Gordath Wood

Patrice Sarath
2008, Fantasy Fiction
Ace Books, $7.99, 328 pages, Amazon ASIN 0441016413

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Kisses

Gordath Wood is a hard book to catagorize. While not a romance, it has romantic elements, while also featuring elements of fantasy, horse stories, and all manner of adventure. Though the back cover copy is extremely misleading, the story follows the adventures of an ensemble cast of characters as they deal with the mysterious portal between two worlds located deep in a menacing wood. While the various plots and subplots of story do not always harmonize smoothly, the book still has much to recommend it.

Lynn Romano works as a manager for Hunter's Chase, a stable in New York. She has a good rapport with horses and, when an unexpected earthquake spooks one of her employer's most valuable horses, she offers to ride him home as he refuses to be loaded into his trailer. Lynn never makes it back to Hunter's Chase and her employer and friends cannot find her. Some suspect she has stolen the horse while others believe she has met a more sinister fate.

Kate Mossland, one of the riders at the stables, sets out to look for Lynn and she also disappears. While the cast of characters back at Hunter's Chase worries about the missing young women, it quickly becomes apparent that Kate has stumbled into a gate between two worlds. She has now become trapped in a quasi-Medieval society where she much learn the rules in order to survive. In addition, she tries to discover whether Lynn remains back home or whether she may have fallen into this new world as well. In Kate's new world, she has fallen into the camp of an army at war and must assist their efforts if she wishes to be protected and stay alive - a far cry from her life as the teenage daughter of a prominent family.

The book tracks the adventures of Lynn and Kate, as well as those of Lynn's boyfriend Joe and others back at Hunter's Chase. The book truly excels when the focus is on Kate. Kate has led a sheltered life and watching her grow in skill and confidence among the people of the new realm in which she finds herself makes for an interesting story. Though Kate has her adventures in an obviously fantastic world, they somehow feel real and the reader can believe that a New York teenager somehow found her way into a Medieval-level army at war in a wood somehow parallel to the one she knew back home.

In addition, the fantasy world surrounding Kate seems more realistic than some of the other aspects of world-building encountered with the other characters. One gets a real sense of the organization of the army along with Kate and as Kate finds a place there, so too does the reader. When the author focuses on Lynn's story or that of some of the other characters, things feel a little more distant and sometimes even a touch disorganized. The emotions of the other characters never rings as true as those of Kate and her companions, so I found it more difficult to feel invested in their stories.

As a result of the author's emotional focus, I felt for Kate as she tries to find her way home, but the epic quest of Joe and others back at Hunter's Chase to find the missing girls and close the portal between worlds sometimes lacks a sense of urgency and seems to meander. Little insight into the minds of these characters is given and there are few details of the portal's workings offered, so I often had trouble figuring out why this was so important to everyone.

Toward the end of the book, the various plots do pull together in more solid fashion and the story manages to build up to a good, if bittersweet, ending. Though lack of depth in some of the characters and a slightly meandering plot frustrated me at times, I enjoyed the story overall. The author leaves room for a sequel to continue their stories, and I am actually curious to know what became of Lynn, Kate, and their friends after they left Gordath Wood

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-- Lynn Spencer

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