cover image The Blood Jaguar

The Blood Jaguar

Fritz Leiber, Michael H. Payne. Tor Books, $22.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86783-6

Somewhere near a blissful river in an alternative North America where wild animals run their own idyllic society, a tiny band of unlikely questors sets out to save their world from a deadly plague. Lizardly little Skink, head cook and tart-tongued shaman Fisher and brash young Bobcat all have heard ancestral stories about the deadly Blood Jaguar, a supernatural ""Curial"" who for endless cycles of beastly history has brought decimating disease upon the land. Each time the Jaguar returned, a skink, a fisher and a bobcat tried vainly to stop her, and now it's smart-mouthed Bobcat's coming-of-age turn, hung over though he is from wild catnip, to take her on. Payne's anthropomorphized animals, for all his creaky attempts to build quirky personalities and idiosyncratic dialects, are as limp as this tired old plot. Predictable obstacles, friendly but dissolving Curials and vapid villains clog Payne's muzzy message. (Dec.)