I thought Kahuel had a great balance between being tough and being tender. He is a strong warrior with the Zerker blood of his ancestors running through his veins, and also really steps up to the plate to lead the human contingency on the mission when his brother is killed. Still, he had more gentle moments which were evidenced not only in his interactions with Talina, but also in the connection to his jaguar, Diablo. I was impressed with his open-mindedness toward Talina's people and his willingness to forgo hunting and eating meat in deference to their beliefs. In my opinion, he proved his worthiness as a mate for Talina by willingly putting his life on the line for her more than once.
The beginning of Kahuel and Talina's romance had a rather enchanting quality to it with them meeting by a waterfall in the jungle. They have something of a curious attraction, just wanting to know more about one another. I really enjoyed these parts, but beyond that, there isn't as much relationship development or building of sexual tension as I would typically expect from a romance novel before the consummation and declarations of love. I've come to realize though that this is just the author's style. She tends to play the romantic angle as more of a love at first sight scenario and is simply stronger on the action, adventure and fantasy elements which is OK, as I enjoy those parts too. It's kind of like watching a good sci-fi movie in my head with a sweet little romance on the side.
I think this may be the first of Vijaya Schartz's books I've read that had a secondary romance. Being a Mutant, Princess Esperana can seem a little cold and aloof, but not enough to make me dislike her. She is trained as a warrior like her parents, and she exhibits intelligence and confidence. I liked that she was seeking out her heritage. Prince Vanaru could be rather stubborn, initially remaining steadfastly loyal to the Star People even though their orders fly in the face of everything The Chosen have been taught so far, and he is also none too pleased with Kahuel and Talina's relationship. He does come around though, and I liked when he started thinking for himself. Vanaru and Esperana's romance is sweet and limited to looks, touches and Vanaru's thoughts about Esperana. There was even a bit of romance for the alien villains with the leader of the Estrelle hoping to "ride off into the sunset" with one of his ship's female officers. Last, but not least, I love how the big cats always play a significant role in this series fighting alongside their masters, and perhaps as a reward, even Diablo found a love interest.:-) I also really enjoyed spending time with Dragomir and Tora and Terek and Galya again, as well as seeing that both couples are still very much in love after so many years have passed.
As with the first two books in the series, Black Jaguar took a little time to get up to speed (about ¼ of the way in), but once it got going, there was virtual non-stop action. One small complaint I had was that the formatting of the dialog and mind-talk was done in such a way that I often found myself confused as to who was speaking. Glancing ahead and/or re-reading certain parts usually cleared that up, and I'm willing to allow that since I was reading the ARC version, perhaps this was cleaned up before final publication. Overall, Black Jaguar was an enjoyable read. It will be interesting to see if there is any more story for Esperana and Vanaru and whether the fate of the Estrell eggs that were implanted in The Chosen females will be revealed. Although I don't know much about it yet, Blue Lioness, the next book in The Chronicles of Kassouk, is due to be released in August 2011, and Ms. Schartz also has a prequel to the series, Noah's Ark, in the works for 2012, which will tell the story of the settling of New Earth. I look forward to reading both when they come out.
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