On the evidence of this ambitious beginning to a new series, Robert Holdstock is attempting to underpin virtually everything he has written since the British Science Fiction Award-winning Mythago Wood
, simultaneously weaving together the roots of all Western mythology.
Holdstock's Merlin is near immortal, and as the story opens has already walked the world for millennia, an alienated narrator; an archetype it is difficult to empathise with. Occasionally he does show human warmth:
I looked at her face, so beautiful despite the greed of Time, her hair still like polished copper; into her eyes, so lovely, so clever; her breath like summer fruit; our fingers intertwined briefly. A beauty that had not faded; lost in time; almost untouchable.
Long before Arthur, Merlin has become deeply involved with Jason, The Argonauts and the legendary cycle of betrayal and bloodshed between Jason and Medea. Spinning this saga into a surreal epic across centuries, Holdstock adds the quest of the young Celtic King Urtha to avenge his wife and children, and the epic march to the Oracle of Delphi of the greatest army the world has ever seen.
Written with all Holdstock's usual skill, Celtika is a strange, convoluted, intricately plotted book. Weaving so much mythology and history into one fabric results in a distant quality akin to Tolkien's The Silmarillion, producing fantasy of particular subtlety and intelligence. While knowledge of the author's previous books is not required, those who have read them will find extra resonance in exploring these austerely magical adventures from the archetype's point-of-view. --Gary S. Dalkin
Holdstock has long been one of the most sophisticated practitioners of the SF/fantasy genre, with an imagination that never ceases to surprise and beguile. This first volume of the Merlin Codex sequence has an ambition and reach that could very easily have resulted in a grandiose failure, but the fact Holdstock pulls off his multi-stranded epic with such panache will not surprise those who have closely followed his career. The premise is that centuries before Camelot, Merlin wandered the Earth, enjoying eternal youth. Joining Jason on his quest to find the Golden Fleece, Merlin sets in motion actions that will cause him much regret hundreds of years later. The magician is obliged to set out on a trek to the north to rescue the sons of Jason, stolen by the enchantress Medea. Clearly, this is that very rare thing in the genre: a totally original concept - particularly welcome when so many fantasy tropes are tired rehashings.