The 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.