The Dragon of Avalon: A return visit to the island of Avalon

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Dragon of Avalon by T.A. Barron children's fantasy book reviewsThe Dragon of Avalon by T.A. Barron

Recent republications of The Dragon of Avalon number it as the sixth instalment in T.A. Barron‘s MERLIN series. To be more accurate, it was published *after* the five-part LOST YEARS OF MERLIN and THE GREAT TREE OF AVALON trilogy, but is placed between them in the chronology of events. Confusing, right?

Although reading this in the newly designated order certainly doesn’t give away any spoilers, there’s a definite sense that Barron expects you to have some awareness of the Great Tree of Avalon (it’s kind of like reading The Magician’s Nephew before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the NARNIA books — though it’s a prequel, it’s better to read them in order of publication). In any case, if you’re a stickler for correct reading order, then save The Dragon of Avalon and its immediate successors (Doomraga’s Revenge and Ultimate Magic) for last.

On the island of Avalon a tiny pebble is swept downstream and comes to rest in the roots of the Great Tree, oblivious to the events that go on around it (which comprise a brief recap of the original MERLIN books) and watched over by Aylah the wind spirit. It turns out that the pebble is actually an egg, and what emerges is a lizard-like creature that soon discovers that he has the ability to generate any scent he likes. This gift proves useful when it comes to evading the predators in his environment, and he chooses the name Basil as his own, calling himself after his favourite smell.

On hearing news about Merlin’s return to Avalon and his impending wedding to his love Hallia, Basil decides to gatecrash in the hopes that he’ll learn who (and what) he truly is from the wise old wizard. Although Merlin cannot help in telling Basil more about himself, the little lizard is tasked with an important mission by the great god Dagda.

Having learnt of the return of the evil spirit Rhita Gawr, Dagda encourages Basil in his desire to visit all seven realms of Avalon, telling him to swallow a grain of sand from each one. Much like Merlin’s quest to find the Seven Songs of Wisdom back in book two of his own series, Basil traverses the seven great roots of Avalon, discovering plenty of wonders along the way.

But Basil is haunted by a terrible vision of Merlin being attacked by a strange winged creature. Unsure whether the assailant is himself or some other creature, he and the wind spirit Aylah are desperate to find and warn the great sorcerer before it’s too late.

It’s an unusual (and no doubt challenging) decision to have a small winged lizard as your protagonist, but T.A. Barron manages to make Basil engaging and relatable, particularly in his deep desire for a self-identity. Though featuring return appearances from Merlin, Hallia, Shim and other popular characters from the previous books, the story stays with Basil’s point-of-view for its duration, exploring his myriad of adventures across the Great Tree of Avalon.

For fans of T.A. Barron‘s MERLIN saga, this will be a welcome return to Avalon, with plenty of what you’d expect: descriptive prose, magical creatures, and intense adventures running parallel to the acquisition of wisdom.

Merlin — (1996-2010) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Spat out by the sea, the boy lay on the rocks, as still as death. Even if he survived the day, he had no home. No memory. And no name. So begins the tale of the strange young boy, who having washed up on the shores of ancient Wales, is 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 now. At the knee of the mysterious Branwen, who claims to be his mother, the boy learns lore of the Celts, Druids, and people even more ancient. Yet the secret of his identity seems always to escape him. To discover the truth, and the secret of his own powers, he runs away, voyaging to the mist-shrouded side of Fincayra, an enchanted land between earth and sky that is being destroyed by blight. It is there he discovers that the fate of this land and his quest are strangely entwined? Combining all the passion, power, and spiritual depth that are T. A. Barron’s hallmarks, this book adds a thrilling new dimension to the legend of Merlin.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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