The Other Merlin (Emry Merlin, #1)
Welcome to the great kingdom of Camelot! Prince Arthur’s a depressed botanist who would rather marry a library than a princess, Lancelot’s been demoted to castle guard after a terrible lie, and Emry Merlin has arrived at the castle disguised as her twin brother since girls can’t practice magic.
Life at court is full of scandals, lies, and backstabbing courtiers, so what’s a casually bisexual teen wizard masquerading as a boy to do? Other than fall for the handsome prince, stir up trouble with the foppish Lord Gawain, and offend the prissy Princess Guinevere.
When the truth comes out with disastrous consequences, Emry has to decide whether she'll risk everything for the boy she loves, or give up her potential to become the greatest wizard Camelot has ever known.
However, as both Emmett and Emry know, they've invited the wrong twin. This is made even more readily apparent when Emmett does some magic he shouldn't to avoid the debt he made from gambling and knocks himself out for about a week - too long to answer the summons from the king. Emry decides to take her brother's place using the skills she has honed in the theatre troupe for just this week. Once she arrives, everything and nothing is as she expected, and she finds herself learning magic she could have never dreamed while also getting close to Arthur and his BFF Lancelot (Lance).
Arthur was raised as the spare, with his birth being considered suspicious due to its close proximity to his parents' wedding. However, when it became clear that his parents would not have a legitimate heir, he was suddenly thrust into the world of politics and away from his books, which is where he would have much rather stayed. A year ago, he pulled the sword from the stone, supposedly designating him as the High King of England, but he is pretty sure that might have been a mistake. As he spends time with the new wizard and navigates his father's expectations, Arthur will need to decide who he is going to be.
What I loved: This was an absolutely riveting and delightful retelling. I was completely enthralled from early on in the story, which includes aspects of the original legend while making it something completely new. The court intrigue and politics were all really fascinating, and I love the friendships, loyalties, and relationships that evolve throughout the book. The themes around leadership, what makes a good leader, political relationships, socioeconomic disparities and related power dynamics, and gender identity/sexuality were all really poignant. These were definitely worth discussing further and intriguing to think about throughout the story.
Emry and Arthur were each really compelling characters, and it was so easy to fall in love with them both. Their characters both really grew and developed in the story, and although there were some bumps in the road, I think they both made each other better people and better leaders throughout the story. Likewise, secondary characters such as Guinevere, Lancelot, Gawain, and Emmett were also intriguing. I definitely look forward to hearing more about them in future stories.
Although it was certainly a subplot to all the magic, character development, and danger, the romance was also really well done, and I loved the way it developed and evolved as they get to know each other. It was really the cherry on top of such an excellent read.
Final verdict: With thought-provoking themes and fantastic characters, THE OTHER MERLIN is a highly devourable retelling of King Arthur that I would highly recommend picking up. Perfect for fans of ONCE & FUTURE, THE GUINEVERE DECEPTION, and LEGENDBORN.