Review: The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike

I loved The Lost Queen so very much, and was very happy to receive an ARC of The Forgotten Kingdom. If I had any concerns that book two of this trilogy would disappoint, those concerns were promptly vanquished.

What it’s about:

From the Goodreads blurb:

AD 573. Imprisoned in her chamber, Languoreth awaits news in torment. Her husband and son have ridden off to wage war against her brother, Lailoken. She doesn’t yet know that her young daughter, Angharad, who was training with Lailoken to become a Wisdom Keeper, has been lost in the chaos. As one of the bloodiest battles of early medieval Scottish history scatters its survivors to the wind, Lailoken and his men must flee to exile in the mountains of the Lowlands, while nine-year-old Angharad must summon all Lailoken has taught her and follow her own destiny through the mysterious, mystical land of the Picts.

In the aftermath of the battle, old political alliances unravel, opening the way for the ambitious adherents of the new religion: Christianity. Lailoken is half-mad with battle sickness, and Languoreth must hide her allegiance to the Old Way to survive her marriage to the next Christian king of Strathclyde. Worst yet, the new King of the Angles is bent on expanding his kingdom at any cost. Now the exiled Lailoken, with the help of a young warrior named Artur, may be the only man who can bring the Christians and the pagans together to defeat the encroaching Angles. But to do so, he must claim the role that will forever transform him. He must become the man known to history as “Myrddin.”

Bitter rivalries are ignited, lost loves are found, new loves are born, and old enemies come face-to-face with their reckoning in this compellingly fresh look at one of the most enduring legends of all time.

If all of that sounds epic as all hell, that’s because it is. Gloriously, fantastically epic.

My thoughts:

There are so many things I absolutely love about this book (and really, this series so far).

First, the writing: clearly, Signe Pike has done her research, and done it well. The various cultural and religious groups in the area of Scotland in this time period come to life in these pages. Then, Pike takes care to add the Arthurian legend into the actual historical events and elevates this story to a whole other level. The prose is gorgeous, the descriptions are breathtaking, and I was completely immersed in this world. This is historical fiction done well—believable and entertaining.

Next, the characters: in The Lost Queen, we first met twins Langoureth and Lailoken as children, and we’ve now followed them well into adulthood. I adore both of these characters and can’t get enough of their narratives. In this book, we have the added perspective of Langoureth’s daughter, Angharad, and her journey takes us in a different direction altogether, adding even more mystical elements and drama. The complicated love stories and the family bonds for these characters are so well done.

The setting: Scotland in the late 6th century AD is such a fascinating time and place. The descriptions of the land and the people, especially the Picts, are fascinating. The struggles between the Celtic Britons, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Picts in the time when Christianity was spreading are perfect material for an exciting storyline and some epic battles.

The fantasy elements: I love, love, LOVE how magic and Druidism are weaved into this story. Truly beautiful natural magic and mysticism blend together to set the stage for the Arthurian legend.

Early in the book, I almost felt like I needed a map and a character guide (and maybe the hardcover will have those items—remember I’m working with a galley), but once I got back into the story, I had no trouble keeping everyone straight. Like in the first book, this volume encompasses several years, so be prepared for the time jumps periodically.

I highly recommend this book to those loved The Lost Queen, and to fantasy/historical fiction lovers who are new to Pike’s epic series. Definitely start with The Lost Queen, though… these books won’t make much sense as standalone.

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for my copy in exchange for this honest review. I am very much looking forward to the last book in the trilogy!


Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

I love that Davis sets her historical fiction in and around famous buildings in New York City, and I was very excited to read this one centered at the iconic New York Public Library.

What it’s about

It’s 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn’t ask for more out of life–her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she finds herself drawn to Greenwich Village’s new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club–a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women’s rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she’s forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.

Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she’s wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie’s running begin disappearing from the library’s famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage–truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library’s history.

This book ticked so many boxes for me, I was thrilled to receive a copy through NetGalley.

My thoughts

First box ticked: The Lions of Fifth Avenue is my favorite type of book: historical fiction with dual timelines and multiple POVs. Davis is so good at crafting a story across multiple generations, and this book is no exception. The plot flips back and forth between 1913 and 1993 seamlessly, is full of rich detail about the library, and does a great job of capturing the feeling of both time periods.

Next box ticked: interesting female characters. In this book, we get Laura Lyons, who is living the life of many of her contemporaries as a housewife and mother, but wants more for herself. She ends up going back to school for journalism and discovering a lot about herself while she explores the feminist movement in NYC in the early 20th century. We also get Laura’s granddaughter, Sadie, a divorced, childless librarian in the 1990s trying to solve modern day thefts and delving into her family history while also discovering some things about herself. Both characters are well-written and distinct, and I enjoyed being in both of their heads.

Which leads me to another ticked box: feminist themes. Both women go on their own personal journey about what it means to be a woman in their time and discover truths about themselves. I especially loved Laura’s path from housewife and mother to journalist, activist, and feminist essayist. Amelia is a fantastic character as well.

The gorgeous New York Public Library is the setting for both storylines and really becomes a character itself. I had no idea that the superintendent of the library and his family once lived in an apartment inside the library, but that is such a fascinating story in and of itself. The descriptions of the library were vivid and obviously well-researched. And who doesn’t love the magic of a library?

While I appreciated the writing and the characters very much, the ultimate resolution of the mystery seemed a little too far-fetched for me, and ultimately didn’t seem to go well with the rest of the book. Laura’s story was more believable and interesting than Sadie’s, and the ending was just a bit Scooby-Doo, which ended up taking a way from my enjoyment in a way.

Still, a fun and light story about interesting women and a beautiful library. Absolutely worth the read for fans of Fiona Davis and historical women’s fiction.