The Stolen Lake
by Joan Aiken
The sixth book in the beloved Wolves series
has no wolves in it; but there are a lot of other dangerous things, and some of them are quite magical. In fact, with this
story Ms. Aiken has created a truly original fantasy. Starting with an alternate history in which James III is King of
England instead of Queen Victoria (though at one point, she slips and refers to Queen Victoria), she spins a wild and weird
tale combining elements of the King Arthur legend with the Incas of Peru, the tribes of the Brazilian rain forest, and such
mythical creatures as the roc (or, to be exact, the auroc).
I believe this whole adventure was inspired by a footnote in history, which says that Brazil was named after a legendary
magical isle, associated with King Arthur, which its discoverers believed they had found. What if there actually was some
truth to that story? What if, at the Battle of Dyrham in the year 577, the Britons and Romans were defeated by the Saxons
and sailed away to South America to start a civilization known, in modern times, as Roman America? And what if, after King
Arthur was wounded and taken away to the island of Avalon in the middle of a sacred lake, the fleeing Romans took the lake
And now, in the mid-19th-century, one of the allies of James IIIs England is the isolated nation of New Cumbria, deep in
the forests and volcanic mountains of South America. And Dido Twite, on board His Majestys ship Thrush, sailing home
to England after her adventures in Nantucket, finds herself in the middle of a right fix, when Captain Hughes receives orders
summoning him to the aid of the Queen of New Cumbria. The problem, it turns out, is that the sacred lake has been stolen,
just when it seems that the Once and Future King was going to return from across its waters. She wants Hughes and Co. to get
her lake back from a neighboring king, who apparently stole it in retaliation for the abduction of his daughter. And bright,
brave cockney child Dido Twite is going to be part of the plan.
Theres a lot of sinister and weird stuff going on, though: fantastically, frighteningly, outrageously weird stuff that
shares in the same legendary background as Susan Coopers The
Dark Is Rising sequence, Lloyd Alexanders Chronicles
of Prydain, and T. H. Whites The Once and Future
King; stuff that involves witchcraft (which is defined as what happens when two or more evil people combine their
evil for a common purpose), abduction, human sacrifice, daring escapes, gruesome deaths, star-crossed lovers, cruel hexes,
a hideous 1300-year-old woman whose diet and interior décor are as awful as her personality, and a minstrel who tells stories
whose point you have to figure out for yourself; also, there are man-eating fish, man-eating birds, a man-eating leopard,
a hell-hound hunt in which humans are the quarry, a case of amnesia, and a series of desperate messages torn out of a
dictionary and tied around the necks of pussy-cats. Who can ask for anything more?
This story takes place between the events in Nightbirds
on Nantucket and The Cuckoo Tree, though it
was written after both. For other adventures featuring the winning Ms. Twite, enjoy Black
Hearts in Battersea and Dido and Pa. The series
is currently available in a charming reprint edition from the Houghton Mifflin Company.
Recommended Age: 12+
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