T.A. Barron created a sweeping fantasy classic in the "Lost Years of Merlin" series. Now he follows up with a brand new series, taking place eight hundred years after the creation of Avalon -- "The Great Tree of Avalon: Child of the Dark Prophecy," full of magic, chills and humor.
As the book opens, legendary wizard Merlin rescues an orphaned eagleboy from a pair of mercenaries, and gives him to a flamelon woman with a half-human baby. He also leaves his staff with the eagleboy. The boys are raised together, but are separated when a pack of evil creatures try to kill them. Now Tamwyn is on the hunt for his brother Scree, but is haunted by questions about his own past. There's a prophecy that that year, both Merlin's true heir (and grandson) and the Dark Child of a sinister prophecy will come of age that year.
Elsewhere, a young priestess named Elli is accompanying her snobby superior to a meeting with the Lady of the Lake. They end up meeting with Tamwyn, who is beginning to believe that Scree is Merlin's heir -- and that he himself is the Dark Child. But an evil sorcerer is threatening all of Avalon, disrupting the magical waters that sustain it -- and Tamwyn, Elli and Scree may be the only ones who can save their homeland.
It's hard to take the story almost a millennium forward, with an almost entirely new cast and new problems. But "Child of the Dark Prophecy" has a certain familiarity, since Barron explores themes of good, the potential for evil, doubt, power and love -- just as he did in the "Merlin" series.
One thing that hasn't changed is that Barron's writing is vibrant and lush, without getting bogged down in the details. Not to mention his healthy doses of humor, such as the snotty priestess's face being turned green by her facial. There are strange creatures, ranging from little shapeshifting imps to giant mud-dwellers.
The one flaw may be the villain; his motives are excellent, but they aren't even hinted at until the final showdown. But, for clarity's sake, Barron also includes a detailed timeline that explains the events of the past eight hundred years, including the marriage of Merlin and deerwoman Hallia, and the war that precedes this conflict. This is very helpful, although don't read it until the book is over.
Familiar faces pop up here and there. Merlin himself appears for only a short time; the Lady of the Lake turns out to be an old friend, and half-deaf Shim shows up again (tiny once more). A familiar evil character also returns late in the book. But the book belongs to Tamwyn, nervous about his possible destiny and his growing magical powers, and fiery Elli, with her haunted past. Though initially they despise each other, their friendship starts to grow. Eagleboy Scree doesn't get as much attention -- he spends most of the book in a cave -- but he's an excellent character when he reencounters his brother.
Beautifully written and full of thrills, "Child of the Dark Prophecy" is a worthy follow-up to the "Lost Years of Merlin" series, yet will leave readers longing for the next book in the series. Another triumph.