In Bass’ (Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon, 2007, etc.) YA story, a teenager switches bodies with the legendary wizard Merlin.
Fifteen-year-old Gilbert Myrddin, of Topsham, England, is an illustrator of fairy tales written by his father, Henry. They bind and sell the tales at Ye Olde Book & Toy Shoppe, which Henry owns. One day, his father brews a strange concoction from an ancient book titled Myrddin; Gilbert pours it down the drain, but gags on the fumes. Overnight, he becomes wrinkly and grows a long white beard. Henry rushes his son to the hospital, where Gilbert is contacted through a television by none other than the younger version of himself—or so it seems. The boy in the television explains that he’s Merlin, and that Gilbert is his ancestor. “You must follow the gleam,” the wizard says, which is defined as “the ability to see things that are invisible to the average person.”This kicks off a series of magical adventures starring Gilbert, his sister, Marlo, their friend Paul and an increasingly colorful cast of mythical and literary figures. Henry continues penning fairy tales, but with Merlin’s magic contorting their lives, he can’t be sure that he’s fully in control of his writing. Also, a troublesome figure with yellow eyes keeps appearing; can a confrontation inside Henry’s fictional worlds be far behind? Author Bass writes with an energetic, boundless sense of play, mixing the myths of Camelot with those of Santa Claus and King Midas. A body-switching potion has ingredients such as “nuance of newt wing, a suspicion of whistledown...and a dose of vermillion plonk oil,” which will be especially catchy to younger ears. The main narrative is full of Henry’s micro-stories, including “The Magic Touch” and “Evil Fishmaster & the Mermaid,” that give the work the feeling of a classic children’s reader. But Bass’ imagination may be too rambunctious for a single volume; at one point, for example, Marlo’s career as a mime elbows Gilbert’s plight aside. Bass has no shortage of ideas, but perhaps he should have given them more breathing room, across several books.
A dizzying array of magical tales, sure to keep young readers transfixed.