Lavondyss: Will stay in my mind forever

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Robert Holdstock Mythago Wood LavondyssLavondyss by Robert Holdstock

The wood sucks at the mind, it sucks out the dreams.

Many times I don’t like sequels because there’s nothing new to learn. Authors tend to give us all of their world-building in the first novel, so I’m often bored by a sequel. But Lavondyss blew my mind. It is, I have no doubt, one of the best fantasy novels ever written.

In Mythago Wood, Harry Keeton entered the forest with Steven and he’s been there for years. We got the sense back then that Harry had some secret personal purpose for going in — it wasn’t just to help Steven. His sister Tallis remembers him leaving when she was four years old. Her parents are distressed and assume he’s dead. When Tallis hears what she believes is a communication from Harry and starts interacting with the wood, her parents think she’s gone batty. But Tallis is determined to bring Harry home.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLavondyss may be the perfect fantasy novel. First of all, it’s written in Robert Holdstock’s beautiful style. I tend to be picky and demanding about style. A good story will not do it for me if the writing is pedestrian. It doesn’t have to be poetic, but it needs to be interesting and creative — not just, as we say, “serviceable.” Robert Holdstock’s writing style, at least in these novels, is similar to Patricia McKillip‘s: straightforward, but kind of dreamy, too. To me, it’s perfect.

Secondly, Lavondyss made me think. It was complex and convoluted, and I didn’t even know how complex it was until I got to the end. At that point I had to go back and re-read several passages so I could try to understand what had happened. It’s not that it wasn’t related effectively, but rather that Mr. Holdstock does not spoon-feed the reader. He does not divulge everything we want to know when we want to know it. We’re given hints and impressions (and maybe even some false information from unreliable characters?) that must be accumulated and assembled. My brain had trouble bringing it all together in the end. What, exactly, is Lavondyss? Why do the mythagos travel there? What drove Harry into the forest? Who is he there? How is he related to the mythagos? How do Mr. Williams and Wynne-Jones fit in? Most importantly: what is the nature of myth, story, and legend, and where do they come from? (There are lots of other questions I could ask, but I’d be giving too much away.) Instead of leaving me frustrated, I am fascinated, and motivated to find the answers.

Lastly, the story made me feel. The characters are endearing and I experienced their joy, pain, hope, and hopelessness. The ending was sad, happy, chilling, shocking, wonderful, and inconclusive. It stayed with me for days.

I am still confused about a lot of stuff that I was hoping would be cleared up, but I’m happily confused. This is a story that requires a re-read in order to appreciate its richness. I’ve jotted down some notes — stuff I learned in the parts of Lavondyss that I re-read. I will have to go back to Mythago Wood and then read further in the series. I look forward to it and I can’t wait to spend more time in, and learn more about, Rhyhope Wood.

~Kat Hooper

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Robert Holdstock Mythago Wood LavondyssI have a bad habit of overusing the word “haunting.” Ergo, I worry that when I use it here, it won’t pack the punch it really should. Let me just say, then, that when I say Lavondyss is haunting, I mean it. This book settled into my bones like a hard winter. It will stay in my mind forever. I feel like I’ve lived a whole second life by reading it, and I’ll probably read it again at my earliest convenience just to see if I catch anything I missed the first time.

I had trouble getting into the previous book, Mythago Wood, but I was glad I read it and am now even gladder, as it provides lots of background that helps make sense of Lavondyss. Lavondyss feels more like a “straight” fantasy novel, though; while there is still the idea that people create mythagos with their minds and that many of the book’s mythagos are personally tied to its central character, to me it feels that this time the story and the world stand more on their own and have more of a life outside of the character’s psychology. I feel less like I’m reading a slightly veiled book on Jung and Freud, and more like I’ve been sucked into a seductive, visceral fairy tale. I’m yet again reminded of a work of nonfiction — this time Robert Graves’ The White Goddess — but this time the analytical part of my mind was content to curl up by the fire and let Robert Holdstock spin his tale.

In Mythago Wood, Steven Huxley’s traveling companion was Harry Keeton. Lavondyss centers on Harry’s younger sister, Tallis. Born when Harry was already a grown man, Tallis only knew her brother briefly, but she and her family are haunted by his disappearance. Tallis is an uncanny, precocious girl with an instinctive gift for magic, and it’s simply enchanting to follow along as she learns the ways of the wood and its spirits. Eventually, she journeys into the wood on a quest to find her missing brother. What happens after that, I won’t spoil, since I want you to be able to discover it for yourself. It’s an enthralling story, though, sometimes sad, sometimes beautiful, sometimes scary as hell. There are layers within layers, timelines looping around themselves in ways that don’t become evident until later, and an ambiguous ending.

I love ambiguous endings, and I hate them. I love them and hate them because they stick with me, nagging at my brain, never letting me forget them. I lay awake for hours after finishing Lavondyss, prodding at the ending in my mind, wondering whether the “happier” interpretation of the ending might actually be a sadder one. I simultaneously wished Holdstock had clarified it and was very glad he hadn’t. It’s more memorable this way, and fitting for the Mythago Wood universe.

Lavondyss has everything I love in a book: compelling characters, vivid prose, mythic elements, art-as-magic, complex character relationships, and just the right amount of ambiguity. It’s a fairy tale, the old kind with blood and revenge and jaw dropping wonder. It’s the kind of book that, when you finish, you feel the urge to flip right back to the first page and start over. (The only reason I didn’t was that it was the middle of the night. Blasted day job…)

~Kelly Lasiter

The Mythago Wood Cycle (Ryhope Wood) — (1984-2009) The Bone Forest is a collection of short stories; Some are related to The Mythago Wood Cycle. Publisher: 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.

Robert Holdstock Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, The Hollowing, Merlin's Wood, Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, Bone Forest, AvilionRobert Holdstock Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, The Hollowing, Merlin's Wood, Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, Bone Forest, AvilionRobert Holdstock Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, The Hollowing, Merlin's Wood, Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, Bone Forest, AvilionRobert Holdstock Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, The Hollowing, Merlin's Wood, Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, Bone Forest, AvilionRobert Holdstock Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, The Hollowing, Merlin's Wood, Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, Bone Forest, AvilionRobert Holdstock Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, The Hollowing, Merlin's Wood, Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, Bone Forest, Avilion

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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  1. Kat, your raving about these books is going to make me add another series to my TBR list. Darn you, darn you to hades!! LOL! :)

  2. I absolutely loved Mythago Wood when I read it in England while traveling with family many years ago, and finished it late at night in a cozy cottage with rain pouring outside. I couldn’t sleep for all the images and ideas in my head.

    Later I read Lavondyss and found it so complicated and difficult that my teenaged mind couldn’t get it. Based on your review, I just got a Kindle copy of Mythago Wood and Lavondyss. Time to enter the woods once more, though you can never step in the same woods twice…

  3. Kevin S. /

    This has to be the weirdest book I’ve ever read. The hardback edition is 367 pages but it felt like 900 pages, not because it’s a terrible book but because each sentence and paragraph is packed full of so much imagery and description. I like the basic premise of the book but it gets a little too strange at times for me.

    • I can understand that, Kevin. :)

      • Kevin S. /

        I read Lavondyss between books 3 and 4 of the Harry Potter series. HA!! Talk about different ends of the fantasy spectrum! I went from the Gryffindor quiditch team to tree people having sex.

        Holdstock had quite the imagination, that’s for sure :)

  4. Kevin S. /

    If you liked this book (and Mythago Wood), you might like The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley. It has a similar “earthy” tone, although the British characters are in Peru. Pulley’s writing style is very much like Holdstock, too!

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