Mar 24, 2009

The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron

The Lost Years of Merlin opens with a six-year-old boy washing ashore in old Wales. He has no memory of who he is or where he came from. He cannot even remember his name. Beside him is a woman – she tells him her name is Branwen, his is Emrys, and she is her mother. But that’s the full extent of what she’ll reveal about their past.

The two settle in a Welsh village, but they’re never quite accepted. Branwen is a healer, and though the villagers make use of her skills, they also whisper that she’s a sorceress. As for Emrys, he’s called a bastard and constantly picked on and cast aside. Years pass, and after a tragedy drives them from their home, Emrys decides that to find out who he is, he must unveil the mystery of his past. He says goodbye to his mother, and his journey leads him to the mysterious island of Fincayra. And there to Druma Wood, where he meets a girl named Rhia. Sometimes strange has been happening in Fincayra—something that has more to do with Emrys own story than he initially realizes.

The Lost Years of Merlin is well-written, complex and full of interesting characters. But sadly, for some reason I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I was expecting to. I can’t quite pinpoint why. Maybe I expected the story to have a different emotional tone. Or maybe it was because I could see everything that happened coming. Or most likely of all, it was just the mood I was in. This is by no means a bad book.

Indeed, some of it reminded me quite a bit of Lloyd Alexander’s lovely Prydain series. Not because either of them is unoriginal, of course, but because both series draw from some of the same myths. Also, Shim the giant, and the moments of comic relief involving him, were very very Prydain-esque. It’s possible that Barron meant it as a tribute. My edition of the book actually has a blurb by the great Alexander himself.

In the author’s note, T.A. Barron says of this series:
This tale, spanning a few volumes, will attempt to bridge the gap. The story begins when a young boy, without any name and without any memory of his past, washes ashore on the coast of Wales. It concludes when that same boy, having gained and lost a great deal, is ready to step into a central role in Arthurian legend.
As I said the other day, these gaps are actually part of what interests me the most about myth retellings. The Lost Years of Merlin doesn’t quite read like an Arthurian story. It takes place completely outside the known stories, so you don’t need to know them to enjoy it or to make sense of it. But if you do know the myths, the book will probably resonate with you even more, and you’ll make connections that might escape other readers. It's not that those who are new to Arthurian retellings will miss any essential connections. It's just that fans of the myths will get something extra out of it. Interestingly enough, despite taking place outside the known stories, the book still feels very much mythic. And that's part of its charm.

This is the first book in a series, but it works perfectly as a stand-alone. By the end of the book, Emrys has found what he was looking for. You can tell that his story is not over, but this chapter of it is. So if you’re worried about starting yet another series, fear not. You can easily stop after one book without being left without any closure.

Some good bits:
‘Stories may not be real in the same way as this poultice, my son, but they are real nonetheless. Real enough to help me live. And work. And find the meaning hidden in every dream, every leaf, every drop of dew.’

She turned to me. ‘What else do you wish for?’
‘Yes! I would love, really love, to bury myself in a whole room full of books. With stories from all peoples, all times. I heard about such a room once.’
And later:
Books everywhere! Books of all thicknesses, colors, heights, and also languages—judging from the varied scripts and symbols on the covers. Some bound in leather. Some so tattered that they wore no covers at all. Some formed of papyrus scrolls from the Nile. Some made of pergametium from the land the Greeks called Anatolia and the Romans called Lesser Asia with the feel of sheepskin.
Books sat in rows on the sagging shelves that lined the walls. They lay stacked in piles on the floor, so many that only a narrow path remained from one side of the room to the other. They huddled in a mound beneath the heavy wooden table, itself cluttered with papers and writing supplies. They even covered most of the bed of sheepskins in the cover.”
I just had to smile.

Reviewed at:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf

Bart's Bookshelf
Melissa's Bookshelf

(If I missed yours, let me know.)


  1. This sounds neat! I'm going to have to look into it. Great review.

  2. I have owned this book for a while and still not got around to reading it. I skimmed your review, but I really shouldn't start anymore series!

  3. Love the books quotes :) I don't believe I've heard of this author before.

  4. hmmm i was afraid to read this knowing there are several books to follow lol.. glad to hear it could be a stand alone book.. of course that will only happen if one isn't too thrilled with the book.. otherwise one will want to read on.. and on... and on... *groaning again*

  5. A shame you didn't enjoy this one quite as much as you hoped. Your mood does affect how you enjoy a book, as you said, but it's also not great when you can predict so closely what's going to happen. Sometimes I even feel like I've read a book before when I know jolly well I haven't!

