Although the plots of these stories vary, certain themes recur. In the title story, Esteban Caax, a lifelong resident of Puerto Morada, is failing in his attempts to assimilate himself into modern society. His marriage gives him no pleasure, his farm teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and the television set—a luxury he bought for his “modern” wife—forces him to attempt to kill a black jaguar so that a local man can build a shopping center. He agrees to the hunt despite his late fathers warning that black jaguars “have other forms and magical purposes with which we must not interfere.” Esteban encounters a mysterious woman whom he perceives to be a soulmate. He is brought inexorably to realize that she and the black jaguar are one and the same, and he vows not to kill her. Other men from Puerto Morada appear, but Esteban keeps them from killing the jaguar. The tale ends as he pursues the jaguar, again in her female form, to a portal beneath the river, where they will presumably escape the modern world.
Several of the stories feature disenfranchised men seeking to reconnect with their souls (such as Meric Cattanny in “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule”), men whose relationships lead them into dangerous situations (such as Peter Ramey in “How the Wind Spoke at Mandaket”), or both, such as Eliot Blackford in “The Night of White Bhairab.” The other major type of story in this collection involves soldiers and their reactions to...
(The entire section is 522 words.)