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

14 Responses

  • Sarah

    More formatting errors. Is anyone else on blogger having this problem? I go to edit them out and blogger takes out all of my paragraphs and spacing. Maybe I'm just special?

  • Seak (Bryce L.)

    I'm so glad you reviewed this one. I've been going back and forth, but it looks like it's a done deal. I have to read it.

    Are you planning on reading the sequels? There are sequels right? Maybe I'm just thinking of other books he's written.


  • Sarah

    I believe this is a trilogy and yeah, I will be devouring the rest of the books in the series. It was incredible. Seriously one of the best books I've ever read. I hope you enjoy it!!

  • Kristen

    This sounds wonderful! This is one I've been going back and forth on whether or not to read as well, but it sounds like I need to read it at some point. I love exploration of myths.

  • Sarah

    I honestly went back and forth on this one for quite a while as well but I'm really, really glad I read it. If you like the exploration of myths you'd love this one. It draws heavily on Celtic lore.

  • Brenda

    I love the cover on this one. It's already on my extremely long TBR list. Some day I'll get to it.

  • James

    It is not a trilogy.

    There are several books in the Ryhope Woods sequence, all connected in some way (most loosely) to Mythago Wood, but the only actual sequel to the book is the recently published Avilion.

    It is a shame that I was not pushed to read Mythago Wood until Holdstock's unfortunate passing. It is a fine, fantastic novel and, quite frankly, brilliant. Holdstock's prose lends to vivid imagery and he skillfully blends Jungian Psychology, Mythology, and the fantastic into a novel that is a pleasure to read, a height for other authors to aspire to, and something that is quite beyond compare.

  • Sarah

    James, thanks for clearing me up on that. I guess I was confused because the books I saw all had similar covers, same authors, same major theme and figured it was a trilogy or something. The fact that they are all connected to the Ryhope Wood is just as good, in my humble opinion.

    I wasn't aware that Holdstock passed until last night. Man, that's too bad. He's such an incredible author and the book was absolutely mind blowing. Personally, I think Mythago Wood set the bar amazingly high for quality and content.

    Thanks again for your comment.

  • Jamie Gibbs

    This is a strange coincidence. Yesterday I got the sequel Avilion from the library, and I was recommended to read Mythago Wood first. You've saved me the trouble 😛 My initial scepticism was the same as yours, but I'm glad that it's as immersive as you say. Thanks, I'm looking forward to Avilion even more!

  • Carin B.

    This book sounds fantastic. I now understand your topic on the BotM group on Shelfari. This is definitely going on my virtual TBR list. Sounds awesome!

  • Gem

    Oh this sounds great. Will definitely be adding it to my wish list!

  • Melissa (My words and pages)

    This is a new one for me. Sounds like a great read. Thanks a lot. And the scenary is that detailed, amazing. I have read a few shorter (page number wise) fantasy books lately that have been rather good and with being of shorter number of pages, it can be kind of surprising too. Thanks!

  • Kat Hooper

    Lavondyss is even better. Probably my favorite fantasy novel of all times. I didn't particularly like Avilion, though. I haven't read any more of the Ryhope Wood books.

  • Historymaking 101

    I absolutely LOVE Mythago wood. I first read the original short story years ago after my uncle gave me his old science fiction and fantasy magazines, the second I saw the novel I bought it, and I crawled bookstores for years before I found Lavondyss (which is better). I went to London the summer after Holdstock died.

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