A couple of days ago I found a box of books that belonged to me and my brothers years ago. One from that trove that caught my eye was T. A. Barron’s The Lost Years of Merlin. That book came out in 1996 and I believe my brother bought it not long after, so I assume that it has been near to 15 years since last I read it. I remember enjoying it, but it did not make that big an impression on me, seeing as how I had completely forgotten about it until I found it in that box and I never tracked down any of the other books in the series. Of course, I might not have known it was part of a series with sequels. According to the Wikipedia, The Lost Years of Merlin is the first of 4 Merlin novels by Barron. However, it wraps up in a way that finishes a story but leaves the future open, which I may have assumed to be the tales of Merlin with King Arthur.
I think the reason that the book jumped out at me from a pile of forgotten adolescent reading is the cover by Darrell K. Sweet. I can’t say the cover is great, the scene it depicts only marginally reflects what occurs in the book, but Sweet has done the covers for my favorite series of fantasy novels, the late Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, and his style is distinctive. Whatever prompted me, I decided to read this possible lost gem between volumes of Edmund Morris’ Theodore Roosevelt biographies. (Reviews forthcoming)
The book follows Merlin during his early years. It starts with him and his mother living in a small Welsh village after a frightening sea escape. His mother knows things about Merlin that she doesn’t tell him, and after some revelations bout Merlin’s magical nature and tragedies caused by that nature, he leaves his mother to find his birthplace. He starts his quest and goes takes a raft out on the ocean and lands in the magical land of Fincayra. Here his quest is disturbed by Merlin’s reluctantly joining an attempt to save the magical island from a mad ruler. All in all, its a magical adventure that is sure to please its target audience of teenagers.
The Lost Years of Merlin is clearly a young adult book, aimed at early teenagers. Outside of the mythological and mystical elements, the vocabulary is fairly limited and the story is told simply and straightforward. This is in no way meant to be a bad thing. While the storytelling is simple, the sense of magic and the fantastic imagery is truly great. It beats that most popular of YA book, the Harry Potter series, easily. The magical land of Fincayra is full of the weird and fantastic. And the plot may be simple, but it moves quickly from one place to the next, keeping the rush of the fantasy high so the reader does not long dwell on the narrative shortcomings. The titular protagonist is fairly well developed, but the secondary characters, his mother, the girl he meets and the small giant, get little more development than the various characters and creatures that appear for their little story and then disappear. They may have gotten more fleshed out in later books, but I’ve never read them so I can’t say. Still, no part of this book is very bad, but I can’t recommend it to an adult unless they have nostalgia for it. I am glad to have rediscovered it.