Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock

ARTWORK by chic2view from 123RF.com

(mild spoilers)

If I have a flaw as a reader, it is that I am impatient. If there is a great big secret, a true uncertainty, then I must know how it ends. I will read and read until I get to it, assuming I don’t just find spoilers. Robert Holdstock’s Lavondyss, the second book in the Mythago Wood Cycle, was just my latest experience of this.

Incidentally, I couldn’t find spoilers.

Of course, I have more than one flaw as a reader. I can’t read dense, ornate prose all that quick without needing lots of breaks. Lavondyss is of that ilk. Initially set in the 1950s, it has a sombreness to it that I find pleasing, but in small doses.

In other words, reading Lavondyss had me writhing like a snake in a cleft stick. I was compelled to read it, but reading it in a rush detracted from the book’s magic for me.

Thankfully, more than enough magic remained in the story. Lavondyss’ protagonist is Tallis Keeton, the young sister to one of the characters from the original Mythago Wood and gifted with shamanic potential. We watch her slowly unravel the truth of Ryhope Forest and her brother Harry’s disappearance as a child, making masks and giving names to the fields around the area. We see her develop twin obsessions, one about rescuing her brother, and one about a young mythago named Scathach she meets.

Then one day she figures out how to enter the forest properly, and from there it gets a bit bloody trippy.

For those who don’t know, Ryhope is an everyday normal woodland save that you can reach a seemingly endless mythic realm where time flows differently through it. The realm is populated by what are called mythagos – among other names – people and beasts that spring from humanity’s sense of myth.

What follows is a gloriously weird shamanic quest to find a way deep enough to rescue Harry as she navigates the forest’s logic and realises just how much her actions have screwed the logic up. I genuinely don’t think I understand every part of Holdstock’s logic chart here, not because it was clearly stupid but because my brain wasn’t up to it, which is a very rare thing for me. Throw in a cast of neolithic tribes, green men, lost Oxford academics, grotesque mystics, and ice age families, and it’s just a massive pot full of the ingredients that make my favourite sort of fantasy; weird, mythic, mysterious, bloody, thoughtful, and occasionally hopeful. Well, very much occasionally here.

None of this would matter if Holdstock was a bad writer. He’s an excellent writer, with darkly evocative prose and an eye for interesting characters. Tallis’ precocious nature is a huge deal of fun to read about. Scathach is a compelling mix of loyalty, tenderness, and bravado. Tallis’ poor parent are dawn well too, and the use of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is cleverly done.

I don’t really had a bad word to say about this book. It’s powerful, clever, and very entertaining. I can easily see some readers getting put off by some of the darker, weirder stuff that exists towards the end of the book, or failing to jibe with the prose, or thinking it’s moving too slowly, or a number of other things. But not me. For me it is something special, and I know I’m not alone.

2 thoughts on “Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock

  1. Lol, aww. I’m the same too, so I can relate to how you felt reading this book and unable to find any spoilers to appease your curiosity.
    I’d love to try Mythago Wood one of these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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