Kath Mahoney has never believed in any truth behind Celtic mythology or legend. So much so that she has co-authored a book on the subject. In order to promote its release, she and a group of friends and colleagues head off to the remote Irish countryside to take part in a live action role-playing game.
This marks the beginning of Andrew Richardson's novel, The Wood. It also marks the beginning of a terrifying journey into what is far from just a game. And into a wood that most definitely isn't just a wood. Instead it is the very Otherworld that Kath had been so certain didn't exist…
The Wood is an enjoyable, fast-paced romp through both fantasy and horror. It reads, quite literally, as a non-stop chase through an alien environment, stalked by all manner of mythological creature and beast. Tense, frightening, at turns gory and even sad, this was a story that held my attention throughout.
Particularly effective is the simple premise that Kath and her friends must make their way through this world along a path lined with skulls: a barrier offering protection from the horrors of the wood. The image itself is a very powerful one. From beginning to end, this sense of claustrophobia predominates. The path and its boundary only serve to render the wood itself more menacing--more Otherworldly. I felt that this was where the novel excelled: in the creation of suspense through the simple act of walking a path alongside horrors known but largely unseen.
Richardson certainly doesn't pull any punches. As the violence escalates it becomes a free for all: different species attack one another in a merciless orgy that reduces the role of humans to little more than that of inconsequential snacks, calling to mind Alien vs Predator and even Crichton's Jurassic Park. And there is a particularly gruesome scene towards the end of The Wood that confirms Kath and her companions' place on the food chain in more ways than one.
If I was to make any criticisms, it would be that the dialogue could occasionally be stilted and the characters a little two-dimensional. And while others may not agree, I felt that some conversations were a little clichéd or flippant where circumstances perhaps dictated otherwise.
That said, I enjoyed The Wood immensely. It was a fast and fun ride. Richardson has managed to create a powerful and convincing world, skilfully imparting what is an obviously extensive knowledge of Celtic mythology. That he managed to do this without detracting from the action in overlong asides or info-dumps is to be commended. As is The Wood itself.
The Wood is available from Amazon.com, and as an e-book from Eternal Press
Find out more about Andrew Richardson at his website