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Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock

Review copy provided by the publisher.

I haven’t revisited this fantasy classic in this millennium–which is to say, not in my adult life. But here’s a new edition, so it seemed like the right time. Holdstock’s prose is clear and sure, a pleasure to read, and at the time this came out I think he was doing something really new with the echoes of legends and archetypes resonating through both the land—in this case Ryhope Wood in England–and the men who inhabit it. The way he’s chosen an archetypal brother-against-brother plot redoubles and resonates with the speculative conceit that way.

The down side is that this is one of the 20th century books that has not really thought through treating women as anything but adjuncts to men. Guiwenneth, the only woman who gets really any degree of page time at all, is defined by her sexual potential and/or as a love interest–she wants to stay with Steven but is under threat from his brother, Christian, whose violence and anger are (not very explicably) heightened to fever pitch with his time dilated stay in Ryhope Wood. This is not a book that cares about how that threat hits Guiwenneth at all: she exists as a token, more or less scorekeeping between the brothers. Nor are there any substantial female supporting characters who can balance this problem out. This is not uncommon for a book from 1984–but given that Chanur’s Venture came out in 1984 as well–and Native Tongue, and Clay’s Ark, and The Hero and the Crown, among other things–it’s definitely not obligatory.

So do I recommend Mythago Wood. Hmm. It’s certainly historically interesting, and once you’re braced for it being wall to wall dudes plus the token GIRRRULLL WHO LOVES HIM, there are things happening here with how we process the power of story through time. Not a favorite, but worth keeping around, I’d say.

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