The King and Queen of Kassouk have been assassinated by Kohl, an old Mutant enemy intent on taking their throne, and he finds two easy targets to falsely accuse of the crime. Ariela, Captain of the Black Sword Guard is discovered to be the leader of a human rebel faction opposing Kohl's new rule. Starro, the Crown Prince of the Star Children is visiting for the state funeral. Kohl's spies claim that Starro's people are in possession of forbidden technology and that they intend to use it to invade Kassouk. Ariela realizes that Starro could be a valuable ally in her fight, but first she must rescue him from being wrongly executed for the murder of the monarchs. Together they go on the run, leading the Mutants away from Kassouk in an attempt to keep the remaining rebels alive and well, but a trained Zerker assassin is hot on their trail. As they try to elude their pursuer, Starro and Areila fall in love, but even if they manage to survive their harrowing journey, things won't be easy. Star Children are forbidden to bond with humans, and Starro is already promised to another. His people are also peaceful and may not want to become involved in a war that is not their own. It will take all the determination that Starro and Ariela can muster to overcome their enemies and save both their races from complete destruction.
Blue Lioness was another enjoyable read in the Chronicles of Kassouk. If my memory and calculations are correct it picks up about a century after the third book, Black Jaguar ended. I was sad to see Dragomir and Tora, the King and Queen of Kassouk and the hero and heroine of White Tiger, murdered in the opening chapter. In fact, with this book taking place so far into the future, I cannot help but presume that all the past heroes and heroines of the series are now dead and gone. There were a few other characters from previous books, Mutants with a long enough lifespan, that were able to return. Dragomir and Tora's daughter, Esperana came back in a supporting role and is said to be a matriarch of the Star Children. Her exact relationship to them is not spelled out, but since she fell in love with Vanaru, the leader of The Chosen who it appears evolved into the Star Children, I assume that she is probably an ancestor. It also was not said what became of her romance with Vanaru, but perhaps her lifespan outlasted his. Lady Naya, one of the Mutant Princesses, who if memory serves was in all of the previous books, is Areila's grandmother. Also returning was the evil Brother Kohl as the villain. He had been Dragomir's archenemy and was exiled by the King in White Tiger. I had been quite curious at the end of Black Jaguar as to what would become of the Estrell eggs which had been implanted into the Chosen, and although once again, it was not spelled out in so many words, it's pretty obvious that Starro and his people are descended from them. I guess one could say that Blue Lioness is primarily a next generation story in the Chronicles of Kassouk, but there are also some threads from previous stories that are picked up again.
Starro is a sweet, gentle beta hero. Normally, I'm not as likely to go for the bald guys, but it just goes to show that I'm equal opportunity and beauty is more than skin-deep to me, as Starro is now the second bald hero in as many months that I've been crazy about. As a Star Child, he is a pacifist who reveres all life, and he also values chastity until bonding with his life-mate, making him a rare virgin hero. However, his collective mind connection with his people and with Ariela gives him knowledge that makes him a good lover in spite of his inexperience. I absolutely loved his special powers: telepathy, telekineses, the ability to heal both himself and others, just to name a few. They are exactly the type of powers I would want if I were a superhero. I must say that for all of Starro's supposed arrogance and superiority, he didn't really come off seeming that way to me. I'll grant that he did once or twice come out and say that the Star Children were a superior race, so maybe it was just because I was rather in awe of his powers that it seemed to me like he was simply speaking the truth, but not in a hurtful or purposely condescending way. Starro did act a bit differently when he was among his own people than he did when he was with the humans in Kassouk, and I'm not entirely clear as to why that was. His easy acceptance of Ariela as his life-mate and his willingness to do things that went against the teachings of the Star Children made it obvious to me that he had a distinctive way of thinking that was unlike the belief system in which he was raised. I really wish that the reasons for that had been more fully explored, but overall, Starro was a really sweet guy that I couldn't help but like.
Ariela is another one of Vijaya Schartz's kick-butt heroines, except that she didn't seem to have as much of a softer, more vulnerable side as many of the author's other female leads. She is a trained warrior who is as skilled in combat as any man, and is the captain of an elite garrison of soldiers know as the Black Swords. It can be difficult to be respectful of another race's culture while still being who one is inside, so I did understand and admire Ariela for wanting to maintain her individuality when she was among the Star Children. However, Ariela seemed to go back and forth a lot. One minute she can be loving and adoring of Starro and the next be irritated with him for being arrogant and condescending, or she might go from being in awe of his powers to being fearful of them in a heartbeat. I already addressed Starro's supposed arrogance, and since he had never harmed her and tried very hard not to harm anyone else with his powers unless it was for the greater good, I didn't quite understand her reasoning. Ariela was highly educated by her grandmother, and although the Star Children's powers went beyond anything she had personally experienced before, she couldn't entirely claim ignorance of such things. I can also understand a person running an emotional gamut, but I just think I needed a little more insight into her thinking processes to fully grasp her feelings about these things.
As I've come to expect of Vijaya Schartz's novels, the actual romance is pretty low-key. I did really enjoy the psychic connection between Starro and Ariela. The way he spoke directly into her mind and called her "Beloved" was not only a great way to break the ice, but also kept up some semblance of romance throughout the story. There is only one mild love scene, but because of Starro and Ariela's mind-link, I think it may have been the most intimate scene I've read in one of Ms. Schartz's novels. Them being able to share pleasure through that mental/emotional link, as well as physically, made it almost as sensual for me as if the scene had been more detailed and explicit.
I have to admit that I occasionally had a little trouble figuring out who I should root for. Starro and Ariela were pretty much continuously likable, while Kohl and his son, Kaleb were certainly the primary antagonists. However, some of the other characters tended to fall in between. I guess with any race there are good and bad elements within it, and the humans, Mutants, and Star Children were no exception. I was especially uncertain about the Star Children. Starro is one of them, and I thought since he was a good guy, that all his people might be too. Ariela was also relying on an alliance with them to defeat Kohl, which I thought would place them squarely on the side of good, but as it turned out, they could be rather selfish and very similar to their ancestors, the Estrelle, who were the villains of the last book. The only character who didn't have any ulterior motive was Hellion, Areila's lioness companion. At least animals can always be counted on to be uncomplicated.:-) Overall, Blue Lioness was another fun, action-packed fantasy novel from Vijaya Schartz that I enjoyed. I'll now be looking forward to the release of the Chronicles of Kassouk prequel, Noah's Ark, which is due to be released in Feb. 2012. Maybe I'll finally get to learn about the mysterious ancient beings who built many of the structures on Kassouk before the humans arrived.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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