The Lost Years of Merlin by T. A. Barron

The Lost Years of Merlin, by T. A. Barron, was published in 1996 by Ace Books.

Washed up on the shores of ancient Wales, the boy had no home, no memory, and no name….He was determined to find all three. Under the wing of the mysterious Branwen, the nameless boy learns the lore of such ancient peoples as the Celts and the Druids. But to discover his identity—and the secret of his own powers—he must escape to the endangered, magical isle of Fincayra. With this land’s inhabitants to guide him, the boy will learn that Fincayra’s fate and his own quest are strangely entwined….He is destined to become the greatest wizard of all time. History will name him Merlin…

I’m not sure how I felt about this book. I’m not usually a fan of Arthurian legend, but this one was decently entertaining and mythologically sound. But it’s also a bit dry and boring, and so much is crammed into this one book that at times I felt a little lost and bewildered by the fast pace (yet it doesn’t read like it’s fast-paced, which is a really odd sensation).

I like the “let’s see what Merlin was like when he was young” angle, but Emrys was a weak protagonist, in my opinion. I’m not a fan of the “his power scares him so he stifles it until he has the epiphany that he should use it and everything is rainbows and daisies and evil is vanquished, the end” trope, which is the main piece of Emrys’s development, and Emrys’s lack of sight seemed completely irrelevant since Barron made it so that he could see things, anyway.

The plot wasn’t surprising either, and in some cases it was rather obvious what was going to happen. Barron handled what he had well, but overall it was a fairly mediocre story. Props for the awesome hawk, the scraps of mythology and cultural legends and stories, and the cool little bits of Fincayra that we saw, but I wasn’t impressed as a whole.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

I continued to watch her as she listened. “Do you hear something?”

Her gray-blue eyes swiveled back to me. “Only the words of my friends. They tell me that an outsider is in the forest, but that I already know.” She paused. “They also tell me beware. Should I?”

I tensed, recalling the voice of the shell. “A person should always beware. But you need not be frightened of me.”

She seemed amused. “Do I look frightened?”

“No.” I felt myself grinning, as well. “I’m not very scary, I suppose.”

“Not very.”

“Your friends you spoke of. Are they…the trees?”

“They are.”

Overall Review:

The Lost Years of Merlin pays tribute to the best of Greek and Celtic mythology and includes some other interesting and cool things, but as a whole I found the story interesting in some places and boring in others. Some of the plot aspects were obvious, and I didn’t really like Emrys’s character arc. It’s an interesting look at Merlin’s youth, but that’s all it is.

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