Reviews for Lost Years of Merlin
The Book Report Reviews 1997 March-April
Merlin, the mysterious wizard of Arthurian legend, has fascinated readers for centuries. In his latest fantasy novel, Barron explores Merlin's shadowy youth. He is cast up on the Welsh shore as a small child, but remembers nothing of who he is or where he came from, and his only companion is a secretive woman who may or may not be his mother. "Emrys" discovers that he possesses great powers, which he tries to use in anger. This results in grievous injury to another boy and blindness for the young wizard himself. After teaching himself to use his "second sight," Emrys sets out for the mystical island of Fincayra, hoping to uncover his identity. There, he encounters figures from Celtic myth, such as Rhiannon, a spunky teenage forest nymph, and other invented characters, including a fierce merlin hawk that befriends him. But an evil force is destroying the beautiful island, and only Emrys can stop it. He must infiltrate the Shrouded Castle and solve the riddle of the giants' dance. Readers familiar with the Arthurian Merlin and other aspects of ancient Britain will appreciate Barron's suggestions for the origins of the wizard's name and of the folk name for stone circles such as Stonehenge: Giants' Dance. The links to Arthur's Merlin, however, are tenuous, with Barron's strongest references to more ancient Celtic mythology. The Arthurian "hook" aside, this is essentially a high caliber quest fantasy that should satisfy teenage fans. Recommended. Catherine M. Andronik, Library Media Specialist, Seymour (Connecticut) Public Schools © 1997 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
BookPage Reviews 1997 January
For older readers, fantasy writer T.A. Barron has begun a trilogy recreating the youth of the wizard Merlin in The Lost Years of Merlin. Barron first wrote about the Welsh bard and magician in The Merlin Effect, one of the titles in his recent Heartlight trilogy. A modern time-travel novel for middle-grade readers, it combines Arthurian myth, genetics, and oceanography. Perhaps Barron really began his research when he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford from 1974 to 1977. He insists that he is not "writing down" to kids, but he has built-in young reader barometers since his own children range from ten years to ten months in age. "I felt the tapestry of Merlin had a hole in it," Barron said in a recent conversation. "I wanted to develop his young life based on what we read about him as Arthur's advisor and on my own imagination. A quest motif has to have an adventure but it needs more-the connection between the past and the present. A good story has to feel true."The Lost Years of Merlin begins when a strange boy washes ashore on the coast of Wales with no memory, no home, and no name. He quickly determines to find his real home and true name. During his early years he is cared for by the mysterious woman Branwen who claims to be his mother. She teaches him lore of the Celts, Druids, and healing arts of people even more ancient, but she refuses to tell him anything about his past. To discover his identity and the secret of his powers, he runs away to the isle of Fincayra, an enchanted land between earth and sky that is being destroyed by blight. A hawk, which Merlin soon names Trouble, attaches itself to his shoulder, and plays a major role in this adventure-shrouded quest. Merlin meets the forest girl Rhia, the brave little Shim, and the wicked Rhita Gawr as he tries to solve the riddle of the Dance of the Giants and find the truth of his personal quest.Barron believes that the 1,500-year-old legendary character of Merlin stands for the fact that all beings have a destiny they never aspired to, and it's important to give that notion of aspiration to today's kids. "Even when you're setting out to do something, there's something else happening," says Barron. "Nature has marvelous power to renew an individual."So too do the legends and myths of old, especially those surrounding King Arthur.Reviewed by Etta Wilson. Copyright 1999 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 1997
After an altercation in which he loses his sight, twelve-year-old Emrys swears never to use his magical powers again, but his resolve is sorely tested during his subsequent journey to discover his true identity. Set on the legendary Island of Fincayra, this novel about the childhood of the wizard Merlin is imaginative and convincing. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 1996 July
~ Barron (The Merlin Effect, 1994, etc.) transforms the early years of the mythical wizard's life into a vivid, action-filled fantasy, replete with deep forests, ruined castles, and evil spells: a promising first installment of a projected trilogy. Although Emrys, 12-year-old son of Branwen, has fantastic powers, he is also a charismatic and sympathetic character; many readers will no doubt empathize with his self-pity, awkwardness, and the tense relationship he shares with his mother, a witch. But Barron never forgets his hero's destiny, and so when Emrys defends his mother from the flames of an angry mob by telekinetically burning the town bully, he leaps into the fire to save the boy and loses his own eyesight. Recovering in an abbey from his burns, Emrys develops second sight, vows to never again use his powers in anger, and sets out to learn his destiny. Along the way, he meets Rhia, who is brave, intelligent, and resourceful, and who enlists his aid in the war that forms the final steps toward adulthood that Emrys--now Merlin--takes. While Barron is careful to show that Merlin is still physically a boy, readers are left with a vision of a more confident, compassionate hero, prepared to confront the joys and sorrows that await him in future volumes. (Fiction. 8-14) Copyright 1999 Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly Reviews 1996 August #2
In this coming-of-age fantasy, Barron (The Merlin Effect) investigates what he perceives as the mystery of the great enchanter's little-mentioned childhood and adolescence. Merlin himself narrates, at first in realistic mode as a child called Emrys in a grubby village in Wales, where he had washed ashore five years earlier; he is haunted by his inability to remember his earlier life. After some misadventures when his supernatural powers develop, he decides to set about "finding my past, my identity." Somehow he makes his way across the ocean to Fincayra, a strange place not quite of this world. There he gets drawn into a great conflict between good and evil, and the story mutates into a high fantasy quest populated by weird and mythic creatures. This part of the tale draws heavily on the Welsh Mabinogion; some of Merlin's adventures thus resemble Taran's in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, which also uses that body of legend. Merlin learns of his Fincayran birthright, but in the clumsily handled conclusion he looks off into the future (and to the planned sequel), having decided that although he has found his past and his identity he has not found his "true home." Some readers?mostly teens or adults?will be looking eagerly with him. Others may find this attempt to create a biography for Merlin less of an organic novel than a showcase for the author's deft recycling of Welsh myth. Ages 8-up. (Sept.) Copyright 1996 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 1996 September
Gr 5-8 This first installment in a planned trilogy about Merlin's shadowy youth takes some intriguing twists. Young Emrys washes up on a Welsh beach with a woman who claims to be his mother. For years, they share a hovel, but Branwen tells him nothing about his past. One day he discovers that he has some unusual powers; using them to kindle a fire in Branwen's defense, he is blinded by the flames. However, he learns to see without eyes using his "second sight." Desperate to know about his past, Emrys, now 12, sets off on an ocean journey. He lands on Fincayra, where he plunges into a dangerous quest to rescue the island from the destructive blight caused by a pact between its king and an evil power. In the process, he befriends a young Fincayran girl and a dwarf who becomes a giant through a brave deed. Emrys also learns the truth about his origins. The Fincayran portion of the story is very much like Lloyd Alexander's "Prydain Chronicles": a young boy and girl team up with a cute non-human to save a kingdom from the force of evil, with Welsh-style names abounding. Also, while the characterization of the hero is excellent, the portrayal of some minor figures is fair at best. However, the fast-moving plot is sure to keep readers turning pages. The tale is compelling enough to ensure that they will anticipate the next book in the series to learn how the events ultimately tie in to the more familiar body of Arthurian legend. Mary Jo Drungil, Niles Public Library District, IL Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews