Lonewolf is a warrior and medicine man of his tribe. Raised by his adoptive white parents, he isn't entirely welcome in either the white or Indian world, but he is committed to being Navajo. Knowing that Kit Carson is about to invade his home in Canyon de Chelly in an attempt to annihilate the Navajo, Lonewolf is determined to find a peaceful solution. Before going in search of Carson, Lonewolf enters a sacred cave to retrieve his medicine bundle. There he chants to the stars, seeking guidance, and is catapulted over one hundred thirty years into the future.
Willow Becenti is a half-Navajo member of the tribal police force. She is investigating a murder in the canyon, when she finds Lonewolf in the same cave where the boy's body was found. At first, she thinks he may be involved in the killing, but she must rethink her theory when he saves her life from a would-be shooter. Lonewolf speaks to a part of Willow she tries to deny. Like him, she has visions of the future, but she doesn't put much stock in the ways of the stars. As she struggles between the new ways and the old traditions her grandfather espouses, a young boy's life hangs in the balance.
Willow's ward, Manuelito, lies in the hospital in a mysterious coma that the doctors cannot explain. When Lonewolf sees the boy in her visions, he comes to realize that Manuelito is the reason the stars sent him to this time. Only he can guide the boy into his destiny, but how can he convince Willow that the stars are right when she disdains them? Lonewolf has also come to care for Willow but knows that he can only stay in this time as long as he is needed. Once the boy has recovered, can Willow put aside her animosity for Lonewolf's beliefs to embrace the man?
Normally, I'm a huge fan of both time travel and Native American romances, so I really thought I was going to enjoy this book. I'm sorry to say though, that Stargazer simply didn't pass muster for me. It was an unsatisfying read for me on a number of levels, not the least of which was that I didn't feel emotionally connected to the characters at all. The other major problem I had with it is that there is very little plot to speak of and what existed moved at a snail's pace. The entire book takes place over, I believe, only four days time, but it was like four days of watching paint dry. I've never been a big fan of full-length novels taking place over such a short period of time, but I've read several that were much more engaging than this one and had lots of page-turning action. Stargazer is just way too heavy on the internal conflicts, with the characters spending far too much time inside their own heads. It also contains so much Native American mysticism that it completely overwhelms the story. I'm interested in Native American culture, but this was simply way too much, when what I really wanted was to see the mystery better developed, see some man out of time aspects to the time-travel, and understand the characters' relationships to one another, as well as feeling that all-important emotional connection. I saw numerous missed opportunities for stronger and deeper character and plot development, which frustrated me to no end, making this a very difficult book for me to finish and one that I was quite glad I'd borrowed from the library.
In my estimation, all the characters showed a distinct lack of motivation, but none more so than the hero and heroine. I didn't feel like I understood their drive and purpose at all. Their personalities were flat and monotone rather than being alive and vibrant. I learned very little about either Lonewolf or Willow and what I did learn didn't always make sense, because it either wasn't explained well or didn't go deep enough. They both seemed like good people, but I had a hard time investing myself in either character or their relationship, because I didn't really understand them.
Lonewolf was a Native American warrior/medicine man/stargazer (someone who has the ability to divine things from the stars) from 1863. He's catapulted into the late twentieth century by the stars he follows, but for what purpose he doesn't know until quite a ways into the story. He also doesn't seem to be overly surprised to discover he's been transported into the future. Occasionally, he finds some modern technologies a bit strange, but overall, he just takes it all in stride, generally shrugging it off as nothing. Lonewolf was raised by white parents after being sold into slavery. They were good people who treated him well, but we don't really learn anything about what this was like for him until very late in the story. Even then, this part of his story was over almost before it began. We also learn that his white parents were killed, and that event somehow led him back to his tribe, the Navajo, where he wasn't entirely accepted either, partly because of how he was raised and partly because of his stargazing ability, which sets him apart from everyone else. Last but not least we learn that his wife and child were both killed by an enemy tribe. Unfortunately, all of these things are little more than facts about his life. They don't really speak to who he is as a person or how these events affected and transformed him, yet surely they must have. Instead, he doesn't seem to have any particular emotions about any of it. There was a lot of good material here that could have built Lonewolf into a strong, vibrant and sympathetic character, but it wasn't utilized in such a way as to draw on my emotions and make me feel connected to him.
