About a month ago, I found myself having to face a few lengthy drives. The past several times I’ve had to make that trip, I’ve had Wheel of Time audiobooks to listen to (and before that, I would usually listen to the Hamilton soundtrack). So I decided to peruse some audiobook sales and found The Lost Queen by Signe Pike.
Admittedly, it’s not my usual cup of tea. It is very much a historical fiction piece with some romance thrown in. But I do love me some Arthurian retellings, and The Lost Queen is written to take place before Merlin was even Merlin, when he was just a man named Lailoken with a twin sister, Langoureth.
No worries, folks, I’m going to avoid spoilers. If it’s not in the synopsis, I won’t talk about it.
Author: Signe Pike
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Series: The Lost Queen Trilogy; book #1
I write because I have seen the darkness that will come. Already there are those who seek to tell a new history…
In a land of mountains and mist, tradition and superstition, Languoreth and her brother Lailoken are raised in the Old Way of their ancestors. But in Scotland, a new religion is rising, one that brings disruption, bloodshed, and riot. And even as her family faces the burgeoning forces of Christianity, the Anglo-Saxons, bent on colonization, are encroaching from the east. When conflict brings the hero Emrys Pendragon to her father’s door, Languoreth finds love with one of his warriors. Her deep connection to Maelgwn is forged by enchantment, but she is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of a Christian king. As Languoreth is catapulted into a world of violence and political intrigue, she must learn to adapt. Together with her brother—a warrior and druid known to history as Myrddin—Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way and the survival of her kingdom, or risk the loss of them both forever.
Based on new scholarship, this tale of bravery and conflicted love brings a lost queen back to life—rescuing her from obscurity, and reaffirming her place at the center of one of the most enduring legends of all time.
A World Steeped in Subtle Magic
If you are looking for a hard and present magic system, this book will not deliver. Yet it gives you something else entirely. There are strange things that happen, inexplicable things. Omens that foretell the future, enchantments that allow the impossible, visions of the past and present and future.
The way Pike writes, the reader can’t help but believe in the same gods that Languoreth believes in, even as the familiar Christianity rears its head. How these two religions conflict is actually quite interesting. When they have to interact with Christianity, Languoreth and her family don’t look at its God and consider it false; they just see God as a new deity, one they do not follow. There are certain characters converted from the Old Ways that the family interacts with, those who still hold respect for those traditions even as they worship in the new way.
Not all of the Christian characters are good ones though. In fact, many of them aren’t, and it’s these that Languoreth and her family find themselves pitted up against. A question of religion is one of the focal conflicts of the story as the land’s king turns more and more in favor of Christianity, allowing for terrible things to happen against the believers of the Old Ways, including to Languoreth and her family, even as the Old Gods seem to throw their own magic at the family to protect them. It’s almost like the different gods are hashing it out above, or perhaps neither exists at all.
Still, I loved the soft magic of the wisdomkeepers, especially Ariane and Cathan. The magic that they seemed capable of wielding, the knowledge that they held, made them the perfect blend of mysterious and knowable.
Love Triangles and Arranged Marriages
It can be difficult to pull off multiple love interests well, but the characters, especially Languoreth, are set up in a way where it makes sense. Both Languoreth and her brother Lailoken have some magical connection to each other and to nature, a connection that sends characters on a path to wisdomkeepers. Lailoken is allowed to pursue that path, but Languoreth, as the only daughter, must marry for political gain and to carry the family name.
The rules of wisdomkeepers is a little murky. Languoreth’s mother was one, so it’s not like it’s a rule that wisdomkeepers can’t marry. And why it falls to Languoreth to continue the family line instead of her twin brother Lailoken is a question that is not answered either. Still, from childhood onward, Languoreth wishes for nothing more than to follow the same path her brother is set upon, rather than having to marry for alliances.
Ultimately, the love triangle works not because of some soulmate nonsense between Languoreth and Maelgwn (mile-gwin). It’s not even out of hatred for Rhydderch (ru-thirk). Rather, it’s about Languoreth’s free spirit and wishing to have one thing that she chose rather than had chosen for her.
As the Years Go By: A Matter of Pace
The novel is split into multiple parts, and each one takes place in a different year, allowing the reader to see Languoreth grow up and mature. And while of course not all books need to span two decades (which roughly how much time The Lost Queen covers), it’s an underutilized tool. Not only does it allow for the protagonist’s growth as a character, it also allows for a slow build-up of danger, especially when it comes to the conflict that Christianity brings to those devout in the Old Ways.
The passing of time does have its drawbacks. There are a few plot strains that get dropped: at least one character who left that I expected to come back at one point and never did, and a prophecy that I thought would be fulfilled by the end of the novel and is thus unclear if it was averted or if it will simply take place in the next book. A magical presence in the beginning of the novel, too, that gets a callback later in the novel, but nowhere near the weight it should have been given, making the original encounter seem pointless.
But, overall, these were small things, overshadowed greatly by the way Pike uses the different years to build up the narrative. The author doesn’t focus on any singular event in particular within each part of the book, so it feels like we’re getting the whole story rather than the highlights. That’s something of an impressive feat, considering Pike is covering so much time and so many events in a single book.
Prose and Voice Acting
I’m ultimately glad that I experienced this as an audiobook rather than read it as a physical book. Toni Frutin, the woman who voiced the audiobook, has a lovely voice, and a lovely Scottish accent that I couldn’t help but mirror when there was no one around to hear me. Listening to the audiobook helped with the pace, I think. I can imagine if some people try to read the physical copy and find the pacing is too slow for their liking; I probably would have been the same. But it was pleasant enough to listen to, and most of the characters were enjoyable enough to watch, that I didn’t mind if the pacing felt a little slow at times.
That said, I do think that Frutin made Languoreth’s character more emotional than she needed to be, making her whiny or crying when there isn’t really any in-text clues that suggests she would be. It was especially jarring because Languoreth’s inner monologue was often fierce and stubborn. It turned her into yet another “strong female character” that rarely showed much in the way of strength. But I do actually think she was a strong character, trying her best, and this was one of the few things that I really disliked about the performance.
I rated The Lost Queen five stars on Goodreads. My actual rating is probably a 4.5. The pacing might be a bit of a turn-off for many readers. Those who like historical fiction will probably enjoy this quite a bit; I found it an informative alternative to the expected kings and queens or even simple clan chief structures that I might’ve expected. The novel ended at a bit of a weird point, a cliffhanger of sorts, though the good news is that the second book, The Forgotten Kingdom, was published last month, so you don’t have to wait. I think for those who are intrigued by Arthurian legends, this is an intriguing retelling of a much loved story steeped in mystery and magic, and a narrative that at least has the feel of being historically accurate.