Cover of The Other Merlin, featuring an illustration of a boy holding books and a girl holding a magic wand

About the Book

Title: The Other Merlin (Emry Merlin #1)
Published: 2021

Cover Story: Thank U, Next
BFF Charm: Mixed Bag
Talky Talk: Modern History
Bonus Factors: Queer Representation, Sex Positivity
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Uther Pendragon Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: You’ve Got Me

Cover Story: Thank U, Next

In the vast sea of illustrated covers, this one isn’t bad. I wouldn’t hate to be caught reading this book in public, but it’s a bit too cutesy for my taste. The sketch of the castle in the background, though, is somewhat unique, if a bit unfinished-looking. The original cover—

—is definitely less cutesy, and not at all unfinished, but neither hit the mark.

The Deal: 

Emry Merlin is the daughter of the most famous wizard in all of England—and she might even be more powerful. But she’ll never truly know, because she’s never been given the chance to prove herself, specifically because she’s a woman. Her twin brother, Emmett, gets all the magical glory, even though he’s a lazy oaf who’s more interested in bedding the farmer’s daughter than learning magic.

But then the day comes when Emmett is called to Camelot, to become an apprentice court wizard, and Emry’s forced to take his place—disguised as him—while he sleeps off a spell gone wrong. It’s only supposed to be for a week, but a week’s plenty of time for Emry to realize what she truly wants from her life.

BFF Charm: Mixed Bag

Brown paper bag filled with various BFF charms

Although the main character of the story is Emry, who is a badass, hilarious, confident young woman with a wit to match any man’s, we also get chapters from POVs of various other characters, including Arthur—the bookish prince of both Emry’s and my dreams—and Lancelot, Arthur’s best friend and disgraced former-squire-turned-castle-guard. (There’s not exactly a rhyme or reason for the disparate POVs, but the fact that the book’s told in the third person omniscient makes it less confusing.)

I would give Emry a BFF charm in a heartbeat, both in her Emry form and the persona she adopts while pretending to be Emmett. I’d probably be fighting her for Arthur, though; he’s not your typical burly, meatheaded prince. He loves books and science and is kind as he is cute. Emry’s a better fit for him, but I can’t say there wouldn’t be some jealousy on my part. And Lance seems … fine. We don’t get to know him well enough for me to want to be his BFF, but I’d certainly be his friend. His backstory is heartbreaking, however, so he’d get the Big Sister treatment from me for sure.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Emry is immediately attracted to Arthur, but she does her level best to avoid catching actual feelings. One, because she’s pretending to be her brother, and two, because who ever heard of a future king falling for his wizard? And when Guinevere comes into the picture, things get even more complicated. But there’s something between the two, and it’s not just their mutual appreciation for the magical arts.

Talky Talk: Modern History

I was surprised to find that this Arthurian retelling takes place somewhere in the late 1600s/early 1700s, in a more recognizable London complete with St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Typically, they’re much more medieval.) I liked the jump forward in time, though—it meshed well with Schneider’s more modern dialogue and quips, which were quite delightful. Emry, although a—gasp—woman, can hold her own with the sometimes bawdy language of Arthur and Lancelot, thanks likely to her having Emmett as a brother and also being a (secret) member of her town’s acting troupe. I laughed out loud multiple times while reading the book, especially when (semi-spoiler alert) Emry’s secret was found out and the boys thought back on all the times they’d spent together—particularly the more suspect and/or questionable ones.

My slight complaint is that Emry’s secret gives an underlying current of tension to the book that just sort of fizzles out toward the end. I didn’t need for there to be dire consequences for her deception, but the consequences that did occur weren’t nearly as consequential as the rest of the book hyped them up to be. 

Bonus Factor: Queer Representation

Pride flag being waved in a parade

While she doesn’t label it using modern terms, Emry is attracted to people regardless of their gender. Various folks she meets have same-gender partners. Arthur begins to question himself when he’s attracted to Emry (in her Emmett form), but it’s not because he’s being queerphobic, it’s just something new that he’d never before experienced. (Related, I don’t feel like the gender-bending in this book was problematic, but I’m not an expert, so please shout if you had qualms.) As always—and as is becoming more common in YA—it’s nice to read about a society that doesn’t have issues with the sexual spectrum.

Bonus Factor: Sex Positivity

Emma Stone giving a thumbs up for sex in Easy A

Like I mentioned above, Emry can hold her own with the guys, and that includes conversations about sex. She’s not a virgin, and she’s not ashamed of it.

Lance looked as stricken as Arthur felt. She was a maiden.

“I promise, I’ve seen it all before,” said Emry. Both boys went red in the face, and she snorted at their discomfort. “Oh my god, like either of you are virgins.”

“Of course not,” Arthur protested. “But that’s different.”

“How so?” Emry asked with a sharp smile.

Wasn’t it different? Arthur frowned and had another sip of wine.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Uther Pendragon Award for Awful Parenting

Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon in Merlin

Uther Pendragon is NEVER a good dad.

Relationship Status: You’ve Got Me

I have an idea for you, Book: A round table where all of your best men—nay, people—can sit and discuss how best to rule England. I’d be honored to pull up a chair and offer my two cents.

Literary Matchmaking

The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising #1)

Emry would adore Kristen White’s version of Guinevere in her Camelot Rising series.

Legendborn (The Legendborn Cycle #1)

And Tracey Deonn’s Arthurian heir, Bree, in the Legendborn series.

Seven Endless Forests

And Torvi in April Genevieve Tucholke’s Seven Endless Forests. I’m sensing a(n awesome) pattern here.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Viking Books for Young Readers, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. The Other Merlin is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.