The Mirror of Fate: Solid but superfluous

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Mirror of Fate by T.A. Barron fantasy book reviewsThe Mirror of Fate by T.A. Barron

The Mirror of Fate is the fourth book in T.A. Barron’s THE LOST YEARS OF MERLIN saga, chronicling the adventures and experiences of Merlin as a young man, long before Arthur’s birth and Camelot’s creation. Having discovered his true parentage and voyaged to his birthplace, the magical island of Fincayra, Merlin is now practicing and improving his magical abilities, helped along by several friends and family members.

Although Barron has by now established quite a large cast of characters, it’s whittled down to Merlin and Hallia — a girl who can shapeshift into a deer — for the duration of The Mirror of Fate, at least to start with. The two friends are practicing spells together when Merlin accidentally teleports them to the edge of the Haunted Marshes, a dangerous place where the trees seems to groan in fear and a strange creature called the ballymag tells them that it’s fleeing from the ghouls that are currently inhabiting its home.

But after his precious sword is snatched by a giant bird and dropped somewhere in the midst of the swamp, Merlin advances into the dangerous territory in order to retrieve it. There he meets an old enemy and a new friend, and learns the location of the last of the Seven Wise Tools — though he’s not the only one looking for it. Finally, his journey leads him to the titular Mirror, which leads him into the mists of time and a glimpse of his own future.

Once more, Barron uses first-person narrative to recount Merlin’s story, told in the words of the young wizard himself. First-person narrative is often tricky to negotiate, what with the risk of making the protagonist sound too self-absorbed, but Barron keeps Merlin personable and open. For the first time he’s beginning to feel the first pangs of adolescence, what with the companionship of the beautiful Hallia, and as in the previous books, must make a difficult decision that will eventually lead him to the wisdom that his future self is renowned for.

There are some nice little touches here and there, such as a portrayal of a certain character that seems to have come straight out of T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, and Merlin’s trouble with his disobedient shadow that is quite reminiscent of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Add in a baby dragon and a timid giant from the last books and another new character with odd speech patterns (this time it’s the ballymag, who combines his words: “oh terribulous painodeath; horribulous bloodyhurt!”) and “The Mirror of Fate” contains all you’ve come to expect from this series. There are several allusions to the great story that is to come (especially with a glimpse into the future courtesy of the titular mirror), as well as plenty of Barron’s own inventions.

For the most part The Mirror of Fate feels a bit like filler within the context of the rest of the saga, and I couldn’t help but feel that one could skip this instalment without missing much. I’ll admit, I haven’t been totally engaged by THE LOST YEARS OF MERLIN despite the high praise with which the series is generally awarded. They make for pleasant enough reads, but perhaps because Merlin’s past has been explored in several other books since the publications of these ones, the idea of a youthful Merlin and his pre-Arthur adventures doesn’t feel quite so fresh anymore. But regardless, the target audience of the books will find them fun and easy to absorb, with plenty of action on each page and interesting new characters in each instalment. However, be aware that the last publication of The Mirror of Fate was titled The Mirror of Merlin. Despite the difference in title and cover-art, the text is still exactly the same, so be careful not to get them muddled up.

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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