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The Godmother's Web
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Ace Books, 308 pages

The Godmother's Web
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough wrote the Nebula Award-winning novel The Healer's War. It drew on her experiences as a nurse in Vietnam. She has written the critically acclaimed Nothing Sacred, as well as numerous other novels including a trilogy with Anne McCaffrey. They are The Powers That Be, Power Lines and Power Play. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Regina Lynn Preciado

As she did in the first two novels in this series, (The Godmother and The Godmother's Apprentice), Elizabeth Ann Scarborough skillfully blends the folklore of different cultural traditions to create the backdrop for a modern story.

Cindy Ellis decides she needs time away from her boyfriend, rock star Raydir Quantrill, to consider whether he is indeed her Prince Charming. As fate would have it, the perfect opportunity arises: She accepts an offer to endurance-train a horse for a friend of a friend. To do so she leaves Raydir's lush Seattle estate for the arid beauty of the Southwest. There, she plans to take the horse -- Chaco -- along the route of an earlier endurance ride across the Hopi and Navajo reservations.

Cindy's quest has barely begun when she meets up with a crazy old woman who demands that Cindy take her along. And who carries on two-way conversations with Chaco. And who saves bread crusts and apple cores in the saddle bags, only to pull out complete sandwiches and apples hours later. And who seems to be related to and recognized by everyone they meet.

The Godmother's Web tells a much more complex story than what I've outlined here -- all of what I've said takes place in the first few chapters -- and it's a tribute to Scarborough's skill that she directs such a huge cast without confusing you. At first you wonder how each character fits into the main story; by the end you realize that not one of them could have been left out. She weaves together dozens of lives from various backgrounds as skillfully as Grandma Webster weaves blankets. And always, always, Cindy pulls the main thread, connecting all of the others.

Scarborough also manages to highlight several serious issues of our times: the lack of access to education for low-income and minority people; the poverty and depression common on the reservations; tribal tensions between the Hopi and the Navajo, which started years ago and grow more complex with each chapter; sexism and job discrimination; the not-so-subtle drug culture; and others. That's a lot to tackle in one novel, but again Scarborough's skill manifests itself. Her deft and thorough characterization keeps the story focused on how the social problems affect individuals -- people who are convincingly real and familiar -- without becoming an editorial about What the World Is Coming To. In fact, she keeps a remarkably non-judgmental tone throughout.

The final fabric does have one or two slight imperfections, as is the Navajo Way. (To produce something perfect would be to challenge the gods and therefore dangerous, if not downright stupid.) It takes Cindy far too long to realize that Grandma Webster is not really a wandering mental case. Cindy has already spent two entire novels dealing with fairy godmothers; she should know the signs by now. And the story bogs down once or twice, not enough to make you lose interest, but enough to make you impatient for something big to happen.

Scarborough's modern characters don't seem to notice that their lives are mirroring the legends of those who have gone before, although you will certainly recognize tales from European and Native American traditions. Perhaps we should all remember that our folklore exists to teach us something, and that if we pay attention we can choose to follow the path of Good as we create the next generation of myths.

Copyright © 1998 by Regina Lynn Preciado

Regina Lynn Preciado writes and edits for a living. Her short-lived film career began with a role as an extra in The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition and ended with another in The Return of the Jedi: Special Edition. She wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. Or maybe a train engineer. Want to know more?

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