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on 27 August 2009
It's only taken 25 years but it's been worth the wait. Holdstock has finally been persuaded to write a direct sequel to his World Fantasy Award winner, Mythago Wood, and it lives up to its primogenitor. After beating about the bush in tangential titles sharing the unique mythos of Ryhope Wood - some more effectively than others ('Lavondyss', which followed MW, is a novel of haunting beauty in its own right) - Holdstock has finally picked up the storyline directly from the famously open ending of the first, which saw Steven's glimmering girl, Celtic princess Guiwenneth, being abducted by his father (in the primal figure of the Urscumug) and taken back through the wall of fire that guards the way to Lavondyss. A coda relates how a giant came to a tall stone marking the edge of his known world, the head of a valley where he met a hunter waiting for 'the girl who came back through the fire' and this bequeaths the valley with its later name, imarn uklyss.

And finally, she did.

Steven and Guiwenneth are reunited. They settle down in the valley in an old Roman villa (a mythago conjured from Steven's memory) and have a couple of children, Jack and Yssobel. Avilion resumes the story at the point when this idyll is shattered. Guiwenneth has disappeared and Yssobel has gone to find her - heading inwards to Avilion/Lavondyss. Jack (half human, half mythago like his sister - both 'red' and 'green') journeys outwards to the edge of Ryhope - desperate to see the world of his father, the Lodge where it all started, the village of Shadoxhurst, and hopefully find some clues that will help in the search. By the time Jack reaches 'the fields we know' it is the present day (the original disappearance of the three Huxley men - George, Steven and Christian - occured in the late Forties). As all travellers of Faerie discover, time runs differently in each world. In a intertextual touch Steven has quested Jack with finding his old copy of The Time Machine in the Lodge. Jack's presence there dislodges the ghost/mythago of his grandfather, George Huxley - and we have some insight into the original chain of events.

Echoes and reflections.

This occurs alot throughout the book - things overlap. The polder of Ryhope Wood has a porous boundary - the real world leaks into it and it leaks into the real world (one of Holdstock's new characters Caylen Reeve, a charismatic shaman figure living in the village, epitomises this). This symbiotic nature is not surprising, for Mythago Wood is a cypher for the imagination, a zone of subconscious creativity - 'Avilion is what we make it' - and its at its most fertile where the two worlds (waking and dreams/conscious and subconscious) meet. Holdstock is not afraid to plunder (or cross-reference) his own treasure hoard. Christian's army of the lost, Legion, marches into the book from the pages of 'Gates of Horn, Gates of Ivory' and that wily Greek sea captain, Odysseus, pops up as a love interest to the young Yssobel - a kind of leftover 'mythago' from the Merlin Codex (Holdstock's Celtic/Ancient Greece crosshatch trilogy). This self-referencing could become a law of diminishing returns but it satisfyingly capitalises on previous books in the sequence and draws the threads together. The multi-linerar narrative structure is bold - intercutting between mainly Jack and Yssobel's journey, but sometimes switching to Guiwenneth's, Steven's, Christian's...ambitiously from first to third. In his weaker work, this cut-and-paste method can leave the reader floundering. Here, Holdstock carries it off. His years' of experience have paid off - he has found an assured narrative voice, having in previous novels sometimes been in danger of writing a pastiche of himself, wilfully obscure gobbledigook masking dodgy characterisation and structure.
The prose is well-honed and lucid. The characters of Jack and Yssobel are convincing - indeed Yssobel's voice comes across the clearest and this is more her story than anyones. The portrayal of the older Steven and Guiwenneth is a believable depiction of marriage - albeit a mythopoeic one - and Steven's transformation into his father touching (it could even be a gently self-deprecating self-portrait). Holdstock includes a selection of his poetry - one of which, 'Fields of Tartan' is based upon his grandfather's memories of the First World War - he incorporates this into the narrative effectively, but the personal reference gives the whole thing added poignancy. Holdstock also dedicates the book to the memory of his father, who died before it was finished: again, this fact gives the story an added depth, as the novelist depicts an otherworld where loved ones never die. It is a novel about homecoming - 'What we remember is all the home we need' - and in 'Avilion' Holdstock has finally come home. This is a fantasy novel willing to depict mature relationships and shows Holdstock's maturity as a fantasy novelist.

