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The Lost Years of Merlin    by T. A. Barron order for
Lost Years of Merlin
by T. A. Barron
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 1999 (1996)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Lost Years of Merlin is the first book in a series that gives a new perspective on the famed magician. It tells a tale of his childhood and youth, filling it with unrelenting action. From the beginning when the seven year old amnesiac Emrys is washed up on the shores of Wales and is attacked by a boar, to the dissolution of the Shrouded Castle at the end, Merlin faces grave peril.

He has an inherited magic to draw on, but its use is dangerous to the untutored, especially if motivated by anger and hate. Emrys discovers this to his cost and at the same time finds his second sight. Afterwards Merlin avoids magic and throws his fortune upon the waves, departing the Welsh coast on a flimsy raft. Fate takes him to the mythical isle of Fincayra and Druma Wood, where he meets Rhiannon, after first mistaking her for a bundle of leaves.

Rhia seeks Emrys' help in defeating the evil Rhita Gawr, who has corrupted the island's king, Stangmar, and whose shadow is spreading and destroying all good in its path. Emrys is focussed on his own selfish quest until his friend's sacrifice changes his mind. There are many interesting characters - good, bad and neutral - in the story. I especially enjoyed the combative merlin (appropriately named Trouble) and the little giant Shim ('I is just a very, very, very, small giant'), who is funny and fearful but a true hero.

Emrys matures through the story, discovering the importance of friendship and love. He learns by the example of his friends Rhia and Shim to put others before himself. As Rhia tells Emrys when they discover his true name 'You can be fierce as well as gentle. You grab hold with all your strength and never let go. You see clearly though not with your eyes. You know when to use your powers. And ... you can fly.'

I have only read one other series covering Merlin's youth, that is Mary Stewart's marvellous tales beginning with The Crystal Cave. Stewart's version aligns more closely with the history of the period and yet explains Merlin's magic through precognitive ability. The Lost Years of Merlin is more fanciful and aimed at a younger audience. Nevertheless it can be enjoyed by both young and old. As the bard Cairpré said 'There are sages in these pages', and as Shim would say it's 'certainly, definitely, absolutely' worth reading!

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