It’s not easy writing a book that offers a new, fresh, and exciting take on the Arthurian legend. After all, it’s one of the most famous legends in the history of English literature. Somehow, though, Signe Pike has managed to do so, and The Lost Queen is an absolute triumph of storytelling.
Languoreth is the daughter of a powerful Scottish king, and her foremost ambition is to be a Wisdom Keeper, one of a select group of men (and a very few women) tasked with maintaining their ancient religion. That fate, however, has been decreed for her brother Lailoken, while she is destined to marry a powerful prince and help bring stability to her world. Though she does ultimately wed a man for the good of her kingdom, her heart will always belong to the dark and brooding Maelgwn, a warrior whose fate lies to the south.
Throughout the book, Languoreth comes across as a fierce and proud woman determined to seize what bits of happiness she can, despite the limits placed upon her because of both her sex and her status. As the daughter of a king and the brother of a man destined to be a Wise One himself, she knows that she has a duty to perform to her people, yet she is also not afraid to follow her own heart when it suits her. The novel allows us to see inside her mind as she struggles to maintain a balance between her own personal desires and the people she has sworn to protect.
I’ve heard some say that The Lost Queen is the new Mists of Avalon, without all of the ugly baggage of Marion Zimmer Bradley, and I think there’s something to that comparison. The Lost Queen depicts a world on the brink of great social, cultural, and political change, as zealous Christians like Mungo will not rest until they have brought the entire edifice of the ancient way crumbling to the ground. Laguoreth, as a passionate believer in the old religion, attempts to keep the Christian forces at bay, even while she also has to accept that politics sometimes makes personal satisfaction in matters of faith impossible. The Lost Queen is full of evocative scenes in which Languoreth immerses herself in the sensual spirituality of her ancestors.
It’s also a world in which the force of arms is often the only thing standing between the remnants of the British tribes and the hordes of Saxons that seem poised to sweep across the island and make it their own. In Pike’s telling, the Pendragon (which here is a title rather than a surname per se), is headquartered near Hadrian’s Wall, where he leads a group of warriors that are descendants of the Sarmatians brought to Britain by the Romans. It’s an interesting theory, and there’s no doubt that Pike paints this world in bright and vivid colors. She’s one of those exceptional historical fiction authors who can, through her exquisite prose, conjure up the experience of living in a particular historical period.
That being said, I’m not entirely sure that I buy the idea that the real Arthurian legends took place in Scotland, though Pyke does make a compelling case for that notion in her author’s note. It’s a fascinating way of looking at the legends of King Arthur, and if nothing else it makes us look anew at these legends and the men and women who inhabit them.
As fascinating as the politics, are, however, the book is essentially about relationships. Languroeth’s fiery passions draw you in and don’t let you go, from the first page to the last. You yearn with her as she encounters Maelgwn, and you weep with her as she realizes that she must choose duty over her own desire. While you may not always agree with what she does–she’s not a flawless heroine, by any means–Pike at least allows you to understand her desires and motivations.
Having now finished The Lost Queen, I’m finding that I’m very excited indeed for the next volume, which is due out in 2020. I daresay that we are in for a treat, and that Pike is fated to become one of the most respected authors of women’s historical fiction writing today.