Heart Mate by Robin D. Owens is the first book in the Celta series. It is also the 2002 Rita Award winner in the paranormal romance category awarded by the Romance Writers of America. This series is a lovely mix of science fiction and fantasy. It can be considered scifi because the people in the series live on a planet that they colonized by traveling through space from Earth. However, their technological expertise has been lost or discarded and fantastic elements play a much stronger role in the stories. The colonists live on a wild, untamed world named Celta. They use something like magic to power locks and perform tasks usually done by technology. Not everyone has this skill and those that do have it in varying degrees and with different specializations. Their culture is pagan and involves nature worship. Their religion usually plays an important part in the emotional tenor of each story. The society is somewhat reminiscent of Victorian England; there is an aristocracy and deep divides between classes.
Owens’ world building skills are excellent. She shows key background information rather than simply telling the reader in an info dump. Due to this subtle skill, each book in the series can be read as a stand alone. The unique nature of the world and its different customs are explained naturally and lead the story. All of the characters are fully fleshed out. Although many show up in other books as secondary characters, each couple has enough quirks and charisma to carry their book as the hero and heroine.
Heart Mate features a woman named Danith Mallow and a man named Rand T’Ash. She doesn’t believe herself to be very skilled or special. However, Rand T’Ash has been searching for her, his Heart Mate. (A Heart Mate is equivalent to a sould mate and the bond is telepathic.) Although he finds her early in the story, he must spend a great deal of time to convince her that she is the one for whom he has been looking. Their discovery of eachother ignites the dormant psi power in Danith, and she grows in confidence as she discovers that she has a unique affinity to animals. They struggle to come to terms with this unexpected connection and their differences in status.
This is a fun paranormal romance novel. The characters were likeable, and the conflict full of action. I liked how fleshed out the secondary characters were. Their friends were interesting. I liked how the main characters finally ended up together: coming to each other independently because they wanted to be with each other, not because they had to do it. This is especially unusual since many paranormal romances have a fated soul mate that instantly accepts eachother and has wild sex as well. (Unrealistic and slightly creepy.) Danith and Rand take time to get to know eachother even though the attraction is very strong. Ultimately, when they do come together, its not just because of destiny but also because they like one another. I am looking forward to the other books in this series.