Those in the know will spot straight away from my e-mail address that I'm a fan of Holdstock's writings. I've read his work and enjoyed immersing myself in the worlds of his stories for over a decade.
The Iron Grail is a follow on to Celtika (ideally they should be read in order) and takes up soon after the stories narrator Merlin returns to Alba. Almost immediately a vividly written scene in a long hall let's the reader know that this is Holdstock at his brutal best. We're taken on slow burning quests as characters from the first book are reintroduced and their plots divert and distract. As with Celtika one is never really sure what the main story is as the reader becomes so engrossed in the immediate action.
One of the most haunting and powerful sections of the book is the introduction and explanation of the 'Argonauts of grey demeanour'; the plith of these poor souls is very well written and not a little disturbing, even if their situation is lifted directly from Celtic mythology. The Character of Merlin has lightened a little from the first book, he is now trying to juggle and deflect the attentions of 4 'enchantresses' and his desire to help Urtha recover his lost children makes him positivly likeable, no matter that his reasons are not what they seem.
The last part of the book concerns an island hopping voyage deep into the world of the Dead and Unborn. Maybe it was the switch from a Celtic to Greek based mythology but I found this to be a little disappointing. From misty murky forests we are transferred to calm seas and sunny islands - all a little too clean and shiny for my taste. It was a bit of a struggle to maintain the image of the brooding winter bound 'spirit of the ship' deep within the heart of Argo.
Once again, Holdstock has managed to deliver the goods in his strange way with another absorbing read. If you are new to Holdstock and enjoyed this book go and find a copy of Lavondyss which for me is still his most magical story.