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A Rare Fantasy Treat
on 2 May 2009
It's a shame that Merlin's Wood or A Vision of Magic was never printed in the U.S. and has been out of print for 13 years. This book of one novel and two short stories is definitely an experience involving the imagination of a modern writer who has a unique approach to Fantasy.
The main novel is a meaningful work that falls outside of the genre of High Fantasy like Lord of the Rings, yet is engaging without using the mechanisms of popular "Genre Fantasy." The work is replete with magical and mythical vignettes, many of which are powerfully evocative of the primal and arcane. Midway through the narrative you can still expect to encounter some very interesting tales interwoven with the plot. In this work, the relationship between two well-known and powerful enchanters, Merlin and Vivien is central. In particular, the reader learns how their relationship has tragic consequences for a family living on the outskirts of Broceliande, a haunted sister-wood to Ryhope wood, the featured setting of the award winning Merlin's Wood. As usual, Holdstock focuses on familial relationships and loss involving a haunted and magical forest. The fantasy tropes at work here are loosely related to those in Mythago Wood, but unique in many ways. The tragedy of the main story progresses with an exordial horror.
The two short stories are interesting and engaging, yet disturbing on a primal level. This is a signature characteristic of many of Robert Holdstock's works. The first short story is an excellent and natural combination of both the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. The second short story features a repellent protagonist who would offend most sensibilities and focuses on the power of metamorphosis.
While everyone will not like Merlin's Wood, it is definitely a worthwhile read for those serious about the Fantasy Genre and fans of the Mythago Wood series.