I had almost identical issues with Willow's character. She's a Navajo tribal police officer, who has visions of her own that she's rejected for years. She also has a strong animosity toward stargazers because her father was one. She seems to blame the stars for her father's death and her mother leaving, but I didn't fully understand her reasoning because we see so little of how those events affected her. Willow was raised by her grandfather but they seem to be at odds, as she struggles between her grandfather's traditionalism and her own sense of modernity. She almost seems to resent his hold on the past, but I struggled to understand why. Maybe it's because I'm a sentimental kind of person, probably more like her grandfather, who believes in preserving the past for future generations, so I simply couldn't relate to Willow's scorn for it. Willow is angry about a whole lot of things for reasons I had a hard time discerning and this seemed to be the only emotion which she was capable of expressing. Also she is the guardian of a young boy named Mauelito. If I recall correctly the boy's mother died and his father is an alcoholic, so Willow was named his guardian, but I don't recall reading anything to explain why she was chosen for that role. I kept waiting for more information to be revealed about her relationship to this child, but I don't think it ever was unless I somehow missed it. She obviously cares about Manuelito and worries about his condition, but I didn't really feel that deep emotional bond of a mother/son relationship.
As for Lonewolf and Willow's romance, I didn't feel much anything at all between them. She doesn't fully trust him, because she found him at the scene of a murder and initially thinks he might have somehow been involved. He doesn't tell her much about himself, not even that he's a time-traveler, which was extremely disappointing. In fact, he doesn't even realize that he's slipped through time until having a conversation with Willow's grandfather which happens off-canvas while she's at a neighbor's house making phone calls. I could understand Lonewolf keeping this information from her for a little while because of her distrust of the stars, but she has to figure it out for herself and even then, not until over halfway into the story, which I found rather frustrating. Despite their issues with one another, they end up making love after only knowing each other for two days. Lonewolf actually admits to himself that he was mainly using her to feel alive, which didn't give me warm fuzzies either. Their subsequent love scenes seemed to have better reasons, but the characters were so underdeveloped that I couldn't really comprehend what they saw in each other. There is also precious little in the way of emotions being expressed during them, which made it nearly impossible to discern their connection to one another. Little occurs between them of a truly romantic nature except the sex scenes, and even these supposed romantic moments felt flat and dull for me, lacking any real spark of attraction or sexual tension.
The prose in Stargazer is pretty dense, so that I had to concentrate really hard to understand what's being said. It's not a writing style that's naturally conducive to drawing me into a story and is a little like slogging through a mud pit - very slow going with limited payoff. It just felt like words... upon words... upon words that ultimately said very little. Yet for all it's over-wordiness, there's still a frequent lack of the simplest details. Eg. The characters go from sitting to standing or vice versa with no mention of them moving. Or Willow is draining noodles that she never put on to cook. Or Lonewolf and Willow have a conversation about the dead boy, then he suddenly asks, "Who is the boy?" At first glance, it seems like he's asking about the murder victim, but both Willow, and the reader apparently, are somehow supposed to extrapolate that he means the boy in her visions and not the murdered boy. There were a number of instances like these that could be rather confusing and made the narrative difficult to follow. It also prevents it from being more lively when the reader can't clearly envision what's happening due to a lack of details in the characters' actions. I also detected some passively-worded narration and the use of weak verbs, when stronger ones would have made the prose much more vibrant.
Now considering all the criticisms I've had of this book, readers may be wondering why I even gave it two and a half stars instead of rating it lower. This is because I feel I must give credit where credit is due, and the one thing at which the author really excelled was in setting the scene. As an Arizona resident, I can honestly say that Ms. Baker brought the desert Southwest setting to vivid life. I really felt like I was out in middle of the desert on the Navajo reservation or in Canyon de Chelly, or in one of the small surrounding towns. The author has obviously visited this area, probably several times, or perhaps even lives there, and knew how to make the setting a character unto itself. I can also tell that she did her homework quite well in order to describe the Native American attitudes, as well as the mystical beliefs some still hold, with so much detail. If only she were half as good at building her characterizations, at making that all-important emotional connection between both her hero and heroine and between them and the reader, at creating an engaging mystery, or at presenting a believable time travel tale with all it's potential inherent problems, then Stargazer could have been the excellent and intriguing story I was expecting when I picked it up.
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