Holdstock's erudite fusion of British legend and Greek myth continues to enthrall in the second majestic installment (after 2003's Celtika) of his multi-layered Merlin Codex series. Seven centuries have passed since Merlin/Antiokus journeyed with Jason to find the Golden Fleece, and now the iconic mage, who ages only when he uses his powers, finds himself not in Greekland but in Alba (England). After an eerie brush with the Three of Awful Boding (the Fates) and a warning about a gift from Medea (Jason's betrayed wife and Merlin's first love), our hero travels to Ghostland to retrieve the children of the warlord Urtha, who is fighting to reclaim his fortress Taurovinda from Otherworld warriors. But when his enchanted ship Argo arrives in Alba, Merlin finds that Jason still is searching for his younger son, Kinos (aka Little Dreamer). Merlin accompanies Jason to the Otherworld, where Kinos has been hidden by his enchantress mother, Medea. Though Jason believes Merlin may have assisted Medea in his sons' faked murders and kidnapping, the two friends forge a truce and learn the consequences of the "corruption of love; the corrosion of hope." Haunting, intricately plotted and richly revisionist, Holdstock's blend of epic history with fantasy resonates with an authority and an audacity readers have grown to expect from this accomplished British author.
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The second volume of Holdstock's Merlin Codex saga returns Merlin to Alba, the future England. He seeks the Hill of the White Bull, seat of King Urtha (i.e., Uther, perhaps). The hill has been seized, however, by warriors supernatural in origin and habits, and must be liberated. For that, Merlin and Urtha have the not always trustworthy aid of Jason, who has returned to Alba on the Argo in search of a lost son. The ensuing warfare draws heavily on the ancient Irish tale "The Cattle Raid of Cooley," but Holdstock remains a master at handling Celtic material distinctively. But by injecting into the Matter of Britain the Argo as a living ship a la Robin Hobb, and with it the classical Argonauts' story, he risks forcing overly disparate elements into an unwieldy composite. Yet his skill with myth and folklore is such that the mixture should please many, especially if Argo in future becomes a major character in her own right. Time and a third volume may tell; meanwhile, acquire the second. Roland Green
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