T. A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin is in one way a radical addition to modern Arthurian literature. In both traditional and modern versions of the Camelot myth, as in The Sword in the Stone or even Over Sea, Under Stone [ooh, I told!], Merlin is the mentor figure. Arthur or, once his story got told, various young knights were the heroes.
But Barron (an American inspired by Wales, like Lloyd Alexander) reimagines Merlin as the young hero in his own coming-of-age saga. The result is more than serviceable high fantasy, but I'm not sure why besides the Merlin "brand name" it has to be tied to Camelot.
Some reviewers have said that the Lost Years starts slowly. I think it starts fine, but then it starts again, and again.
Usually a novel should begin when the protagonist's life changes in a major way. Thus, for example, Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper starts when its main character arrives on an island to take a new job. Of course, that gives the author the challenge of filling us in on the character's previous life, but it's inherently dramatic.
Lost Years has, by my count, not one but four moments when a sudden and drastic change comes on the hero:
- Prologue: Young Emrys finds himself washed up on a strange shore. He can't remember anything of his past, and he knows his life will never be the same again.
- Chapter 2 (or, rather, II): Emrys discovers that he has untold magical powers, and is sure his life will never be the same again.
- Chapter VI: Having responded to a bully with magical fire and then tried to save the other boy from it, Emrys wakes up blind, haunted by the memory, and certain that his life will never be the same again.
- Chapter VIII: Emrys discovers that he has the gift of second sight, restoring his independence and proving once and for all that his life will never be the same again.