Song of the Huntress

I’ve been looking forward to this book for some time. I know Lucy Holland quite well and gave her a bit of historical help on her previous book, Sistersong, so I was aware of the struggles she was having with the new book. I’m very glad that all came to a successful conclusion.

Song of the Huntress is also set in the South-West of England (or, as the Saxons used to call it, West Wales). However, we are two hundred years on from the events of Sistersong. Cerdic’s descendants still rule the nascent kingdom of Wessex, while Dumnonia is still proudly independent (and Welsh/Cornish). The men of Wessex have pushed as far west as a line defined by the River Parrett, but have to watch their backs due to potential threats from other Saxon kingdoms. Penda, whom you will be familiar with from the Hild books, is long dead, but his descendants still rule Mercia.

Ӕthelberg is the Queen of Wessex and, much to the distress of the Saxon menfolk, is clearly their most competent general. Her husband, Ine, is much more comfortable doing diplomacy than war, but together they make a good team. There is only one problem: they have yet to produce an heir. Rivals for the throne (and obviously the clergy) are starting to mutter that the Queen’s “unnatural” habits are to blame.

That’s one half of the story. The other half centers on Herla, once the leader of an Amazon-like group of women cavalry in the service of Queen Boudica. Herla, being something of a disaster lesbian, had a massive crush on her sovereign. With a confrontation with Rome looming, Herla sought to trade with the Otherworld for power beyond imagining. The crafty Gwyn ap Nudd granted her wish, but Herla and her troupe found that, while they had become immortal, they were now bound to lead the Wild Hunt for all eternity.

800 years have passed, though it seems like a dream to Herla and her companions. Then a chance encounter in the Summer Country brings her face-to-face with another woman warrior crowned with a mass of tawny hair just like Boudica’s. Herla is about to fall in love with the wrong woman again, and when she does it will have profound consequences for the Wild Hunt, for Wessex, and for Dumnonia.

Fans of Sistersong will be pleased to know that Emrys, the gender-fluid shaman, is still around to cause trouble. Also the great Dunmonian king, Constantine, has passed into legend, though mainly thanks to the angry rantings of Gildas.

I am, I suspect, much too close to this book, and the people and landscapes it features, to have a balanced opinion of it, but I love what Holland has done here. She’s having to work with much more clearly defined history than last time. The intrigues of the various nobles and clergy that make up Ine’s court are well done, and both Ӕthelberg and Ine seem entirely plausible given what we know about them. However, Holland still finds a way to make an excellent fantasy novel out of it. And, like with Sistersong, there is much for queer readers to enjoy.

book cover
Title: Song of the Huntress
By: Lucy Holland
Publisher: Macmillan
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
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