THE BROKEN KINGS
by Robert Holdstock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Robert Holdstock’s reimagining of Merlin and an immortal sage/mage who sailed with Jason and the Argonauts before settling (more or less) in the lands that would one day become Britain, enters its third volume with The Broken Kings. Just as the earlier novels, Celtika and The Iron Grail cover an immense period of space and time, so, too, does The Broken Kings as it plays with the make-up of the world.
Holdstock’s conceit of this series is that the books, comprising the “Merlin Codex,” were found on parchment scrolls discovered in France. Written over a period of several years, the voice and style of the books change, although in general, Holdstock has adopted a rather florid, almost mythic style. While this could have been distracting, instead it fits the novels and reinforces the epic saga he is telling, almost giving the feel that the books are being recited by a bard rather than written.
Not only is the language epic, but so too are the characters. Almost like a soap opera, although Holdstock’s characters really are dealing with matters that affect the entire world. The writing style and dialogue play to the portentous events which are occurring as the dead and living mingle on the earth and Merlin travels through time and space.
The constant change in setting, whether temporal or geographical, does cause some confusion, especially coupled with a sense of ambiguity that Holdstock appears to cultivate. However, this same technique helps to bring about the otherworldly feel of the novel and provide the reader with the sense that greater forces are at work reshaping the world which Merlin moves through.Reshaping myth and legend is Holdstock’s strong suit, dating back at least as far as Mythago Wood. While The Broken Kings deals with many of the same themes of Holdstock’s earlier works, it also shows his growth as an author as the novel, and the “Merlin Codex” as a whole, exhibits more complicated storytelling than the earlier works. Over the years, Holdstock has grown as a storyteller so he is able to handle these complexities in The Broken Kings, although patience is required on the part of the reader to see how things are related.
The Broken Kings is not a novel that stands on its own, but it isn't meant to. The characters and their situations are closely tied to the events of the earlier novels, and the three books should be read together for maximum enjoyment and value. To read just The Broken Kings is like watching only the final third of a film. The Merlin Codex is not a light and easy read, but something which rewards a close and careful reading.
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