Signe Pike decided to re-examine the Arthurian Mythos when she learned that a man who appears to have been the historical Merlin had a twin sister. A novel focused on Merlin's twin sister would certainly be covering new ground. That's why I agreed to review The Lost Queen by Signe Pike when the publisher made a review request. I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Net Galley and this is my honest review.
What sets this Arthurian novel apart is Signe Pike's source of inspiration. She wasn't inspired by earlier Arthurian fiction, but by a history book called Finding Merlin by Adam Ardrey. Ardrey's Merlin is an individual who actually lived in 6th century Scotland. If I had the time, I would have read this book and evaluated it as a work of historical scholarship before writing this review. Since I am trying to keep my commitment to the publisher who entrusted me with an ARC for review before The Lost Queen's release, I decided to look for independent confirmation online instead.
The search that I conducted first led me to a site called Undiscovered Scotland which has a page that I've hyperlinked devoted to a man who lived during the same period and in the same location, but didn't use the name Lailoken which Ardrey associated with his Merlin. Yet I also found a book by historian Tim Clarkson called Scotland's Merlin which was published a number of years after Ardrey's. It did use the name Lailoken. Based on a review of Scotland's Merlin which I found on History Scotland's website here, Clarkson dismisses the idea that Lailoken was a Pagan. The review states that Lailoken's story can be found in medieval legends dealing with St. Kentigern, one of those who is credited with having been involved in the process of converting Scotland. Lailoken is portrayed as a contemporary opponent of St. Kentigern in The Lost Queen. The Christian conversion of Scotland is known to have taken place during a period of two centuries during which Scotland was in a state of religious transition that involved a great deal of conflict. Stories associated with St. Kentigern are likely to have been hagiographic (celebrating his saintliness). So the perspective they convey might be very biased. Winston Churchill said that "history is written by the victors". I believe that this quote applies to the medieval source about Lailoken mentioned in the review of Scotland's Merlin.
The existence of Lailoken was confirmed by my research, but readers should decide for themselves whether to believe what the supporters of St. Kentigern wrote about him. Signe Pike's protagonist, who is Lailoken's twin sister Languoreth, is portrayed in the novel as defending her brother from slanders that were written about him.
Languoreth is not portrayed as a medieval feminist. As a woman who was a daughter of a King, she was constrained in her choices. She married the man that her father chose instead of the man she loved. She did this for the sake of her family. There was a great deal of tragedy in Languoreth's life. I felt compassion for her, and tried not to judge her.
This novel is compared to The Mists of Avalon because it takes the perspective of a woman, and portrays the struggle between Pagans and Christians that was taking place during that period. Since it's the first volume in a trilogy, I will be interested in seeing how Signe Pike will put her personal stamp on her version of the Arthurian legend in future books.