As all true works of art, 'Avilion' conveys something fundamental about the human condition: why we, the human creature, need to dream, to explore, to discover, to take risks, even to suffer - if we are to truly grow:

'We held and held until we broke,
But in the breaking, we held,
and in the holding we will find Avilion' (Holdstock)

Diehard fans of Holdstock/the Mythago Wood novels should be truly satisfied by this definitive sequel, whileas newcomes to Ryhope could be sufficiently enchanted to wish to plunge deeper into its mythos.

'Avilion' feels like a conclusive end to the George/Steven/Christian/Guiwenneth story - but not perhaps the Mythago Wood itself: the further you go in, the bigger it gets. I for one am glad that Ryhope will always be there, just across the field, over the brook, a Secondary World within reach for those willing to step into its shade.

A novel of deep magic and haunting beauty.
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on 10 August 2009
I loved Mythago Wood when it was first released and adored the follow-up, Lavondyss, even more. Unfortunately, all subsequent books based on Ryhope Wood have been something of a disappointment. They weren't 'bad' as such, but they weren't a patch on the first two.

With 'Avilion' Holdstock appears to be getting back on form - it's not as good as Mythago Wood and not a patch on the superb Lavondyss, but it's still a good read which shows a great deal of imagination.

My main problem was with the characters - I didn't really feel any great sense of connection or empathy for them, something which certainly didn't apply to the characters in Mythago Wood and Lavondyss.

Still, Avilion is a good read - I'd give it 3.5 out of 5 stars but as you can't give half stars I've gone for four out of five.

Come on Robert, next book let's have something as utterly superb, complex, mesmerising, deep and atmospheric as Lavondyss with characters you can really love. Please?
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on 1 August 2009
Intensely imagined and beautifully written as you would expect with some fascinating creations and reimagining of historical and mythological figures and a sideways look at one of the most compelling of Arthurian legends: the death of Arthur and his transportation to Avalon, I loved the concept of Legion, an army of all armies travelling through time and dimensions from battle to battle. Not quite up to 'Lavondyss' which remains my personal favourite book in this cycle but way way better than most fantasy on the shelves at the moment.
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on 10 August 2009
Robert Holdstock at his finest! This book ties off a lot of loose ends from the Mythago series and is therefore esential reading for fans of the Mythago wood epic. Holdstock creates a world where we should all venture to, in order to control our thoughts! It's hard to believe this series is over, or is it? I wonder will Yssi carry the torch now?
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on 10 January 2010
I saved Avilion to read over Christmas and therefore avoided reviews and websites. Finished it 2 days ago to discover Rob had died in November. It's tragic that this is his last published work as I think he has been been one of the finest novelists writing in English since Mythago Wood was first published. Avilion, though good, for me isn't his best: I would take Lavondyss to my desert island. It does have some great passages especially the simple domestic scenes of family argument but maybe because of this, doesn't have the mind bending strangeness of the first two Ryhope Wood novels.

Thank you for many years of pleasure Mr Holdstock.
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If there is one thing that can be said about authors it's that the older they get from their original release the more mature a tale is presented. What makes Holdstock (who incidentally has a very Jeremy Irons look) such essential reading is the way in which he is beautifully blended British myth with his own style of storytelling. Whilst its been a few years since his original Mythago Woods novel was released you can tell from the way that it ended there was always more to follow but that he was saving it for a time he thought that he could present something special for the reader. That is exactly what happens within this offering.

Wonderfully creative, we return to the original protagonist for a brief stint to take up his theme through his children with the Mythago Huntress, Guiwenneth as they come to terms with their heritage and seek to find their own place within the world. It's ideal fantasy fare and whilst some would argue to read it on its own I underwent a full Holdstock series reread just to check that my expectations would be met. A cracking offering from the author and I suspect a tale that will get nominated for a good few awards. Great stuff Robert.
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on 2 January 2010
This is such a long-awaited sequel. While I still cannot forgive Mr. Holdstock that it took him so long I must say it has been well worth the wait. A jewel of a book. You must read the Mythago Wood before reading this though otherwise you really miss out. Holdstock at his best.
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on 17 May 2010
Avilion is the long awaited (25 years awaited) sequel to Holdstock's award winning Mythago Wood. Of course there have been other books in the meantime, many of which share the world of Ryhope Wood and its Myth Images or Mythagos. This, however, is the first time Holdstock has taken the original characters and brought them back to life.

