The book opens as Merlin is putting the final string on his handmade psaltery and preparing to play it for the first time. Just as he strikes the first chord for his mother, the poet Cairpre, and his friend Rhia, he is attacked by a kreelix, one of the flying maggots that live by devouring the magic of others; the kreelix almost succeeds in killing young Merlin.
The attack sets off a series of exciting events that readers have come to expect from Barron - a narrow escape from a living stone; confrontation with the treacherous Urnalda, ruler of the dwarves, who insists that Merlin honor his promise to help fight the ancient evil dragon Valdearg; Merlin's rescue by a brother and sister from the deer people, who give him power to be transformed into a deer and then swiftly lead him across the River Unceasing; a terrible whirlwind; and a final encounter with the Wheel of Wye, where he almost succeeds in regaining the Galator, and Valdearg.
Like the travels of Ulysses and Dante's Inferno, each event is filled with unearthly creatures, magical components, and terrible threats on every side. Yet it is Merlin's practical knowledge of herbs and his compassion in saving Valdearg's last surviving hatchling that result in Merlin's own final escape. "Magic is a tool," he declares near the end. "But whether it's ultimately good or evil - well, that depends on the person who wields it."
Young readers with a taste for mythical adventures will devour Barron's books, perhaps without realizing the strong undergirding they give to the courage, humility, and integrity Merlin displays. Perceptive readers will also notice the occasional interweaving of environmental and vegetarian causes. And everyone will want to know if and when Merlin ever possesses the Galator.
Etta Wilson is an author, editor, and cheerleader for children's books. Copyright 1999 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 1999
In this third book about Merlin's childhood, the young wizard embarks upon a quest to rid Fincayra of a newly reawakened dragon. He encounters friends and foes from his past and meets new adversaries who desire to strip him of his powers. Filled with action and adventure, the fantasy centers on Merlin's ever-deepening understanding of his capabilities and his character. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Guide Reviews
School Library Journal Reviews 1999 March
Gr 6-9-This third installment in what is slated to be a five-book "epic" finds the still-untried Merlin battling the great dragon Valdearg, who was put to sleep by Merlin's grandfather many years ago. The young wizard hopes to save the magic island of Fincayra from the wrath of this creature who is awakened when someone destroys the eggs containing the last of his offspring. According to an ancient prophecy, Merlin will perish in the battle, but he persists with the help and hindrance of a varied cast of characters. To make matters worse, he seems to have lost his magic. Still, he perseveres. There are no surprises here, but that is precisely what will appeal to fans of the series. Sometimes the prose is overwritten in an attempt to sound properly grave and ends up reading a little like a parody of the genre, but the constant action and flow from one predicament to another keep the story going. Because the frequent references to prior events will confuse those who haven't read the previous titles, this book is best read in conjunction with the others.-Carrie Schadle, Beginning with Children School, New York City Copyright 1999 School Library Journal Reviews
VOYA Reviews 1999 February
Fans of Barron's first two Merlin volumes will welcome the further adventures of their reluctant hero. Having earned his staff in Seven Songs of Merlin (Philomel, 1997), the would-be wizard has undertaken serious training with the bard Cairpre. Hemust interrupt his efforts, however, when the sleeping dragon Valdearg awakens to threaten the isle of Fincayra again. Dwarf queen Urnalda demands his help-but unbeknownst to Merlin, she has struck a deal with the evil Rhita Gawr to steal Merlin'smagic in return for a promise of safety for the dwarves. Before he can confront the dragon, Merlin faces a series of perils including eluding the kreelixes, fearsome birdlike creatures once thought extinct, and decoding the prophetic Wheel of Wye, whose power can either help or destroy him. He is aided byhis twin sister Rhia and new allies Hallia and Eremon, sometimes human and sometimes deer, who share with him their power of transformation. Merlin must first conquer his own fear that, his magic lost, he is no wizard after all. Barron originally intended a trilogy but now projects five volumes in Merlin's saga. He certainly does not lack for inventive situations and characters. One adventure leads to another without a clear sense of dramatic arc or resolution, but theaction hardly pauses long enough for one to notice. Readers of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series may find this a reworking of familiar material with a few twists thrown in, but the appeal of Merlin, Arthur's enchanter, is bound to drawothers who will appreciate Barron's clear, readable style and non-stop action.-Kathleen Beck. Copyright 1999 Voya Reviews