  6. Oh, oh, oh...that first "good bit" is so you! If I'd read that book before you, I definitely would have been bouncing in my seat saying, "This is such an Ana quote...must share with her immediately!" :)

    And thanks for your recommendation for the book by Green. I hope to read it soon. I have a feeling that I miss out on references all the time in all kinds of places simply because I have no background in this at all.

  7. This book sounds great! And I'm glad to hear that this book also works as a stand-alone because there are times I buy the sequels even though I didn't really enjoy the first book but still I want to know what happens next... LOL.

  8. I love the quotes, Ana! This one sounds very, very good.

  9. So I guess this wouldn't be the right place to start my forray into Arthurian books! Darn! lol.

  10. Nely, thank you! Hope you enjoy it.

    Kailana: Neither should I...yet somehow I constantly do :P

    Ladytink: I actually hadn't either until Dewey's review.

    Deslily: lol, I know :P I liked it well enough to want to read the others eventually, but (fortunately, I guess) I don't HAVE to get them immediately.

    Cath: Ah yes, I know that feeling! And it's always a bit of a ler down.

    Debi: lol, "an Ana quote" :D Thank you! I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it!

    Melody: lol, same here. I can't help it :P

    Alice, I'm glad you like them!

    Chris: lol, probably not :P You should totally go with The Once and Future King!

  11. I love books about Arthur and company. I'll have to add this to my wish list. Thanks for the treat review.

  12. awww... i saw a some of the hardcovers when i was at the secondhand bookstore and almost got them, but i got a couple of Orson Scott Card hardcovers instead. now you're making me wish i got Barron!

  13. Hmm not sure about this one. I love Arthurian re-tellings but this doesn't sound like it is... Will you read the others in the series do you think?

  14. Loved that last quote too! these books are pretty popular in my library. I've read the first one but haven't ventured further but I will someday!

  15. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy it as much as you thought you would. I am tempted to read it though.

  16. I've awarded you a zombie chicken :)

  17. I've seen this series on the shelf and always wondered if it was any good. Sorry you were disappointed. It sounds interesting enough I'll still probably check it out someday.

  18. Sorry you weren't crazy about this one, although I do love the quote about books :)

  19. Those quotes made me smile too. :-) Merlin is such an interesting character. I am sorry it didn't quite live up to your expectations. Perhaps the next one in the series will be better for you.

  20. Beth: hope you enjoy it!

    Repin: Which OSC books did you get?

    Rhinoa: I think I will eventually, but they're not a huge priority. It's a good book, but it's not quite a retelling...more like a new story that takes place in the gaps of the myth.

    Staci, I look forward to your reviews then :)

    Scrap Girl: It's still a good's just that I was expecting to fall for it completely and for some reason I didn't.

    Becky: Thanks again :D Gotta love the Zombie Chicken!

    Jeane: It probably had more to do it expecting to absolutely love it than anything else. I still enjoyed it and I would recommend it.

    Zibilee: It's a great quote, isn't it? :)

    Literary Feline: Yes, maybe it will...I shall read on and find out :P I think Merlin is a fascinating character too!

  21. its a pity this is all over the place. but reading it has reminded me of how much i'd like to read up about the arthurian legend.

    even more so because i am in england! i can actually visit wales and these places! :D

  22. How can you not smile at the thought of books everywhere? That's enough to keep me smiling all day long! :) The cover reminds me of a book I read way way back when--My Side of the Mountain.

  23. This sounds interesting. I enjoyed Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series, so I might give it a shot sometime.

    I also wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for an award.

  24. I've been looking for this book since I saw it on Dewey's review list. I still haven't found it so I can't read it yet! I think your review is really interesting, both that you like it but it didn't involve you. i"m curious to see if it will have the same effect on me - I grew up on the Mary Stewart books of Merlin, which I loved.

  25. JP: lol, you can! You should do an Arthurian Tour and post pictures, so we could all live vicariously through you :P

    Trish: Enough to keep my smiling too :D I hadn't heard of My Side of the Mountain, but I looked it up and I can see why you were reminded of it. The book sounds like something I'd like, actually *adds to list*

    Melissa: Thanks again :D The Zombie Chicken made my dad.

    Susan: I still haven't read those! *kicks self*


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