Merlin's Wood by Robert Holdstock

In the depths of Broceliande - an ancient French woodland - Merlin and the enchantress Vivien play out their deadly feud. Meanwhile, a child is born deaf, dumb and blind. His senses return at the expense of his mother's, who must discover the wood's mystery and set the combatants free.

I initially picked up this book as it seemed that it was part of the Mythago Wood Cycle but the book turned out to be a standalone story that is a set in a different wood in another country. Maybe it was added as part of the cycle because of the short stories that can be found at the end of the version I read… In Merlin's Wood there are a few similarities, with the wildwoods and heartwood, but the actual story is fundamentally different in nature as this wood seems to be enchanted by Merlin, hence the title.

The book itself focuses on two characters; Martin and Rebecca, who grew up together in the village on the border of the forest. I found the book hard to date in terms of history as the technology described changes quite rapidly from when the book starts, where you feel it could be set in the 40’s/50’s, which would be dated at around the same period as the Mythago Wood books.

Like Ryhope wood, the village in France seems to be aware that they live in an enchanted place and keep quite a few old customs that are not always relatable to a Christian religion, being slightly pagan in nature. For all of this context the book has an interesting concept and Robert Holdstock has mixed his story with the legend of Merlin, or at least Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. He has built upon this older tale and wrapped it into his own story so well that you cannot wait for the outcome, although it is a rather abrupt ending.

As mentioned before, the version of the book I read also contains four short stories, three of these can be found in the short story collection The Bone Forest which I have already reviewed for this website. The one new story here is called Earth and Stone and concerns a man who has travelled back in time to look at how the tumulus were built and discovers more than he bargained for, with the help of the mysterious boy Tig.

9/10 An interesting concept, mixing story and legend.

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