Publisher: Ace, 2009
Sub-genre: Contemporary, Swords and Sorcery
Rating: 3 pints of blood
I love the colours, the warm and natural feel to the cover. There's a nice juxtaposition of modern and fantasy-ish elements, with the girl in modern clothes with the ancient looking bridge behind her. Up close, though, the whole thing looks a bit like these elements were all slapped together (which, ok, they probably were). You could argue that the girl shouldn't necessarily look like she belongs in the old world scene, but the horse doesn't quite look like it belongs with her or the woods. I mean, the photoediting is much smoother than what I could do, and I've certainly seen worse (my eyes, they burn!), but my point remains.
Red Gold Bridge is the sequel to Gordath Wood and is not meant to stand on its own. I mean, hey, I can't prevent you from reading this book before its predecessor, but I'm gonna highly recommend you start with book 1 if you find yourself interested in this series. And by "highly recommend" I mean I'm gonna be checking your book purchases and coming to visit with a beatstick should you cheat and start with book 2.
Since this is book 2, here there be spoilers for book 1. You have been warned.
It's been a year since Lynn and Kate returned from Aeritan, the pseudo-medieval world connected to Earth through the gordath, and life has more or less gone back to normal for them, although Lynn can't forget the man she left behind, and Kate has been helping her new "foster brother" Colar adjust to modern life. When an abused horse shows up in her stables, Lynn goes to find out where it came from, and discovers it's come from Aeritan. The gordath is open again, and since last time the instability of the open gordath killed a number of people and nearly destroyed both worlds, to say she is a little concerned would be an understatement. She decides she'll have to go back to Aeritan, to help the gordath's guardians in any way she can.
To make matters worse, the horse is not the only one who's escaped from Aeritan. The sadistic general obsessed with Kate has come to Earth as well, determined to hunt her down and take her back with him. Kate's parents are much for protection, since they've spent the past year trying to ignore all of the "weirdness" and don't believe her when she tells them of the danger, so she and Colar will have to take care of themselves.
Meanwhile, in Aeritan, Crae is struggling to grasp the position he's been put into. Given for him the lands that belonged to his close friend and a wife of convenience who has made no secret of her dislike of him, he has to become the lord the land needs before the neighbouring lords (or worse, the insane band of crows who plague the area) notices how weak his holding currently is. When a group of Brytheners begin causing trouble, he follows them and a prophecy straight to the gordath and the men who are trying to hold it open.
This is one of those stories where each major character has their own storyline, which gradually begin to intermingle as the book continues, although for the most part, these stories work perfectly well independently. If Lynn didn't feature in the book at all, Kate's story would make just as much sense, and vice versa. They don't need or build on each other, and interconnect only in the loosest sense.
Author Sarath clearly has a knowledge and love of horses. The animals don't take over the book, but they are an important element, and those who despair of inaccurate portrayals of horsemanship will be delighted by the attention to detail here. The characters' familiarity with horseback riding makes sense, since they either come from Aeritan, where horses are the main method of transportation, or in the case of Lynn and Kate, run/ride at a horse stable.
The romances, however, largely failed for me. I was really enjoying Crae's tale, with his struggles to make his marriage and his lordship real, which involved a rather sweet and slow love story that would have stood very nicely on its own outside the rest of the book. However, there's a love triangle --or, I guess with four people involved, it's a love... square? Trapezoid? Something like that-- that feels wedged in there and undermines both of the eventual happy endings. The relationship between Crae and his wife feels natural enough, but the other two romances are "told" more than "shown," and it's hard to believe in a happy ending when only 30 pages before the end, two people were making out and professing their love to the person they didn't end up with. Certainly a love triangle or trapezoid is something that can end in a happily monogamous decision, but I need more than 30 pages to believe it.
I spent a long time debating why I enjoyed Crae's story (at least the first 2/3rds) more than the rest of the book, and I think it has to do with the worldbuilding and attention to detail. Aeritan is a complex, nuanced world, and in comparison, the parts set in the "real world" fall flat. It was like all the worldbuilding points got used up on the pseudo-medieval politics and there was none left over to spend on the stuff that happens on Earth, which is a shame because an awful lot of the action is in a contemporary setting. I wanted that same immersive detail from Aeritan in the rest of the book, but sadly did not get it.
Red Gold Bridge is available in mass market paperback or as an e-book. I was provided a free review copy from the author.