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Review of Celtika by Robert Holdstock

CeltikaThe only other books I’ve read by Robert Holdstock are books in the Mythago Wood series, which are notable for their understated, thoughtful writing style. Celtika is very similar, but is perhaps a little more accessible. The first person narrative and the plot drawing on familiar themes from Greek and British mythology lend the story a great deal of readability – not that Holdstock’s other books aren’t readable, but this novel seemed especially so to me.

Celtika is the first book of The Merlin Codex, and Merlin is the narrator of the story. However, the story, at least in this first volume, takes place before the time of King Arthur. Merlin was previously known as Antiokus and had been an Argonaut and confidant of Jason. The story concerns Merlin’s resurrection of Jason from suspended animation in a Finnish lake, along with the Argo, and the search for Jason’s sons. Along the way, they meet Urtha (whose name may (similar to Uther) may be a clue to his future role) a warlord from the Land of Ghosts (England) who has also lost his sons, and a novice enchantress, Niiv, who is enchanted with Merlin and also his great-great-great- etc granddaughter, as well as various other new Argonauts.

Merlin is an immortal, along with a few others who seem to have a special purpose that Merlin has ignored or forgotten. By refusing to use any but the simplest charms inscribed on his bones Merlin has preserved a youthful appearance, but has also preserved an immature mind.

Celtika was an enjoyable read – as I’ve said, more so than the Mythago Cycle – elements of which turn up here: most notably the ten primitive deities who turn up in forests, carved on trees or into wooden masks. The book also contains what must be an important theme for Holdstock, family relations, especially fathers and sons. Some of the lexical choices concerned me a little – the characters use some modern sounding expressions and expletives; also, Greece is referred to as ‘Greek Land’, but none of this constituted a major issue.

I definitely want to read the next book in the series, The Iron Grail.

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