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Duncton Wood [Paperback]

William Horwood
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Remember the British-accented rabbits of Richard Adams' Watership Down? Well, here a slavishly imitative first-novelist tries to do similar things with British-accented moles - except that Horwood hasn't a fraction of Adams' talent, and this gratuitously massive saga (talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!) rises above dullness only when it's unintentionally hilarious. In fact, what Horwood has done is to lump a handful of hackneyed formulas together (village soap-and-sex, religious quest, Machiavellian politics), simply changing the humans into moles, with no particular projection of the specialness of moledom. So the Duncton Wood mole system is populated with nothing but cliches: the system's mad boss-bully Mandrake; his unbearably sweet daughter Rebecca (she loves to lie in the sun, "with the ecstasy of it in her snout"), whom he love-hates possessively and will eventually rape; his sneaky major-domo Rune, who arouses virtuous Rebecca with his sexy come-ons ("He promised himself, a cold laugh in his voice, 'I'll have her yet' "); Rebecca's true love Cairn, a pasture mole who gives her great mole-sex ("his talons her exquisite pain, his breathing her sighs, his fur her fur, her warmth his heat," etc.) but is killed by Mandrake and Rune; and, above all, Rebecca's third suitor - noble loner Bracken, a fabled Robin-Hoodish mole who (aided by various wise old moles) will take over as top mole after Mandrake is deposed by Rune, a Hitler-like expansionist. But once in charge, his paws bloodied, Bracken concentrates on spiritual things: he has always believed in "the Stone," and after moledom is suddenly struck by plague, drought, fire, and fleas, he sets off on a quest to find the Seventh Stillstone and the Seventh Book - and maybe even to witness the coming of the White Mole. . . . Perhaps this muddy mixture of melodrama and allegory might have somehow engaged if the prose were spare and evocative. Horwood, however, overwrites glutinously: stilted, saccharine dialogue; painfully arch mole-talk ("She must be quite somemole". . . . "little-mole-lost"); plus ludicrous scenes of heavy-breathing mole-porn and - we kid you not - moles practicing martial arts, complete with zen jargon. Only in a few sequences of tunnel-digging is there a flicker of mole-reality; otherwise this is just a long, shapeless, derivative book in mole drag - and the appeal is strictly limited to readers with a monumental weakness for both talking animals and bad writing. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reasonably speaking... May 5 2000
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I must admit, I hesitate in writing a review because I won't be jumping on any 'It changed my life' sort of bandwagon. I generally have a distaste for the fantasty genre, especially in recent years. I will, however, grant that this is a five star novel. Without question, it ought to be in print. Apparently, there's a pseudo-cultish following around the novel and the author. For those of you who might be scared off by this, don't be. I picked up Duncton Wood for a fun summer read last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I read it in two sittings... Horwood is a tremendously talented storyteller. His style is immensely appealing and very appropriate for a 'fun' read. What distinguishes the novel is that, while Horwood is a better storyteller than any of the mass-market successes out there these days (Clancy, Grisham, Rice, etc. simply don't compare), the content is also substantial enough to provide real fodder for thought. Horwood is a strong enough writer to move the novel out of the run-of-the-mill Manachean fantasy/adventure storylines and provide some actual philosophical substance. In essence, if you'd like to enjoy yourself and be immersed in the world of a talented storyteller, without having your intelligence or literary sensibilities insulted at the same time, you'll enjoy Horwood. A very worthy novel, earning all five stars, and deserving of a good-quality reprint.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Stone Mole and the Book of Silence Aug. 12 2008
Duncton Wood is home to one of the seven great systems of the mole world. Many years before the book opens, the system was based at the highest point of the wood, in the shadows of the wood's standing Stone. The Stone was of vital importance at the time, with the system's religious beliefs centred on it. However, in time, the system slowly migrated down the hill - to the point where, now, nomole now lives in the Ancient System. Traditionally, the system's moles travel up the slopes to pray to the Stone on the Longest and Shortest Nights, though few now hold the Stone in any real regard.

