Even before the untimely passing of author Robert Holdstock, it would have been impossible to read Avilion as anything other than a tale of partings, a resolution to many of the threads woven through the Ryhope Wood cycle. Now, it reads as a fond and graceful farewell to Ryhope and the Huxley family, an affectionate gift of endings to characters who, in their own ways, have all earned peace.
Despite being the last of the cycle to be written, the book slots in early in the continuity of mythago-haunted Rhyhope Wood. The cover touts it as a sequel to Mythago Wood and that’s exactly right, placing it firmly between that book and Lavondyss, though it’s worlds away from either in terms of mood and tone. Where the former is a fever dream and the latter is relentless in its intensity, Avilion is a more generous book, accessible in a way that none of its predecessors ever managed.
Part of that is due to the nature of the two main characters, Yssobel and Jack. The children of human Steven Huxley and personified myth-fragment Guiwenneth, they each have a “red” and a “green” side, human and mythago in equal proportions. On one hand, this serves to allow the reader an easier access into the world of the wood, as their understandings of their unique home and existence become ours. On the other, this blending of two worlds drives the children away from their homes in opposite directions. Spurred on by a vision of her murderous uncle Christian, Yssobel leaves home to find Avilion, the secret heart of the primal forest. There, she knows she’ll find her mother, who has fled into time with an itinerant band of lost soldiers calling themselves Legion. She’ll also find her uncle, who now commands Legion from within a haze of fear and doubt, haunted as much by Yssobel as she is by him.
Jack’s reaction is opposite. He heads for the edge of the wood, for the ancestral Huxley manse of Oak Lodge and a fragile understanding of how mythago and human can mix at the border of the outside world. His mission there is simple: to conjure a mythago of his grandfather George, a ghost of the wood with Huxley’s own memories who can help Jack find his lost sister.
But while all roads in the wood may lead to Avilion, the paths there are terrible and strange. Jack travels with a troop of monsters and stolen boy with a secret name, while Yssobel’s route forces her to steal the death of a king named Arthur — a king who prefers his glorious death to a second chance at life, and will stop at nothing to reclaim it.
As noted earlier, this is by far the most accessible of the Ryhope Wood books. The concepts of the ghost-haunted mythago wood and the sad history of the Huxleys are laid out in simple terms. They’re old hat by now, and the terror and wonder of their discovery is left for other books in the series. Instead, Avilion is more plot-driven, a story of finding one’s proper place in things. This holds true for all of the characters, from a wrily youthful Odysseus painfully aware of what his future holds to the nameless boy stolen away as a changeling to Arthur to Jack and Yssobel themselves. If the lesson of Ryhope Wood is that the story-form is eternal and ever-changing, the offering of Avilion is that within that form, there can be happy endings. And if it fails to reach the fevered intensity of its predecessors, Avilion is still a worthy entry into the Ryhope Wood saga, as fitting as any of its literary siblings and perhaps more generous in the end.