Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn by Robert Holdstock

Review of Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn by Robert Holdstock

Gate of Ivory, Gate of HornThis is the fourth novel in the Mythago Wood series, and, as with its two predecessors, it repeats the basic story of the original book – which is to say that the central character journeys into the mysterious depths of Ryhope Wood in search of a member of his family. There are a couple of differences here, though: firstly, it’s a prequel, the events occuring a little before those in Mythago Wood, the main character being Christian Huxley following in the footsteps of his father, but actually much more interested in the red-haired girl Guiwenneth; the second distinction is that (as far as I can recall) there is much more humour (and character interaction for that matter) in Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn.

As usual, the great thing about this Mythago book is the lightness of touch in the writing – it’s straightforward yet evocative. And at less than 350 pages it’s by no means a slog to get through it. In addition, you have the USP, if you will, of the series – the nature of the fantasy is that, while Ryhope Wood appears to a modest English countryside wood from the outside, if you manage to penetrate it you find a near-infinite forest populated with ‘mythagoes’ – prototypical mythical characters: Arthurs, Robin Hoods etc. These figures aren’t the romantic protagonists we would recognise from our stories, but are older versions more akin, perhaps, to the original reality.

The central mythago in Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn is Kylhuk – a version of Culhwch. Christian gets caught up in his story – as do seemingly every other mythago Kylhuk encounters. Kylhuk’s army, Legion, is full of ur-warriors and ur-sorcerers from forgotten legends and is dogged by myriad antagonists. The novel – and Christian’s association with Legion – begins with death and returns to death at it’s conclusion.

This circularity plus the novel’s humour and the impetus given to the narrative by Christian’s relationship with Guiwenneth and the other mythagoes makes Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn probably the strongest in the series up to this point. It’s been a while since I read the others, so I can’t quite compare them accurately – and it’s frustrating that I can’t fit the story of this novel together with Mythago Wood. If it weren’t for the repetitiveness of the stories, the Mythago cycle would easily be the best British fantasy series (not that I can think of another British fantasy series off hand).

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