If you like your stories steeped in mythology, infused with a unique sense of place and written in the language which transports you to another realm, then add The Lost Girl King to your summer shopping list! The latest standalone MG novel from Catherine Doyle is due for publication in July 2022 and if you want a summer holiday to remember, then join Amy and Liam for the trip of a lifetime.
Catherine Doyle’s love for the Atlantic Coast of Ireland is apparent from the opening page, as sassy Amy and her older, bookish brother Liam arrive at Gran’s yellow house, situated where Connemara runs into the Atlantic. With very little preamble, the reader is plunged into adventure from the moment that the two children follow a unique white hawk through a backwards flowing waterfall. As in her previous four MG stories, the author writes with a delicate lyricism that lifts the reader and places them in a familiar setting infused with fantasy, so vividly imagined that you can feel the wind on your face, the icy water stinging your skin and sense the gaze of spying eyes as the protagonists enter a new realm. They have passed through the veil between worlds and have stepped into to the legendary “land of the young”, Tir na nÓg!
They enter a glen where the height of the trees outstrips anything they have experienced before. But when adventurous Amy climbs high enough to break through the canopy, she sees a terrifying sight; the sun is tethered to the landscape by a creaking, straining chain. As she begins her descent, the forest glade fills with hideous-smelling, headless horsemen who make off with Liam before she can get to the ground to defend him. Amy begins to realise the rotting, desolate state that has befallen Tir na nÓg, and as she embarks on her quest to rescue her brother, in the company of the Fianna warriors, she slowly discovers the story of Tarlock, the evil mage who has cursed the kingdom.
The tale unfolds with Irish mythology running through the adventure, revealing a strata of ancient gods, legendary weapons, mythical creatures, rivalries and magical powers turned to the preservation of an evil power. From the moment of Liam’s capture the story takes on the dual perspectives of the siblings, each showing their own brand of courage. Amy is a feisty, impetuous heroine, completely unafraid to speak up for herself and follow her heart as she strives to rescue her brother. She quickly forms strong alliances with other young characters, Jonah and Torrin, and gains the respect of battle-scarred older characters with her straight talking, common sense and powers of persuasion. Liam exhibits a steely resolve, despite being terrified and displays kindness and chivalrous bravery on encountering the lost girl king. They both embody the words of Niall, one of the Fianna warriors who says:
Courage is rooted in the soul, no matter what you look like on the outside.p189
This story is written with such verve and feeling that I was compelled to read it in an afternoon. First and foremost it is a perfectly crafted quest, with characters that demand your attention and admiration and a plot that keeps you enthralled throughout. The juxtaposition of myth and modern tweens in a battle for supremacy over a mystical land, lends an air of modern fable to this story of children’s wisdom and courage rescuing a world from exploitation and decay. We can only hope that there are sufficient young people with the same clear-eyed sense of the beauty of our world to stand up and make the adults see sense. As Torrin tells her father,
We can’t change the past Dad, but we can change the future.p231
I think that Catherine Doyle is one of the finest writers of the current generation and I absolutely recommend The Lost Girl King to anyone of 10+ when it is published in September 2022.
I am most grateful to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for allowing me access to an e-ARC in advance of publication.
If you haven’t already done so, do get hold of Catherine Doyle’s Storm Keeper trilogy whilst you await publication of this book. You can read my reviews of the latter two here: The Storm Keeper’s Island, The Lost Tide Warriors and The Storm Keepers’ Battle.