Review: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike
Mhmmmm. Bit of a mixed bag, this one.
This is supposed to be the story of how Merlin came to be Merlin in the folklore, told through the point of view of his twin sister Languoreth, one of the last queens of Strathclyde in sixth-century Scotland. If you don't know what I'm talking about, fret not - a lot of this book takes place in a history of early medieval Scotland that you just don't learn about. Unfortunately, Signe Pike does kind of assume that you, as a reader, will know everything there is to know about early Christianity's first foothold in Scotland and the warfare between Picts, Scots, Britons and Angles and how the Clyde Rock monarchy works and so, because obviously all of this is common knowledge, she doesn't have to explain anything. Anything at all.
On the one hand, I really like books that retell myths and legends from the forgotten women's point of view. On the other hand, if you stray too far from the myths and the legends that inspired your story, you run the risk of falling a bit flat. And this book certainly did not live up to its promise, at least for me.
First things first, I think Signe Pike needs to further hone her novel-writing skills. Her blurb on the back cover states that this is her first fiction book, and that definitely does come through. The writing is clunky, the dialogue is obvious, the exposition is poorly handled, the characterization is bad. She reaches for fancier vocabulary words that don't ring true in the context of the conversation - nobody says 'visage' instead of 'face', Signe. Nobody. And she's very guilty of doing that thing where when a character isn't directly involved in the action of the plot as witnessed by the narrator, she - and therefore we - completely forget that that character exists, so it is jarring - to say the least - when that character is suddenly re-introduced a hundred pages later and we're meant to just carry on as if it's not really weird that they're all of a sudden a key component of a story they haven't even been mentioned in for quite some time.
The world-building was also pretty sloppy - I tend to quite harshly judge authors and characters who use magic as a plot device without ever taking the time to explain the rules and parameters of the magical world, and that comes through quite strongly here. The characters feel like caricatures, and none of them really have individual, easily recognisable voices. Also, the main character and first-person narrator is meant to be quite intelligent - but Jesus Christ does she need things explained to her, even the very obvious things. You would think that one of the most obvious ways of developing character growth in at least one person would be to have her wise up between the chapters of the book, as we're introduced to Languoreth when she's 10 and the book ends when she's 32, but nope. If you're hoping for a wise-up a la Sansa Stark, Languoreth ends The Lost Queen in the exact same position Sansa Stark finishes Season 1 Game of Thrones. Maybe the fault lies in the fact that Pike is setting up a trilogy and so has to leave enough unsaid for there to be two more books - but Christ Jesus, I am not keen on reading the next two if this is the stupidity that will be accompanying me the whole way.
Secondly, I love the idea of retelling the Merlin myth through a woman that got left out of the story. But unfortunately, because so much of this book is exposition to set up the later ones, we don't actually get any proper plot - and we are so far removed from the myth that she's trying to repaint that the story feels completely divorced from its setting. We don't even get a mention of Uther Pendragon or Merlin until the last page of the book, by which point I had completely and thoroughly lost interest.
Also, it's just bad writing. It's meant to be pitched at adults but the writing is bad quality YA.
And the love story is unbelievable and bad.
I'd say give this one a pass - there are better Merlin stories out there to read instead.