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Gordath Wood
Patrice Sarath
Ace paperback $7.99

review by Gary Couzens

We're in horse country, Hunter's Chase in north New York State, which abuts Gordath Wood. An earthquake tremor - very rare in this part of the world - has disturbed a valuable stallion. So Lynn decides to ride him home through the wood, being easier than attempting to load him on to a van. But Lynn never arrives at her destination. In the middle of the woods lies the gordath, a portal between two worlds. Lynn finds herself in another world, a war-torn, medieval one that is less than enlightened in its attitudes towards women.

Patrice Sarath is an American (Texan) writer who has been receiving recognition for her short fiction, with some Year's Best... appearances. Gordath Wood is her first novel, and it's something of a curate's egg. On the plus side, Sarath's writing style is straightforward and readable - though there are occasional lapses into folksiness, such as an early reference to a "big ol' dog" - and she manages individual sequences well enough. I'm no authority on horses and the people who ride and maintain them, but the verisimilitude of the novel's setting is a great asset.

However, Gordath Wood has problems with its structure. Despite starting with Lynn - as I have done in the synopsis above - she isn't really the novel's protagonist. In fact, there isn't one: this novel has several instead: Lynn's colleagues Kate and Joe, plus the people from the world that Lynn (and later Kate) are transported into. I found the two women more engaging then the men: which may have been Sarath's intention, but the novel isn't constructed well enough to make them as prominent as they should be. This may be an effect of commercial genre publishers' insistence on a certain length of novel - Gordath Wood runs 328 pages in this edition and (I estimate) about 120,000 words - which often results in braids and additional subplots. If done well, the various threads complement each other and help the author build up to her novel's major set-pieces. If done less successfully, the various elements can fight each other and dissipate the novel's pace, and that happens here and there in Gordath Wood. Though line by line there's nothing much wrong with this novel in terms of the actual prose, it may have benefited from being a little shorter. As it is, the closing sections, dealing with trying to close the gordath before it grows and becomes more destructive, don't have the impact they might have had.

Sarath is clearly a talented writer. Although this novel is a flawed work, there is enough worthwhile about it to want to see what she does next.
Gordath Wood

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