Skip to Content

Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

The Iron Grail

Author: Holdstock, Robert
Originally Published: 2002
Publisher: Simon and Schuster

The Iron GrailThis the second book in the Merlin Codex (Celtika being the first). The series is loosely based on characters in Greek mythology, and Arthurian legends. In this installment, Merlin is again helping Jason (the Jason from the Jason and the Argonauts stories) find one of his sons, as well as helping to defend Urtha’s kingdom from ghostly (read: the Dead and the Unborn) invaders. (Urtha had been sailing with Merlin and Jason on Argo in the first book, and is one of King Arthur’s ancestors.)

Urtha’s kingdom (what will become what is known as Britain) is alongside the Otherworld, and apparently used to be a part of the Otherworld – a place inhabited by the Dead and Unborn. While Merlin, Urtha and Jason have been away on their adventures, the Dead and Unborn have been trying to reclaim Urtha’s kingdom.

Although Jason is still rather angry at Merlin for actions in the previous book, he still needs his help in the search for one of his sons – the sons Medea had fooled them into believing she had killed. He has been told that his son is “between sea-swept walls,” and has come to the belief that his son is hidden somewhere in Urtha’s land. It turns out that his son isn’t exactly in what-will-be-Britain, but is in the Otherworld, and he has a rather large role to play in the attacks on Urtha’s kingdom.

I found that this book was more difficult to get into than the first book – it’s been almost 6 months since I read the first book, and a fair bit of the story seems to have faded from my mind. So trying to remember what part each character played in the previous book was a little difficult, especially when there were many characters and some only showed up for a couple of pages and then disappeared again for the majority of the book. Other figures from Greek mythology and Arthurian legends also made small appearances in this book – Uther Pendragon as well as Hylas and a few others who were the original Argonauts. I think it was these small appearances by these characters that I really enjoyed about the book, because I had a hard time liking any of the original characters in this installment, save Urtha and Merlin themselves.

A good portion of the book took place in the Otherworld, and what did take place there was the most exciting parts of the book, in my opinion. I think I would have liked to explored itd a little bit more – especially why Merlin wasn’t able to use his magic in the Otherworld. Also, time didn’t flow in the same way that it flows in the real world, which was cool. You could be in the Otherworld for what felt like days or weeks, but what turns out to be a season.

I didn’t like the Iron Grail quite as much as Celtika, and I think I will have to set this universe aside for a little bit before I decide whether to continue on with the series or not.

This is my first book for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 3:17 pm April 7, 2007.
Category: Speculative Fiction
Book Author(s):

  • Kailana

    Is it a series or a trilogy? I started book one the other day, but it didn’t catch my interest right away. I plan to go back to it.

  • Carl V.

    I think your thoughts on having a hard time remembering parts of the first book is one of the things that makes me shy away from reading book series. It shouldn’t, but it often does. I’m trying to get over that habit by reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. A friend gave it to me and it is his favorite series, so I owe it to him to give it a try. Though I’m really worried about remembering all these characters!

  • Fence

    I read the first one for the challenge, and think I’ll read on but wasn’t hugely impressed with it. Overly complicated.

  • Quixotic

    After reading this and Fence’s review of the first book, I’m in two minds about starting the series/trilogy/whatever. Perhaps one to leave towards the bottom of the list…hmmm…