Review of Heartwood by Gregory J. Saunders

Heartwood, by Gregory J. Saunders, is a story of man versus beast, fear versus courage, habitat versus humanity.
On the side of habitat we have a nameless creature, living within the heart of the woods, feeding off the life force of the trees in which it dwells. Dormant for centuries at a time, and awakening only to mate, or in response to danger, it is unforgiving, unstoppable, and almost ageless, having survived, unnoticed, for thousands of years.
On the side of humanity we have Osvaldo “Oz” Salazar, Chief of the Jicarilla tribal police authority, and urbanised descendant of proud apache warriors. Circumstance and necessity force him to team up with Paul Killian, a racist Caucasian wilderness expert and lifelong poacher. The two men, who both miraculously survived creature encounters on their own, must join forces, and destinies, to stop it, or die trying.
This book has its ups and downs. On the up side, Saunders shows in his writing an almost palpable respect for nature, aboriginal culture and beliefs, and the foibles of his own characters, which cause them to resonate as truly three dimensional people. People, that in the end, you really care about and can root for.
Some very creative thinking went into the creation of the creature itself, actually making it believable that such a thing could go unnoticed and undiscovered for thousands of years. No easy task.
On the down side, there are some pacing problems. This is a book that tries to do more than it needs to. With unnecessarily frequent historical side trips to illustrate the longevity of the creature, the pace and rhythm of the story suffers. You just get into the events of the present and have to pause for an Aztec encounter set in 1539, or visit to a logging camp in the 70s.
All the author needed to do to illustrate the creature’s longevity and character was to set the establishing chapter in 1211 A.D, and then switch to the creature in the present, seemingly unchanged. He did this in fact. Making the other scenes, while well written and historically well-researched, redundant and, for me, disruptive to the flow of the narrative.
As it stands, Heartwood is an interesting, unusual and suspenseful story with some (for me quite serious) pacing issues. With some solid editing, it could be a story I would recommend without any hesitation at all. Instead, it gets a conditional “you should go ahead and read it”. There are many things to enjoy.

Reviewer: JP Layberry, Allbooks Review Int.


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