Avilion is the long awaited (25 years awaited) sequel to Holdstock’s award winning Mythago Wood. Of course there have been other books in the meantime, many of which share the world of Ryhope Wood and its Myth Images or Mythagos. This, however, is the first time Holdstock has taken the original characters and brought them back to life.
First of all if you have never read Mythago Wood then you should. Not only will it bring a breath of clarity to the events in this story but it’s a bloody good book in it’s own right. Spoiler alert – If you don’t want to know what happened in Mythago Wood look away now. Clearly it’s not possible to describe the plot of this current novel without giving something away.
In Mythago Wood George Huxely and his sons Stephen and Christian live on the edge of Ryhope Wood. This place has special powers and brings to life the myths imagined by the people who enter it. Ultimately George disappears and Stephen and Christian whilst searching for him fall in love with the beautiful Celtic Princess Guiwenneth.
Avilion starts with the children of Steven and Guiwenneth, Jack and Yssobel. Guiwenneth has disappeared and Yssobel sets off to find her whilst Jack is drawn to his fathers world outside Ryhope Wood. Eventually the characters are all drawn together in a dramatic conclusion.
For me Mythago Wood and Avilion are at their strongest when the boundaries between our world and the Mythago world are veiled. That slight interaction that hints of ghosts and memories is truly powerful and was used best in Merlin’s Wood (the short story collection which includes the prequel to Mythago Wood). Once unveiled the myths become less magical and the book becomes a much more standard fantasy story. Much of Avilion takes place in this fully formed Arthurian world and for me is a less powerful book as a result.
That’s not to say its not well written. Holdstock’s beautiful and evocative descriptive prose is fully honed and works well in describing both our own world and that of the mythagos. The plot, whilst simple at heart is interwoven with time jumps and character viewpoints which create quite a complex web of material. This is a book that requires some effort.
So for me Avilion is a good book if not quite a great book. The strongest parts of both books are the interactions between Mythagos and humans, Jack’s ventures into our world are strange mysterious and powerful which makes the rest of the book slightly less powerful.
Rating 4 out of 5
PS – Since this review was first published on Highlanders Book Reviews, Robert Holdstock has sadly passed away. The Mythago books remain as a lasting tribute to a great writer.