It has been quite some time since I've read a fantasy story other than Harry Potter, and I can't say that I've ever read a science fantasy before. Even though the book was released some months ago, Vijaya Schartz sent me an ARC copy of White Tiger, so that I could get up to speed for the release of her latest book in the series, Red Leopard, this month (April 2010). I have to say that I'm so glad I got the opportunity to read and review it. Ms. Schartz has deftly melded futuristic technology with a pseudo-medieval society on a far distant planet known as New Earth. The human inhabitants of Old Earth (our present planet) crash landed there long ago, and because of the harsh conditions on this wintry planet, they had to fight for survival and lost most of their technology along the way, setting them back centuries. Then came the Godds, an alien race who the humans began to revere as deities because of their perceived benevolence and "magical" technology, but little did the humans know that they were to become mere pawns in a game of political intrigue. When White Tiger opens, the humans and Zerkers (humans who have reverted to an extreme barbaric state) are about to engage in a war, but neither side knows that they are being used as the military tools of the Godds and their mortal enemies, the Reptoids. In the midst of this brewing epic conflict, there is even more foul treachery afoot within the human ranks, and stuck in the middle are the Mutants (half-Godd/half-humans) who are genetically programmed to be loyal to the Godds and not interfere in the the affairs of humans but who long for a more human form of freedom. It all makes for a very complex story that kept me engaged wondering how all the evil-doers would possibly be overcome so that good would prevail in the end. White Tiger is definitely a more plot-driven story which combines the elaborate fantasy world that I attempted to detail above with lots of intense actions sequences and intrepid adventure. The action scenes are part medieval warfare and part science fiction. The author doesn't try to gloss over the stark realities of primitive fighting, and the Zerkers in particular can be downright brutal and sadistic, leading to some rather gory scenes of violence. The hero and heroine embark on all sorts of adventures, both alone and in each other's company, as they battle to save both their races from total annihilation by nuclear and biological weapons as well as more primitive means. It took a little while to build the intricacies of the world and get everything up to speed, but once it takes off (which I would say is about ¼ of the way in), White Tiger becomes a very fast-paced story that rarely slows down until the final epilogue. With all the action going on, there isn't a lot of really deep character development where the hero and heroine's emotions and motivations are explored in detail, but in those quieter moments, I felt like I got to know both Dragomir and Tora enough to really like them. Dragomir is the first and oldest Mutant on New Earth, and one of the Godds most trusted sons. He is a brave and skilled warrior, but also an honorable and compassionate man who doesn't like to see any living creature suffering, even the vile, barbaric Zerkers. I really liked that Dragomir was an intelligent man who thinks for himself and resents the Godds control over him and his fellow Mutants. In spite of his genetic predisposition for loyalty to the Godds, he maintains a certain independence and distance from them, not only in his thinking but also in his way of life. Tora, AKA White Tiger, is also a brave, strong warrior and one of the highest ranking and well-respected officers in the human army, but she has always known that she is different from other humans. Tora is seeking vengeance on the one who killed her father when she is called into battle. Sometimes tough, independent heroines can become annoying to me, but Vijaya Schartz seems to have a talent for creating the delicate balance between her female protagonist's self-reliant, kick-butt side that can confidently take on the vilest enemy by herself and her softer, more vulnerable side that enjoys the hero's love and companionship, while also exhibiting empathy for others. Tora was just such a heroine, and I really liked her and thought she was a great match for Dragomir. I ended up having a hard time rating this book. I think this was because it seems to be primarily classified as a romance, yet I know that many readers would not be fully satisfied with the romantic element of the story. Dragomir and Tora are actually apart for a large part of the narrative and when they are together, there aren't a lot of deeply intimate interactions between them. There are a couple of mild to moderately descriptive love scenes, but not a great deal of sexual tension or relationship building leading up to them. There is an allusion to the possible life-mate type scenario which is often found in paranormal stories, but overall, I'd have to say that the attraction is mainly played as love-at-first-sight. Normally, this isn't my favorite way to start a love connection, but I wasn't overly bothered by it because of the strength of the other elements in the story. In some ways, I suppose that the adventures Dragomir and Tora shared, as well as their rescuing of one another, could be interpreted as a type of relationship building and expressions of love. At the very least, it added to the romanticism of the tale as a whole. If I had been rating the book solely on its fantasy, action and adventure elements, it would have been a five-star for sure, and even now, I was so intrigued by those things, I only feel the need to drop a half star for any misgivings I had about the romance. In addition to everything else, there were lots of supporting characters to keep the plot moving along at a brisk clip and make it all interesting. Being the animal lover that I am, I was quite taken with the animal characters, particularly the big cats who were trained to fight alongside the humans, as well as the psychic connection that Dragomir and Tora share with them. I could clearly see the grace, beauty and ferocity of the cats in my mind's eye. I also had no trouble at all envisioning this fantasy world. The plot played out in my head like a movie or television show, and I couldn't help but think as I was reading that it would make a very good one. Overall, White Tiger was a very enjoyable story that had just the right amount of complexity to engage my intellect while entertaining me at the same time. Anyone who likes a good fantasy with lots of action and adventure and doesn't mind the love story taking a back seat should really enjoy this one. Other than my minor complaint about the romance, I can't think of a thing I didn't like about White Tiger. It has earned a spot on my keeper shelf, and I eagerly look forward to reading Red Leopard, the next book in The Chronicles of Kassouk very soon.