Wonders Will Never Cease

Written by Robert Irwin
Review by Linda Sever

Acclaimed by A. S. Byatt as one of the UK’s greatest living novelists, Robert Irwin has produced his first novel in seventeen years. Wonders Will Never Cease departs from his usual territory of writing about Arab culture to recount the story of Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales. Having been killed at the Battle of Towton in 1461, he finds himself to be still alive and, following a series of strange visions and otherworldly experiences, is sent reluctantly on a quest to find and return a gerfalcon to King Edward’s court. Thus ensues a series of adventures, where he encounters ghostly apparitions, demons and seductions. Woodville’s state of whether he is alive or dead is constantly questioned, even by himself.

This is, however, only one of the many storylines and plots in this very dense novel. Meticulously and exquisitely researched, in astonishing detail, the book is soaked through with myths, legends and folklore from that time period. It is more a book on medieval storytelling and how reality is created. There are tales within tales, yarns within yarns, mainly woven by the alchemist, Ripley, who intends to create a heroic persona for Woodville, much to his disdain. It is this blurred line between what is true and what is not that leads to inevitable conclusions for the “hero”.

It is not surprising that Irwin is the recipient of praise from Byatt, as readers will find familiar storytelling modes, including women born of faery folk, werewolves and ghosts. Told in the present tense, with past tense for the distant past, the prose is beautifully lyrical and completely captures the reader as they wind through the many threads within. Highly recommended.