Thursday, October 20, 2011
Review: Mythago Wood
Up this time is Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock.
Am I a impulsive book buyer? *sigh* Um, yes, at times, but it usually works out in my favor. There are definitely times when I'll see a book sitting there at the used book store, and though it isn't on my "books to read radar" I'll snag it because I've heard good things about it, and the fact that it has "found me" rather than me finding it, I figure that fate has somehow placed the two of us together for a reason. And really, who am I to give fate the cold shoulder?
It was under such fateful circumstances that Mythago Wood came to be in my possession. At the time I was reading and loving The Prestige and since each title had won the World Fantasy Award, I thought, what the hell, let's give this one a whirl. So I did.
For years, the Huxley family has lived on the edge of Ryhope Wood, a dense stretch of ancient British forest. For years, George Huxley studied the forest, an undertaking that estranged him from his family and possibly drove him mad. Now, after his death, his son Christian has taken up the old man's research and his younger brother, Steven has returned home from the war to help take care of the house and land. Together the two young men discover that the forest is much more than it appears; The Ryhope Wood is a primeval place, where people, legends and tribes from different historical eras live and co-exist, brought to life by myth. What appears to be just your typical old-growth forest is actually a place that is physically larger once inside that it appears from the outside, and is host to mythagos; savage men, women and beasts.
The forest has a dark power. The power that pulled down their father, George, and now is pulling Christian into it's grasp. Unwittingly, Steven falls in love with Guiwenneth, one of the mythagos, just like his father and brother have before him. When she is captured, Steven must quest to the center of the wood to save her, while confronting the dangers of the dark forest.
Mythago Wood got off to a slow start, taking its time to set up the characters, and the forest, which in many ways is a character itself. The slow start was a bit frustrating because I knew that eventually, the book had to go and explore the forest, which is the most interesting thing, but it took a while to actually get to that point. Things do pick up a bit once the quest through the forest begins, but overall, the pacing is a bit on the slow side here.
Though the primary character, Steven is decently developed, albeit a bit uninteresting as far as lead characters go, he serves the story well by being a great conduit for the reader to experience the woods and the mythagos through. Steven is every bit as perplexed, overwhelmed, and unprepared for the mysteries of the forest as I would be, so in that sense, his experiences, reactions, and emotions come across as instantly understandable and real. I thought this quality was a nice touch and made me feel like I was experiencing the dread, and craziness that was the Ryhope Wood.
The forest itself was basically a character and in my mind, the star of the show. I wanted to know more about it, I wanted to explore it, and learn the secrets of the wood. Holdstock did a great job by creating a mysterious and creepy setting and then bringing it life on the page. I really felt like all of my senses were engaged, and operating at full capacity as Steven journeyed through the forest where unknown dangers, and mysteries lurked. This made for a memorable reading experience.
My one gripe, aside from the slow pacing, was that the one female character, Guiwenneth, was poorly developed. She came across to me as more of a pretty object for the men to fall in love with than an actual character. Some of this was compacted by the fact that for much of the novel she couldn't speak modern English, so she didn't have much dialog, but aside from apparently being handy with a knife, a fact that was told, but never shown, she didn't have a lot going on. The lack of character development with Guiwenneth made it harder for me to believe that George, Christian, and Steven would all fall madly in love with her, which ended up taking away from the story since Steven's love for Guiwenneth is what drove him into the forest in the first place.
Overall this was a solid fantasy novel, but far from my favorite. Holdstock is a crafty writer, and created a great setting that was simultaneously fascinating and horrifying, but the pacing and character development left a bit to be desired for my tastes. I will say that Mythago Wood is a unique book in the fantasy genre. I've certainly never come across anything like it. I would recommend this one if you are looking for something different, but still want to stay in the fantasy genre. For me, score this one as a push for impulse buying.