by Joan Aiken
When we last saw Dido Twite, in Nightbirds on Nantucket, she was sincerely hoping to find her way back home to England. Her friends found her a place on board a British Naval ship, but, along the way, they are called to duty in South America. In Aiken’s AU, a colony of Britishers settled in South America over a thousand years earlier during an invasion of their home island. Through the years, Britain and New Cumbria have retained friendly relations, and so the call for help of New Cumbria’s queen is not to be ignored.
The earlier books in this series, while, at times, rather dark, have still been fairly appropriate for children. In The Stolen Lake, however, things take a turn dark enough that I was a bit confused. Overall, a 2/5 for this installment of the series. For more details on this rating, combined with spoilers, read on…
SERIOUS SPOILERS BELOW
Okay, so I’m just going to cut to the chase here. The queen of Cumbria is super creepy, super fat, and super old. Actually, it turns out that she’s Queen Guinevere – yes, the one who was married to King Arthur. Apparently, Arthur didn’t die, he simply got taken away to the fairy world, and she has been awaiting his return ever since. However, to stay alive, she’s been kidnapping young girls, throwing them into a piranha-infested lake, and then, after the fish have eaten off the girls’ flesh, the queen grinds up their bones and eats them in a porridge. Somehow (combined with magical things like the perfect phase of the moon or whatever) this has enabled her to live all these hundreds of years. In short, the Queen is SUPER DISTURBING.
At the beginning of the book, when everyone is one the boat, Dido befriends the ship’s steward, Mr. Holystone. Long story short, turns out that Holystone is actually King Arthur (he didn’t know until later, when they find his sword). In the end, the Queen dies a rather horrific death, which works out great, because then King Arthur is able to marry this other super nice chick.
Just… I don’t know. The whole story was really dark, especially for a supposedly children’s book. People die rather terrible deaths (ah well these things happen, seems to be the attitude) and there is never really any resolution with the whole fact that the queen has lived all these centuries by murdering people. She just makes a rather stupid and bizarre villain, who basically just peters out in the end into nothing. King Arthur gets back, he’s disgusted but gallantly tries to hide it, the queen dies, yay now we’ve got a nice king, the end.
While I greatly enjoy Dido, who is inventive, industrious, and intelligent, the rest of the characters (and, indeed, the whole story line) seemed convoluted and unnecessarily dark.