fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Raging Fires by T. A. Barron

“The Dragon Avenges His Dreams Yet Unhatched…”

The third book in T.A. Barron’s MERLIN SAGA, chronicling the adventures of the young wizard before his famous exploits in the Arthurian legends, continues on from The Lost Years and The Seven Songs of Merlin. Merlin has been reunited with his mother and sister on the magical island of Fincayra and is looking forward to continuing his learning in the magical arts. But it is not to be, for elsewhere on the island the ancient dragon Valdearg has awakened from his decades-long slumber to discover that his unhatched eggs have been destroyed — and he’s not happy.

A prophesy hints that Merlin will be the one to end the scourge of the dragon — but at the cost of his own life. Furthermore, he will need the precious gemstone known as the Galator to complete his quest, a treasure that he bartered away back in the first book to save a friend’s life. Further trouble arises in the form of Urnalda, a dwarf-enchantress who has the power to strip Merlin of his magical power, and the kreelix –monsters that feast on magical abilities. Beset on all sides by these opponents, Merlin struggles to complete his goals and face the terrible dragon before it’s too late.

Barron keeps the story flowing at a brisk pace, helped along by the short chapters and the breezy prose. Told in first-person narration by Merlin himself, there is a sense of immediacy to the proceedings, as well as rich descriptions of the landscape and travailing of Fincayra. Old characters are present (requiring foreknowledge of the previous books) and new ones are introduced, and the tapestry of this land and its history has further layers and details added to it. Hallia takes the place of Rhia as Merlin’s female companion, but the deer-woman is not quite as interesting or endearing as the forest-girl, though Valdearg the dragon (also known as “Wings of Fire”) makes for an intriguing not-quite villain.

Although the knowledge that Merlin gleans and the development that he goes through is not as pitch-perfectly mapped out as that of Taran in Lloyd Alexander‘s THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN (a series that I was continually reminded of whilst reading the Merlin saga) it’s clear that he’s on his way to becoming the wise wizard of the legends. I can easily imagine this youth as the mentor of a future King Arthur. Though there are twists and turns throughout the story (some clever, some pedestrian), it is ultimately Merlin’s kind heart that sets him apart from the rest of his kind, and Barron is clever enough to sow some seeds that will no doubt come to fruition in future books.

Young readers who enjoy the likes of HARRY POTTER and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA will probably appreciate Barron’s take on a young Merlin, and though they don’t *quite* reach that level of classic storytelling, they’re enjoyable and well-written fantasy for the younger crowd. The Raging Fires suffers a little from middle-book syndrome, with what with a lot of follow-on from previous books and set-up for future instalments, but will have readers eager to press on with The Mirror of Fate.

Be warned that this publication used to be titled The Fires of Merlin. There’s bound to be some confusion, so make sure you double-check exactly what you’re getting before ordering. Other than the title-change, the text remains entirely the same.

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

    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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