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The Broken Kings
Robert Holdstock
Gollancz, 357 pages

The Broken Kings
Robert Holdstock
Born in 1948 in Kent, Robert Holdstock worked in medical research before becoming a full-time writer in 1975. He has written more than 20 novels under his own name and various pseudonyms, and has received both the British Science Fiction Award and the World Fantasy Award for his work. He lives in London, but escapes to the forests whenever possible.

Robert Holdstock Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Iron Grail
SF Site Review: Celtika
SF Site Review: Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn
SF Site Review: The Mythago Cycle

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

While most people associate Merlin with the legends of King Arthur, Robert Holdstock has been examining the magician's history and ties to Jason, Captain of the Argo, in the Merlin Codex trilogy, which culminates with The Broken Kings. Located now in Alba, the land that would be Britain, Merlin finds himself facing the conflict between King Urtha of the Cornovidi and his children, Kymon and Munda.

Holdstock skillfully weaves together plot points he laid in the earlier two novels to give this novel a depth which would have been impossible if the book stood on its own. Characters and events have backgrounds which stretch well before page one of The Broken Kings. However, because Holdstock doesn't recreate those events in the book, a re-reading of Celtika and The Iron Grail before diving into The Broken Kings is not only warranted, but recommended.

As he did in the first two books of the trilogy, Holdstock uses a mythic, although not necessarily archaic, writing style which makes even the most commonplace statement seem portentous. At times this florid style can be tough going, but it fits with the story that Holdstock is telling, allowing the style to become almost another character, as if the story were being told by a narrator around a fire.

What could have been a slog of a novel, however, is made more desirable by Holdstock's ability to make his characters more than just the stock mythic archetypes. Holdstock begins with the basics, but he applies a humanity to his characters, even when their own investiture with magic or immortality would seem to indicate a lack of humanity. Merlin, especially, who has been the focus of the trilogy, is shown to have an ability to retain his contact with humanity which is often lacking in more traditional portrayals of the character.

Holdstock's characters also traverse their world, with their actions ranging from the British islands to Greece and north to the frozen worlds. Even this didn't provide Holdstock with the breadth needed and Merlin finds himself facing a world in which the dead and living mix together, even as he tries to reclaim his old friend Jason from the clutches of death. Add to this an ambiguity about time and characters who come unstuck almost as much as Billy Pilgrim, and Holdstock has provided himself a canvas as large as he could possibly desire.

And at times, that canvas seems to be almost too large. The story-telling doesn't ramble, but it does employ ambiguity almost as a theme. The Broken Kings, like Celtika and The Iron Grail before it, is not a book to be read in idle moments, but the type of book that challenges the reader to savor it and enjoy the complexities and, yes, ambiguities, the author has included.

Copyright © 2007 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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