by Robert Holdstock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
While Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood is about solitude and disassociation with family, its sequel, Lavondyss, opens with an older man, Owen Keeton, writing a loveletter in the margins of a book to his infant granddaughter, Tallis. While the Huxley family worked to destroy itself, Owen Keeton pleads with the supernatural to spare the life of his granddaughter. Even as the same magic of Ryhope Wood is woven into Lavondyss, Holdstock gives this book a very different feel than Mythago Wood.
Even as Tallis, and later Wynne-Jones, explore the magic of Ryhope Wood and the mythagos who inhabit it, there is still a strong sense of community. Tallis has a family and is shown, repeatedly, interacting with her father and mother. Wynne-Jones has become a part of a community within the boundaries of Ryhope Wood, almost taking on a shamanistic role for them.
This new aspect to the Ryhope Wood series is important. In Mythago Wood, the adventures of Steve Huxley and Harry Keeton was devoid of any link with their contemporary civilization. Lavondyss allows Holdstock to link the mysterious wood to its surrounding and show how the wood is viewed by those who live nearby. Holdstock's decision to make Lavondyss's protagonist the half-sister of Harry Keeton extends that link to the earlier novel.
Holdstock's choice of characters for Lavondyss does create some problems. Through the first half of the novel, Tallis ranging in age from an infant to thirteen. Nevertheless, we are not shown any chronological growth on her part. She learns new information, but her maturity is the same no matter what age she is. In all cases, her maturity is much greater than her age. Furthermore, she is accepted as nearly an equal by her father and Mr. Williams, the musician who befriends Tallis and helps her gain knowledge of the secret names of places. Nobody treats Tallis's interest in mysticism as anything less than a legitimate study.
Another problem is that Holdstock is not able to maintain the otherworldly quality of his writing for the full length of the novel. Strange things happen throughout, especially the second half, but Holdstock's skill, at the time he wrote Lavondyss, was not yet to the point where he could adequately capture the ideas and feelings which he was attempting to get across to his readers.
Ideas and feelings are exactly what a book like Lavondyss is about. Without Holdstock's stylistic license, Lavondyss would be merely another coming of age story. For most of the book, however, his writing style manages to transcend the genericism of the basic storyline to raise the book to a higher, more enjoyable level.
Lavondyss does not form the end of the Ryhope Wood series. Holdstock continues to explore the grip folklore has on the human psyche, both consciously and unconsciously. His ability to examine this aspect of the human mind firmly established Holdstock as, perhaps, more a folklorist than a fantasist.
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