The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

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The Lost Queen is the first novel in a proposed trilogy by Signe Pike. Pike has set the novel in sixth century Scotland after researching the Celtic history of the period. The novel focuses on the lives of Languoreth and Lailoken, twins who lived in this period. Like so many before her, Pike wants to find the factual evidence of the Arthurian tales and their history.

Languoreth was a powerful queen during this period, but her story has been largely lost to history. Languoreth and Lailoken grow up as the loved children of Morken, petty king in Goddeu with halls in Cadzow and Patrick. He and 12 other petty kings owe their allegiance to Tutgual, King of Strathclyde.

We meet the twins shortly after their mother dies. Both the twins and their father are trying to overcome their sadness at her passing, but it is difficult. As the ten-year-old twins grow, they are cared for by a nursemaid, Crowan, and Cathan, head Wisdom Keeper, or druid priest, and counselor to Morken. Cathan was a close friend of the twin’s mother, Lady Idell, who was also a Wisdom Keeper. Lady Idell was beloved by her people. She was knowledgeable about the plants used to make early elixirs, salves and ointments for their different medical needs.

The twins are very different yet amazingly similar, and they are both aware of their destiny. Lailoken, Song Keeper, is impetuous, hot tempered and determined to pursue his dreams of becoming a warrior as well as a Wisdom Keeper. Since Lailoken is training as a Wisdom Keeper, he will not inherit his father’s estate; it will go to his sister Languoreth. Pike believes that Lailoken may well have been the mage upon whom the wizard Merlin in the King Arthur tales is based.

Languoreth wants to be a Wisdom Keeper like her mother, but as a princess, she will not be allowed. As a princess, she will be used as a bargaining chip to assure the safety and well-being of her family and lands. In other words, she must marry well to assure the future of her people and her inheritance. Languoreth plays her role well, but she is still an interesting character in her own right. She’s smart and rebellious. She knows how to survive the palace intrigues and romantic entanglements she’s involved in.

The Lost Queen is the first novel by Pike. She has written other books, including her memoir The Faerie Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World, but she claims she had no idea how to write fiction. Her extraordinary journey led her to six years of research and writing to produce The Lost Queen, one of Kirkus Review’s best fiction books of 2018. Pike has a unique talent for writing beautiful prose full of rich words that evoke Scotland of 550 A.D. Many are comparing the book and proposed trilogy to The Mists of Avalon and The Outlander.

The novel is strong in Celtic history and descriptions of the geographical area of Scotland where the story is set. The verdant green of the hills and mists are a perfect setting for the Celtic folklore and Wisdom Keepers. It’s difficult, and distracting, to keep the old names straight; yet, at the same time, they lend an air of mystery woven naturally into the story.

The novel covers the beginnings of Christianity in the Highlands. The Wisdom Keepers, or druids, believed in the mysticism of the spirit world and used holistic medicines to treat illnesses. The early Christian monks were believers in the divine right of the kings. Thus, the strife between the Old Ways and the modern Christians were cause for conflict in these, the early Middle Ages.

The story begins with the death of Lady Idell and continues through the marriage of Languoreth to her husband Rhydderch, the younger son of Tutgual. In court, Languoreth becomes friends with the Queen and her sister-in-law, Rhian. As women who have each married to further the dynasties of their respective families, the women have much in common though their interests at any moment may be different. The novel is rife with palace intrigue, love and betrayal, battles and escapes.

The book ends before Languoreth becomes queen with her words written on parchment: “There are those who will argue such things should not be written. The songs are for the Keepers. Have I, of all people, forgotten the written words are sacred? But who am I, if not a keeper of the Old Way? My name is Languoreth, daughter of Morken. I write because I have seen the darkness that will come.”

For those who enjoyed the novel, as I did, Pike’s second novel is due out in the summer of 2020. ■

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