Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 readersmostly teens or adultswill 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.)
T.A. Barron asked the question, "What was the great Merlin like as a child?" and from that sprang this first book of a five-book series that explores the answer. The author has created a world rich in characters and settings, which allows young Merlin to begin his journey to great power. As the novel opens, a boy without a name, without a home, and without a memory is determined to find all three. Emrys, as he calls himself, discovers that he possesses a magical power stronger than himself. When he uses this power for hate, he suffers by losing his eyesight. He soon discovers that he has a second sight that allows him to see in a different way. Because he is determined to continue his quest to find the three things he desires, Emrys goes to the land of Fincayra, an island thought to exist only in myth. There Emrys finds some answers and a purpose to his quest. This book is wonderful because the conflict facing Emrys is not only from outside forces but also from within. The plot line is convoluted, detailed, and gripping. This is a great read-aloud book for late elementary and middle school students. 2002 (orig. 1999), Philomel Books/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, Ages 10 to 14.
Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
This book traces the legendary wizard's life from the moment he finds himself washed up on a beach with no memory of his past. He's even lost his name. He's picked up by Branwen, who wants him to believe he's her child. He finds his way to the magical island of Fincayr, where his powers are tested. By hard work and great good fortune, he finds all that was lost. This is a good read for older children and adults who haven't given up the magic of Arthurian legends, and a great read-aloud for younger kids.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8This 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 eyesusing 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
T.A. Barron's The Lost Years Of Merlin is the story of a strange young boy who washed up on the shores of ancient Wales, determined to find his real home and his true name. One day he will become the greatest wizard of all time -- but he knows nothing of this in the beginning. Wonderfully narrated by Michael Cumpsty for listeners of all ages, this Listening Library edition is totally engaging, entertaining, unabridged addition to the Merlin legend is flawless produced, and has a running time of 8 hours.
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 Emrysnow Merlintakes. 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.