Fantasy lovers, get ready for a new young adult series that will fill your void for a magical story. If you love the tales of Camelot, Shakespeare’s comedies, or even the magnificent world of Harry Potter, Robyn Schneider’s The Other Merlin is your next book series to fall in love with. The first book of the Emry Merlin series doesn’t come out until September 21, but lucky for you, I snagged an early copy of the book to review for Bookstr’s most dedicated readers.
*Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reader’s copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
Schneider announced the series last fall after spending parts of 2019 traveling and researching for her YA Arthurian re-telling. Her website states that the book is set in “a Camelot that becomes the ultimate teen rom-com hotspot” while “[c]hanneling the modern humor of A Knight’s Tale.” And for a while, all fans knew about the book were clues taken from a carousel of images on her Instagram page. Given that Schenider’s previous books were high school rom-coms set in sunny Southern California, her step into the world of fantasy was unexpected, but not out of character for her.
As an already dedicated fan of Schneider’s work, I wondered if the book may be too young for her YA audience. There isn’t anything particularly sexy about the stories of Camelot. However, the English-lit-degree side of me was enticed by Schneider’s source material and thought that maybe she could do something that hadn’t been done before. She also kept teasing a bath scene as one of her favorites, and honestly, I needed to know what happened in that bath.
Schneider brings back all of the classic characters we know and love from the stories of Camelot—Arthur, Lancelot, King Uther, Guinevere, Morgana—and introduces some new ones like the novel’s protagonist, Emry Merlin, and her brother, Emmett. The latter two take part in the story’s main plot point: a spin on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night where Emry must take the place of her brother in Arthur’s court. The other characters answer the question, “who was Arthur before Excalibur?” The two stories collide, and chaos ensues!
It shouldn’t matter that you’re a girl, ” said Lance. “Things like that—your gender, or who you love, or where you’re from—they shouldn’t matter.”The Other Merlin, p.338
While Schenider brings back some favorites from old Camelot, she modernizes them. Her Camelot is full of people of color who represent an array of sexualities. Certainly, this isn’t to say that actual Camelot wasn’t filled with gay people (because chances are, it was, and it just wasn’t historically recorded). But this fresh take on a familiar story makes the characters tangible to a twenty-first-century audience. Emry is openly bisexual (although you can argue she is pansexual since a line in the book reads, “A person’s gender made no difference to her,”) and Lancelot is gay. On top of this, characters question their personal and sexual identities exactly how teenagers and young adults tend to do as they’re figuring out their lives
But for as many characters as there are, many get lost in the story’s main plot points of Arthur facing an inevitable coronation and Emry tracking down her father. Guinevere’s POV chapters didn’t add much depth to her character or the story. It was obvious that her role is to simply play Olivia to Emmett’s Sebastian. I absolutely loved getting to know this new Lancelot, but again, I wish we could have seen more of him. Another relationship that I loved that was just barely established was the friendship between Emry and Arthur’s evil-or-not cousin, Gawain. This was an unexpected coupling that shared a fantastic scene in a brothel and not much else. Worst still, Morgana only makes a grand entrance during an anti-climactic closing. However, what is beautiful about this book is that it is only the first of a three-part series. I say all of this with the hope that the novel’s side characters are rounded out and receive the spotlights that they deserve later on. At the end of the day, Schneider is covering a lot of material in 420 pages.
From someone who studied Shakespeare in college, I loved Schenider’s nods to the playwright throughout the text. The line “there had to be more written in her stars than see could see” alludes to Shakespeare’s “The fault…is not in our stars / But in ourselves…” Similarly, there is a mention of ridiculous yellow court shoes which makes me wonder if there is any relation to Malvolio’s iconic scene featuring yellow stockings in Twelfth Night. My favorite bit, though, was Emry mentioning that she first had sex “thanks to a troublesome playwright who’d neglected to mention his wife and son back in Warwick.” Anyone who studied Shakespeare’s life would pause at that line and wonder if it’s about The Bard himself.
Overall, what began as an inquiry into a new series by a beloved author has become an impatient wait until the second installment comes out next fall. The Other Merlin truly takes readers away into another world that is both familiar and new. Even if Shakespeare or Camelot aren’t your things, Schneider’s creation of her own spells will have you transported into the world of training to be magician’s apprentice (step aside, J.K. Rowling). After all, Emry’s gift is that she can cast spells without a wand. While the book does read a little young, some scenes definitely make Camelot sexier than I would have expected. The aforementioned bath scene is no joke, but may I introduce you to that library scene. (Trust me, you’ll figure this one out.)
Whether you are already a fan of Schneider’s work or you’ve found yourself lost after Hogwarts, The Other Merlin is the perfect stepping stone to get back into the fantasy genre. I can certainly say I am excited to see what comes next for Emry and Arthur’s court. The Other Merlin is available everywhere on September 21, and you can pre-order a copy here or find a copy at your local bookstore.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my interview with Robyn Schneider where she speaks about everything from Pride Month to the Emery Merlin series. And if you would like other fantasy recommendations, check out our list here.
FEATURED IMAGES VIA BBC, VARIETY, EMPIRE, RADIO TIMES, & AMAZON