Within the modern system, there are a few different districts - each with its own distinct personality. The Westside is home to the biggest, strongest moles while the moles who live on the Eastside are less aggressive, though stockier and better burrowers. The Marshenders, somewhat unfairly, are considered a suspicious, untrustworthy and unhealthy grouping - though the damp soil doesn't make it an ideal area for the average mole. Where the Stone was the natural centre of the Ancient System, Barrow Vale is considered the centre of the modern system. Close to the Elder Burrows, it's free from predators and is considered `neutral' territory.

Life takes a turn for the worse when Mandrake arrives. Originally from Siabod, he arrives from over the Pastures and makes straight for Barrow Vale. Big, strong and vicious, he kills any mole that stands in his way and - when he disposes of one of the Elders - quickly appoints himself as the replacement. Having effectively installed himself as Duncton Wood's leader, the mood of the system becomes a becomes tinged with fear and suspicion.
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4.0 out of 5 stars dark and inspiring May 23 2006
This was the first fantasy book I have ever read. I chose it because I thought it would be cute; a story about a society of moles, how could it not be? It did have a lot more depth than I was expecting though. It had a darker overtone, which at some points was disturbing, but only made for fabulous suspense. I really enjoyed this book as I found it well written, and the characters were wonderful. I laughed, cried and felt hope for the characters. Some of them were so well written that even though I hated them, I still felt sympathy.
I cannot wait to read the next book in the series. Not only that, but it has also encouraged me to be more open minded in my book reading choices.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Indiana Jones of the mole world. Jan. 26 2004
Not a book for children as love,villainy,intrigue & murder abound. An epic novel with almost every page filled with adventure that makes it nearly impossible to put the book down. Mr. Horwood is akin to Richard Adams and his Watership Down.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mythic, Awe Inspiring, Etc., Etc., Etc. April 25 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Just wanted to throw in my own humble opinion. This is one of the few books I would ever seriously recommend reading. The affect it will have on you is profound. I first read this book sometime around 1980 and have bought copies whenever I found them in used bookstores and given them away. Unfortunately, this means I no longer have a copy. I, like several of the other reviewers, never realized there was a series. Guess this means I will have to find the others. If you ever have the opportunity to get this book it is a must. Read it, enjoy it, cherish it, and live it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Get to know yourself..... July 13 2000
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Without submitting to a sappy, cliche-like review, I would like to voice a review that will possibly encourage everyone to read this fantastic novel. Adventure for the venturesome, romance for the hopeless, encouragement for the despairing, and overall, wisdom for the ignorant....you learn how to know yourself through this novel. With all the elements a fantasy novel possesses, Duncton Wood offers more. If you are a male, undoubtedly you will place yourself in the "paws" of Bracken, the heroic mole that bears more human-like strenghts and faults than any fictional character I have read about, human or not. The ladies will, with certainty, get lost in the Rebecca's (the mole heroine) world as she eminates every good and true quality everyone desires.
Haywood has eloquent prose ornamented with a splendid vocabulary, but he has an even more keener understanding of the human condition. Get the book, read it and love it.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I was sorry I finished it!
This book is one of the most staggering masterpieces ever written! I was so glad to find out about its sister books, Duncton Quest and Duncton Found, they both lived up to my high... Read more
Published on Oct. 30 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This book has affected me more than any other. I read it about 10 years ago and only read it once. Even so I remember it well. Read more
Published on Oct. 10 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars I have never forgotten this book, or how it affected me
I don't even remember how long ago I first read Duncton Wood; proably not long after it came out, but it has stuck in my mind all these years, and still ranks as one of my very... Read more
Published on Sept. 4 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate Fantasy story.
This book changed my life permanently. No book, apart from the Lord of the Rings, has affected me as much. Read more
Published on Sept. 1 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars My goodness
This book was terrible, unless you are a child or a fantsy freak. Who cares about these moles with personalities that are as bland as any you'll find these days? Read more
Published on July 23 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Really really really really etc etc brilliant!!!
Duncton Wood has inspired us to become followers of the Stone and to seek its Light and Silence. Well, maybe not to that extent, but it has certainly changed our lives. Read more
Published on May 7 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Really really really really etc etc brilliant!!!
Duncton Wood has inspired us to become followers of the Stone and to seek its Light and Silence. Well, maybe not to that extent, but it has certainly changed our lives. Read more
Published on May 7 1999
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