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Mythago-WoodStephen Huxley and his brother Christian grew up in England near a forest, Ryhope Wood. During they childhood the strange people that sometimes passed by their home were dismissed as “travelling gypsies” by their parents. But in 1946 Stephen returns home from service, after healing his war wounds, to find Christian obsessed by the creatures from Ryhope Wood, the mythagos – mythical/legendary characters come true by the Wood. Their recently deceased father seemed to have suffered from the same obsession and eventually Christian also vanishes into the Wood himself. Later Stephen meets the mythago girl Guiwenneth, starting his involvement with the Wood’s mysteries.

Robert Holdstock’s writing is almost poetic in its descriptions, but unsentimental and rather matter-of-fact. The storyline moves at its own speed, which means that it is rather slow and relatively uneventful most of the book. The characters are plainly drawn and their actions are sometimes hard to understand (for instance, why it is so easy for the characters to believe in the Wood’s phenomenon and to have such an accepting behaviour towards the mythagos), but that gives them a charming simplicity and innocence in its own way. The phenomenon of the Wood is described (or undescribed) in a very natural way that seems like the magic of an ununderstood natural phenomenon, like a thunderstorm to a prehistoric man.

Holdstock_Mythago_Wood_Geoff_Taylor

As a traditional novel Mythago Wood has its flaws. Maybe the concerns over the aesthetics and philosophical features of the writing overcome the credibility of some other essential details (the characters, for instance). Also some aspects are a bit dated. The novel was first published in 1984 and the action takes place in 1946-1948, and the author approaches some aspects of the new view of women’s place in society brought by the 2nd World War. Even though the author seems to be approving of equality of rights, the descriptions of women’s characteristics are laughable in today’s standards – a bit like Robert Heinlein when considering equality. However, Mythago Wood is in its own way a dazzlingly beautiful piece of literature, and as soon as I finished it I couldn’t resist getting the two following books of the Ryhope Wood Series. Mythago Wood is followed by Lavondyss but hold very well as a standalone novel. It won the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1984 and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985, among others.

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To your scattered bodies goOne day all humanity wakes up in a river, naked and hairless, remembering all their lives to the day of their death on Earth. Bound to each individual is a recipient nicknamed “grail”, in which food and other resources appear when the “grailstones”, stuctures in the riverbanks, are activated. Whenever someone dies is immediately resurrected somewhere else along the river. The length of the river is beyond imagination. The novel follows Richard Francis Burton, a Victorian adventurer who was mysteriously given some “backstage” view of the resurrection miracle. He attracts a small group of companions which include Kazz (a Neanderthal), Peter Frigate (a 21st century science fiction writer), Alice Liddell (yes, the Victorian lady who inspired Alice in Wonderland) and Monat Grrautut (an alien who disastrously contacted Earth on the 21st century). Burton also creates a nemesis to whom he seems to be attached to, Hermann Goring (leading member of the Nazi Party and founder of the Gestapo, among other delightful activities).

To your scattered bodies go2The exotic premise led to 2 movie adaptations, in 2003 and 2010. The novel, even if published in 1971, is surprisingly fresh. The characters are edgy and three-dimensional, showing incredibly complex personalities, each of them with bleak characteristics as well as very touching moments. The religious, cultural and ethical references are interestingly managed, keeping the reader as expectant as the characters themselves. During Burton’s journey through the Riverworld trying to solve the mystery behind the Resurrection Day, all hints of an answer originate a thousand more questions, a characteristic that usually generates love or hate in readers – similarly to the series “Lost”, I guess. Even though I found it satisfying as an isolated read, the end is left (widely) open.

This is the first book of the Riverworld series, won Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1972, and is followed by The Fabulous Riverboat.

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The killing moonIn the ancient city-state of Gujaareh peace is the only law.” Gujaareh is ruled by its Prince and the Hetawa, the institutional religion of the goddess Hananja. The cult of Hananja is based on dream magic to maintain and defend peace at all costs. Gatherers, high ranking priests of Hananja, visit the corrupt and the sick during their sleep and give them peace, collecting all their dream-blood (life energy) and sending their souls to the dream-world. Sharer priests use the collected energy to heal Gujaareh’s people. But such organized society is an easy prey for corruption. The Gatherer Ehiru and his apprentice come across strange events related with miss-use of dream-magic. Together with Sunandi, an embassador of a neighbouring state who also gets tangled in the situation, they must find out what is behind some heretic murders in Gujaareh.

Gujaareh’s location on a different planet is given away by the presence of several moons. However it shows many similarities with ancient Egypt: the privileged situation following a river and between other cultures, the clothes, the relationship between Prince and religion (including the fact that the Prince becomes King when he joins Hananja after death). Also interesting is the advanced spiritual, commercial and cultural life of Gujaarh in comparison with the neighbouring societies, similarly to the ancient Egypt. The storyline itself is an interesting mystery plot, in which the relationships between the characters are rather complex but given by a cleverly subdued narrative. The reader understands the characters’ feelings, even consummated and unconsummated romantic feelings, in a rather subtle way which gives a much more realistic feel to the narrative.

In spite of the intricate social pattern that the reader has to get into, the fast paced writing doesn’t fail to create suspense, without relying on cliffhangers.

This is the first book of the Dreamblood duology, but it stands alone from the second volume, The Shadowed Sun, which is more a sequel than a continuation.

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