The Iron Grail (Merlin Codex Book 2) Hardcover – 1 Mar 2004
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Urtha, with the remnants of his uthiin (including the Scythian huntress Ullanna), reunites with his children Kymon and Munda, who are refreshing youngsters enlivening the oft-brooding characters. After reclaiming his Taurovinda fortress occupied by an army of the Dead and Unborn from Ghostland, he sails to the unknown far west to help Jason find his son Kinos lost in time and in the dreamworld of his own making – I wonder if the spirit-ship Argo's journey to this Otherworld can perhaps be illuminated by some Jungian analysis...
Holdstock's strength lies not so much in his storytelling (I could not feel the gravity of what was at stake) but rather the haunting, at times hypnotic, reimagining of Druidic magic/lore ("the Speakers for the Past, for Kings and for the Land" p. 186) and Celtic warrior spirit. Merlin's real motivations remain vague: he summons the dead's assistance; elsewhere he is yet again seduced by his former companion/lover, the ageless enchantress Medea; or wears the forest as a cloak, etc.
"Medea sent a stag to buck against my bark, a giant creature, almost bronze in its strength and sheen...Then she despatched hornets to swarm in my branches, agonizing, distracting. She was trying to shake me off; but in her own inimitable, teasing way...Spine-backed boars, snarling and stinking, a whole family of them rushed into my roots and began to chew and paw the ground. Painful!...Our little cloaks of forest had merged. To prying eyes we appeared as no more than a patch of tanglewood; but within the bosom of the copse, Medea stood before me, half in, half out of the thick trunk of hazel that commanded the spinney" (pp. 203-7).
I've been busy and only recently had the opportunity to explore the story further.
I was very drawn into the continuing tale and will continue on as the story develops.