Mythago Wood – Robert Holdstock

Back cover blurb: 

The mystery of Ryhope Wood, Britain’s last fragment of primeval forest, consumed George Huxley’s entire long life. Now, after his death, his sons have taken up his work. But what they discover is numinous and perilous beyond all expectation. 

For the Wood, larger inside than out, is a labyrinth full of myths come to life, “mythagos” that can change you forever: A labyrinth where love and beauty haunt your dreams…and may drive you insane. 

There are few books which have managed to enrapture me quite as much as Mythago Wood has, which is making the process of writing a review nearly impossible.
Mythago Wood is a book of epic quality concealed within a work that is deceptively small, with roughly 300 pages total (give or take a few depending on what edition you are reading). My first reaction when seeing the paltry number of pages was a skeptical snort. How on earth could an epic fantasy story be told in so few pages?
Mythago Wood is a story wrapped up like an onion, with layers upon layers that are slowly removed until the reader discovers the amazing core of the story being told. The writing is spectacular. The story is told in first person, which seems to bother quite a few people but Mythago Wood wouldn’t have worked any other way. The descriptions flow like honey and make the entire book and world come to colorful, three-dimensional life. It is easy for the reader to become as obsessed and enraptured with the Wood as the protagonist.
This book is an exploration of myth, and Holdstock does an incredible job toying with ideas of what myth is, how they come to life and affect not only us, but also the world we live in. It’s a deep exploration making Mythago Wood a book you want to read if you are willing to pay attention to detail. While there is romance in this book, it (remember this because you probably won’t read anything like this from me again) didn’t seem to bother me in the least. It was very well done, necessary for the plot and not the least bit overbearing.
The plot is not slow moving, but it is incredibly detailed filled with plenty of subtle nuances which may surprise some readers. While it’s a short book, it’s not a literary work you want to plow through in a day. It’s a book you want to read slowly and savor. It’s a perfect example of how not all epic fantasy needs to be a swashbuckling adventure peppered with witty conversation and sarcastic observations that take up hundreds upon hundreds of pages. Mythago Wood, in its own way, redefines epic fantasy.
If the plot isn’t enough to capture your interest, the scenery will be. The wood itself is amazing to read about, artistic and beautifully described.
There is required suspension of belief in Mythago Wood, but Holdstock managed this in an artistic way. There wasn’t a “this can’t be possible…” discussion every other page. Instead, the protagonist just accepted that these odd aspects of the Wood was just how things were, internalized them and moved on. This helped keep the story flowing and, I felt, kept my suspension of belief in tact. I actually felt that a “this can’t be possible…” discussion would have harmed the book more than helped it.
This book is worth reading for anyone in the mood for something different, profound and moving in its own way. Holdstock’s world is vibrant and believable; his plot is flowing, his writing is flawless. All in all, this book is an essential addition to any fantasy collection and readers will quickly find that Mythago Wood will dig its way into your psyche and never quite leave you.
5/5 stars