Wednesday, 23 September 2009

‘Avilion’ – Robert Holdstock (Gollancz)


The ‘dare’ continues... For those of you who have only just joined us, it all started off when Mark Charan Newton said that a lot more bloggers should be reviewing Robert Holdstock’s ‘Avilion’. Despite not being too impressed with ‘Celtika’ I was up for the challenge but had to go back and read ‘Mythago Wood’ first (I’d never read it before). By the time I’d finished I knew that even if I ended up hating ‘Avilion’ it would still be worth it for the fun I’d had reading ‘Mythago Wood’. Here was a book that just blew me away.
I was eager to get into ‘Avilion’ and, as with ‘Mythago Wood’, I’ve spent the last week dipping in and out of the world of Ryhope Wood and what lies beyond. As far as I was concerned, ‘Avilion’ didn’t quite match up to it’s predecessor but it was still a more than worthy read that will have me digging out the other books in this series...

Jack and Yssobel are the children of Stephen Huxley and the Mythago Guiwenneth; they’ve both had the same upbringing (living in the old Roman villa in the middle of Ryhope Wood) but their differing perspective of the world is about to take them in two totally different directions... Jack has always looked outwards to the world beyond the edge of the forest; he will travel there only to find that what he seeks will grow further away the closer he gets. Yssobel has always looked inwards towards the hidden heart of the forest itself. Her curiosity will lead her ever inwards on a journey that will become far more than just a whim. When Yssobel disappears, Jack’s outward journey takes on a new significance and a new direction. Jack must also journey inward if Yssobel is to be found...

Having established the world of Ryhope Wood, Holdstock steps away from world building to tell a story that is more centred around it’s characters and what the plot demands of them. While the plot is certainly compelling, I found myself missing the descriptions of the forest (an entity that was almost a character in its own right in ‘Mythago Wood’) and it felt like some of the ‘forest atmosphere’ was missing this time round. It’s also worth pointing out here that while ‘Avilion’ stands on it’s own, as a story, it’s more than worth reading ‘Mythago Wood’ to get a broader picture of Ryhope Wood and why certain things are taking place within it’s boundaries. ‘Avilion’s’ ability to stand on its own comes at the price of preceding events being glossed over (there’s a ‘What has gone before’ but it was never going to capture everything)...

The atmosphere of the forest may be missing (at least, it was for me) but Holdstock again gives his readers a tangible sense of the history that weighs on Ryhope Wood and beyond. Talking of ‘beyond’, Holdstock takes his readers on a journey right into myth itself and, along with the plot, this was what kept me reading. Holdstock uses figures from different legends to create a land (‘Avilion’) that has a true timeless feel to it. When I read these passages I found myself somewhere familiar yet totally alien at the same time. I wonder if this is what Holdstock intended...
While Holdstock doesn’t pay as much (if any) attention to the wood as a character this time round he makes up for it in other areas; namely ‘Legion’, the army cast adrift in time and wandering at the mercy of those who call on it. Again, there was a real sense of ‘timelessness’ in these passages that emphasised the poignancy of the soldier’s situation as well as their bloody minded determination...

It was good to come back and see recurring characters once more as well ones that I was meeting for the first time. The plot demands a lot of all of them and Holdstock makes sure that they all rise to the challenge. Everyone moves forward, both physically and emotionally, and while there was one character whose motives seemed a little unclear everyone else’s actions generally made sense. Anyone who felt that a certain character’s story was ended too easily (in ‘Mythago Wood’) may find themselves with similar complaints here. What I’d say again is that this is a book that’s more about the story itself than the people. Sometimes things do end that abruptly... The book itself ends in the only way that I think it could but the sense of things being fractured is an odd place to end things on. It’s certainly a feeling that stays with you long after you’ve finished.

‘Avilion’ is another enthralling read from Robert Holdstock’s Ryhope Wood setting although I felt that it didn’t quite go the distance in some areas. I thoroughly enjoyed it though, ‘Avilion’ has me itching to pick up more of Robert Holdstock’s work.

Nine out of Ten

4 comments:

Mardel said...

I've never heard of it before. If he sent it to me, I would read and review it.... : )

Seriously, I'll have to keep my eye out for it.

Graeme Flory said...

Maybe read 'Mythago Wood' first but definitely keep an eye open for this one as well ;o)

Kat @ FanLit said...

Mine is on its way -- I can't wait!

Surveyor said...

You can be happy you still have a lot to discover in this world. Try Lavondyss, I am sure you will not be disappointed.