sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)

columns - events - features - booksmedia

© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
Editor:  Ernest Lilley
Associate Editor: Sharon Archer


Aug02 Contents
Prev  Next  Home

Editorial License
US Books
UK Books
Can Books

CanVention 22 and the Aurora Awards
If It's Tuesday, this must be TOR

Feature Interview:
Ken Macleod

Feature Review: Cosmonaut Keep by Ken Macleod

BBook Reviews
The Alchemists Door
by Lisa Goldstein
Alternate Generals II
ed by Harry Turtledove
Argonaut by Stanley Schmidt
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks
The Iron Grail by John Woodstock
The Sacred Pool by L. Warren Douglas
The Sky So Big And Black by John Barnes
Spaceland by Rudy Rucker
Straw Men by
Michael Marshall Smith
Sisters of the Raven by Barbara Hambly
To Trade The Stars by Julie E. Czerneda
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror
, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Graphic Novel:
Murder Mysteries. Original short story and radio play by Neil Gaiman. Graphic story script and art by P. Craig Russell
Zine: The Journal of Pulse Pounding Narratives

Austin Powers: GoldMember

Metropolis (2002) Restoration
& Metropolis Essay
PowerPuff Girls
Reign of Fire


The Iron Grail by Robert Holdstock
Earthlight Hardcover: ISBN 0743220773 August 2002
Review by Iain Emsley
352 pages List price £17.99  Buy this book at

Three warnings greet Merlin as he returns to the fortress of Taurovinda in Alba. Firstly he will be used by a man who needs him; secondly, a man whom he betrayed, albeit unknowingly, has the means to kill him; thirdly, a grieving and brooding ship will carry him to his grave. As he ponders these fates, Urtha returns home, intent upon reclaiming his home from the dead and Unborn. Jason also returns, intent upon finding Kinos, his younger son, who has been hidden somewhere in the Celtic world. Subsequently, a war is begun against the Otherworld, one which will bring them back into conflict with Medea and the gods.

Holdstock is brilliant at creating characters that resonate in the mind, drawing the reader into the text, yet remaining strangely beguiling. Merlin eludes the reader as he prefigures much in the Arthurian mythos but he also a different enchanter, one entirely separate from the Arthurian cycle. He stubbornly refuses to grow up, to move on from being a young man, and this blinds him to the dangers of Medea and to the pain which he inadvertently causes to those around him. However, his own past is gradually catching up with him, and as he undergoes the quest, he begins to cope with his own past. Jason and Medea act in an odd concert to prize the shell of self-imposed amnesia from Merlin, yet they both seem to move through their on middle age, aging as they make a terrifically painful discovery. What separates Holdstock from other fantasists is his complex characters, his use of archetypes who are able to move beyond their boundaries and are able to project themselves into the reader’s imagination, residing there in all their glory.

The Otherworld plays an increasing role in the Codex, moving from the a world which underlies the real world, releasing the Argo from her tomb and watching Merlin carefully, waiting from him to stumble, and then moves into being a threat to the real world in this sequel to Celtika. Taurovinda is besieged by the dead, trying to correct the wrongs of their lives, and the Unborn, determined to prevent the difficulties which they perceive. Holdstock’s use of mythology runs deeper than an all-to-common-to-fantasy dilettante use of such material. He instinctively understands the Greek and Celtic worlds and ideals and this gives his own world a rich texture, velvety yet cold, that enchants. We are instinctively moved from the Greek world, where Jason is comfortable yet he is thrown into the Celtic world, where he must face his own demons.

Elegiac and heroic, naïve yet knowing; this book furthers Holdstock’s reputation as the finest metamorphic fantasist writing today. The Iron Grail simply towers above the most sequels to novels, in that it develops the stories and characters yet can also stand up on its own as a fully fledged novel. Long may this series carry on.

Iain Emsley is a regular contributor to SFRevu. He works for Forbidden Planet in London, England. He also writes for various publications, including Interzone and The 3rd Alternative.