The Other Merlin


I must confess I approached Robyn Schneider's The Other Merlin with a degree of trepidation. This is a book very much in the current YA mould -- sassy dialogue, intense romance, a dash of queer, misunderstood youth, a young woman exploring her power. The Other Merlin is set in a kind of medieval alternative England, a nation divided into small rival kingdoms including 'Camelot' as well as the more familiar Arthurian Lothian and others. In this version, Prince Arthur, conceived out of wedlock and thus an unwelcome heir, is a bookish, scholarly and compassionate boy who inexplicably secured the right to the throne after drawing the sword from the stone outside a pub; Lancelot is a handsome, athletic squire banished to the guards after a gay scandal; while this Merlin is actually the gifted daughter of the original court wizard, forced into disguise as her own twin brother.

Once I settled into the conventions of the sarky, sparky teen dialogue and the many anachronisms, I enjoyed The Other Merlin a lot. Schneider has been working on this world for a long time, and I appreciated the twists she's given to the conventional cast and plot. There are many familiar figures in slightly unexpected guises -- Guinevere doesn't want to marry Arthur any more than Arthur wants to marry her, Arthur and Emry Merlin feel an irresistible attraction to each other, Emry becomes trapped 'in the stone' when a portal opens to another, more magical world. It's pacy and engaging, though I'm not sure if readers who aren't already familiar with the legends will react. I did enjoy Emry working on special effects in a theatre, producing magical storms and pools of blood at will, and the hints that Arthur's strength will be his people skills rather than the way he handles a sword.

There are sequels to come...

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