First of all if you have never read Mythago Wood then you should. Not only will it bring a breath of clarity to the events in this story but it's a bloody good book in it's own right. Spoiler alert - If you don't want to know what happened in Mythago Wood look away now. Clearly it's not possible to describe the plot of this current novel without giving something away.

In Mythago Wood George Huxely and his sons Stephen and Christian live on the edge of Ryhope Wood. This place has special powers and brings to life the myths imagined by the people who enter it. Ultimately George disappears and Stephen and Christian whilst searching for him fall in love with the beautiful Celtic Princess Guiwenneth.

Avilion starts with the children of Steven and Guiwenneth, Jack and Yssobel. Guiwenneth has disappeared and Yssobel sets off to find her whilst Jack is drawn to his fathers world outside Ryhope Wood. Eventually the characters are all drawn together in a dramatic conclusion.

For me Mythago Wood and Avilion are at their strongest when the boundaries between our world and the Mythago world are veiled. That slight interaction that hints of ghosts and memories is truly powerful and was used best in Merlin's Wood (the short story collection which includes the prequel to Mythago Wood). Once unveiled the myths become less magical and the book becomes a much more standard fantasy story. Much of Avilion takes place in this fully formed Arthurian world and for me is a less powerful book as a result.

That's not to say its not well written. Holdstock's beautiful and evocative descriptive prose is fully honed and works well in describing both our own world and that of the mythagos. The plot, whilst simple at heart is interwoven with time jumps and character viewpoints which create quite a complex web of material. This is a book that requires some effort.

So for me Avilion is a good book if not quite a great book. The strongest parts of both books are the interactions between Mythagos and humans, Jack's ventures into our world are strange mysterious and powerful which makes the rest of the book slightly less powerful.
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on 30 April 2011
The seventh (if you count Merlin's Wood) novel in the series and written (25 years after) to be a direct sequel to the very first Mythago Wood. The continuity is so strong it is as if the intervening quarter century never happened. Avilion is as good as any of its predecessors, rich, strange and imaginative and written in a brisk style that keeps the action cracking along. High magic is described as believably and perfectly as real emotion and parts of the story choked me up. Sadly the great Robert Holdstock died in 2009 so this is the last tale of the deepwoods there will ever be. If you're a fan, how can you not?
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on 22 May 2010
I share Sarah Hardcastles review thoughts - I think the problem was that Mythago Wood is such an amazing book, the whole concept of the wood containing whole cultures, heroes etc was unique. At its heart it was a simple love story between Guiwenneth and Stephen which was threatened by the embittered older brother Christian. The interplay between Guiwenneth and Stephen was of two people in love. I breathed every kiss, i felt the same sorrow at the parting. The ending gave us, the reader, hope that they had got back together.

Moving on to the fantastic Lavondyss (the amazing Tallis and the masks through which she journeyed after her older brother) and you have two great books - i have never felt that Robert got near to reaching the same heights again - i suppose, like us, he wrote the early books when in a different place from now. Avilion just did not entrance me - i found whole passages boring - the whole Arthur part just came out of left field - dont get me wrong, i love Arthurian lore BUT i read this book to find out more about Stephen and Guiwenneth - i dont not want long tales about her daughter or about Odysseus - the story jumped back and forwards and i just could not get into it. The only part that half interested me was when Jack was out on the edge of the world and his interplay with the lay preacher. Guiwenneth turned out to be a bitter and twisted old woman who killed Christian - end of story i suppose for her but for me, it summed up a book that had no real purpose.

I am of course sorry to hear that Robert had died last year - no more books which is a pity BUT if im honest, if he had put down his pen after Lavondyss i, for one, would have been happy as the first two books reputation would have remained intact.
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