The Stolen Lake by Joan Aiken

August 12th, 2022

I went into The Stolen Lake expecting something like Nightbirds on Nantucket: an alternate-history romp with some peril for our heroine Dido Twite, but with humor and an expectation of a happy ending. The Stolen Lake felt much darker, with Dido as resourceful as ever but also sadder and in what felt like greater danger. (I mean: there are some *moments* in Nightbirds on Nantucket, but in that book I never doubted that the villains would see their plot foiled or that everything would be OK for Dido and her companions.)

In this one: Dido’s on her way back to England, finally, but the ship she’s on is diverted to South America, which is Roman America in this world, because in Aiken’s alternate history some of the ancient Britons and Romans migrated there when the Saxons invaded Britain. The captain has received a message by carrier pigeon telling him to go to New Cumbria and assist its monarch. The message is vague but there’s been “some attack, some invasion”: “Something has been taken from the queen.” As you might guess from the title, that something turns out to be a lake, and Dido and her companions are enlisted to get it back. But there are frightening things going on in New Cumbria, and they’re not all related to the country’s dangerous wild animals (though there are things called aurochs, which are described as “huge hairy tusked birds, larger than horses, which can snatch up a grown man in their talons).

After some early humor (the captain says to Dido that she seems “to know nothing about anything except navigation and how to cut up whales”; we learn that the ship’s steward “had attended butlers’ school in London; part of the course consisted of half an hour’s poker-face work every morning) the book turns more serious. It’s not just the lake that has been stolen: a princess from a neighboring kingdom is missing, presumed kidnapped by the queen of New Cumbria. Who, by the way, says she’s waiting for her husband, King Arthur (yes, that one) to return. (Maybe I would have had more fun with this if I were more familiar with/into Arthurian legend.)

While this one isn’t my favorite book in this series, I do look forward to reading the rest, and there were some things I liked about this oneā€”like the descriptions of the landscapes that Dido and her companions travel through, which feature volcanoes and an abandoned city and “fantastic snow-covered peaks, and pinnacles like spectral cities of ice.”

2 Responses to “The Stolen Lake by Joan Aiken”

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End Says:

    Gosh, I should really go back and read this full series. I dipped in and out of it very dilettantishly when I was a kid, but I am feeling a real pull towards it as you talk about this book (which IS one of the ones I read). I’ll see what the library can do for me in this direction.

  2. Heather Says:

    I’ll be curious to hear what you think if you do read the full series! The only one I’m sure I read as a kid is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, I don’t think I read any of the ones with Dido!

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