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Convalescing in France after WWII, Steve Huxley hears of the death of his father, who for many years has been obsessed by the woodland bordering their home. Returning home, Steve finds that his brother Christian has now also been 'infected' by their father's obsession, developing a tendency to roam Ryhope Wood for days or even weeks at a time, searching for...something. As Steve delves into his father's research, he learns the secrets of the woodland and what affect his own desires are having on it.

Mythago Wood, the first book in the Mythago Wood Cycle, was first published twenty-five years ago (when it promptly won the World Fantasy Award) and has become a highly-regarded work over the intervening period. It's not an epic fantasy, but neither is it the kind of twee and fairy-riddled work the synopsis or its reputation as a 'woodland fantasy' suggests. Instead, it's a powerful and effecting look at mythology and language, invoking the origins of pagan rituals and the development of history into myth. It's also a very human story of a father whose all-consuming obsession destroyed his marriage and damaged the relationship with his sons, whilst the two brothers' relationship forms the core of the novel.

Holdstock's Ryhope Wood is vividly described. You can almost feel the twigs snapping under your feet as the story proceeds deeper into the heartwoods, and the sense of dislocated time is conveyed very well. Holdstock also manages an impressive balancing act by having the odd properties of Ryhope Wood described in almost scientific terms, but the central sense of magical mystery remains intact and compelling.

Another interesting side of the story is that whilst Holdstock mentions the traditional English mythological figures of Robin Hobb and Arthur, he also makes use of a great deal of Celtic and Welsh imagery which are less familiar, but equally fascinating, to the casual reader.

If the book has a weakness, it's the near-total lack of scepticism on the part of any of the human characters about what is going on. Whilst it's refreshing not to have to deal with a corny, "But this can't be happening!" spiel every five pages, the total lack of surprise on the part of the central character to much of what occurs does feel a little odd. In addition, a major character abruptly bows out of the narrative just before the end, in a move that feels like it was meant to establish groundwork for the semi-sequel, Lavondyss, rather than entirely make sense within the confines of this novel.

These are extremely minor concerns. Mythago Wood (****½) is a rich and textured novel about myth which is thought-provoking and densely atmosphere. The novel is available in the UK in a new anniversary edition and also as part of an omnibus. It is also available now in the USA.
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on 18 July 2009
Only 16 reviews for this fantasy masterpiece?!?!? What's wrong with you people??? You're almost as bad as us Americans! And you bloody invented the genre!! But I see that 623 of you had time to review "Twilight"- a piece of pure drivel written (and badly at that) for hormonal pre-tween girls. Truly disgusting. Come on people- this book is a freakin masterwork of dark fantasy that works on multiple levels: psychological, philisophical, spiritual- it's even a heartbreaking romance on top of everything else. And YET you just LOOOVVVEEDD you some "Twilight" didn't you? Maybe its all the MSG in the Macdonalds you're all eating that interferes with your ability to appreciate a book like this. A little too much Dr. Who perhaps? I mean this is truly on the level of Tolkein et al. And yet it has only 16 reviews. You people have sorely disappointed me.
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on 13 January 2013
I've been trying to get hold of a copy of this for my friend for ages! In doing so, I dug out my own copy and plunged back into the enchanted Ryhope Wood. There aren't many ancient woodlands left in Britain now but I reckon they would have some of its character, haunted by the spirits and denizens of the past. A magical book, in more ways than one and deserves to be better known.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 June 2015
After a couple of chapters I nearly stopped reading as it seemed like a teenage magic story. I continued (largely because I had the audio version with superb reading by Rupert Degas) and soon realised it is not a silly magic tale at all, rather a tale of deep psychological magic based on Jungian archetypes.

The story is quite well told but somehow it didn't fulfil the promise of the idea it is based upon. Overall I found it a reasonably enjoyable read but nearer to 3 stars for "ok" than 4 stars for "good".

The biggest weaknesses for me were the unconvincing ending and the foolish but honourable behaviour of the hero, which struck me as slightly ridiculous. I also wish the author had used the word "obsessed" less frequently. Every time someone was "obsessed" I thought of the old maxim that writers should "show and not tell". Last, and perhaps least, the story hinges on an incredible coincidence (without spoilers: the narrator meets someone who is probably the only person in the world with a certain history relevant to the story).
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on 7 September 2015
This first in the series is a seriously good book. The idea on which this is based is both very new and very old. Great. A rich Gothic feel with a primeaval edge. Could this become it's weekness as well as its strength? I will read the next with interest.
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on 27 August 1999
This is not the kind of book I would usually read but it was bought for me as a present and once I got round to reading it I couldn't put it down. The best book I've read in a very long time, just hope I can find the other books in the series somewhere.
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on 2 August 2008
My favourite book ever!! I borrowed it from my brother about 20 years ago now and read it during the summer holidays and must have re-read it once a year ever since. And each time i do i find something new. (Or have possibly forgotten!) Robert Holdstock's the real deal. It's heavy going sometimes especially in the brilliant sequel Lavondyss, but this stuff will stay with you forever. Filled with brilliant and original ideas and 3 dimensional characters. Arguably the best book in the Mythago series but if you like this then youre still going to crave the rest. If you read this and don't like it then there's really not much hope for you. Shame on you. Off you go and and read Moonheart by Charles de lint. zzzzzzzzzzzz
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on 3 January 2013
If you enjoy fantasy stories; ancient British mythology; that ability to step into other worlds and other times then this is the book for you. Utterly fascinating.
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on 20 November 2015
One of my favourite fantasy books with very mythical, pagany feeling to it. This time I got it for one of my best friends, hope he likes it too.
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on 26 April 2010
This is book is an amazing work in fantasy (and it can only be described as fantasy) which melds our world and history with that of dreams and the fruits they can bear. There are no magicical battles and dragons but there are amazingly penned characters and a twisting plot which at once enthralls, amazes and confuses and no shortage of fantasy imaging and creatures. The best alternative fantasy book I have ever read and possibly the best fantasy book full-stop.

RIP Robert Holdstock.
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