The Lost Lover by Karen Swan

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Among the many books written by Karen Swan (20 books – two a year) is her Wild Isle series which tells of the dramatic evacuation of St Kilda in 1930.  St Kilda, two and a half miles off the mainland of Scotland is a cliff-walled island in the North Atlantic that kept others out as much as it kept the locals in. After two and a half thousand years of continuous human settlement, the inhabitants were to be scattered on the mainland on account of failed crops, hard winters and a preventable death.

Although her stories are fictional, they are imbedded in historical fact. In her latest story in this series, she does admit however to manipulating the timeline on one important account – the timing of the British Arctic Air route expedition.

In the stories of this series, she follows the lives and loves of a group of young women in their final couple of years on the island and into their new experiences on the mainland. The Lost Lover is her third in this four-book series and in it her focus is on nineteen-year-old Flora MacQueen who has yearned all her life to leave the island for a life with more comforts. She had a quick wit to match her beauty and believed that no man could resist falling in love with her. She just had to find the right man.

Life on the Island of St Kilda is described in detail with all the hardships of weather, and the feudalistic regime under which they all lived. With people living in such close proximity to each other, the various personalities were evident, some friendships were very strong, and secrets were very hard to hide. The elders are respected for their wisdom which include sayings such as ‘a dimple on the chin a devil within’ (13) and ‘luck never gives, it only lends’ (209). Both of these sayings have a role in this story. Some of the strange and death-defying feats important to the islanders are also given prominence.

I found the writing style of this author easy to read and understand and enjoyed the beautiful descriptions attached to simple scenes – ‘that ghost smile seemed to tiptoe behind his eyes’ (21), ‘the sun had yet to set… but a slim lick of fire was beginning to sizzle along the horizon’ (79), ‘a strange capricious mood was conducting in the air’ (114) ‘On deck, the passengers stood like chess pieces, chins up’ (247). For me these added an extra depth to the storyline.

However, this is primarily a love story and love didn’t follow a rule book and when it came, it flowed like a flood, tearing your feet out from under you and washing you away. Knowing the rules was very different from being able to enforce them (184). As expected, not everything flowed smoothly.

As well as the hardship of isolation, this story highlights the power some like to hold over others, the cruelty of selfishness and greed but also the steadfastness of friendship. At the end of the stories in this series so far, the reader becomes aware that the hated factor has died, and although many will benefit from his demise, the mystery of what happened is not revealed. Obviously, the reader will have to wait for the final story to discover what really happened. At the conclusion of this particular story some of the characters I had come to admire revealed themselves in a different light.

Flora was to find love then believe it lost. She had longed for freedom from St Kilda, a bigger life elsewhere and to a large extent she had achieved this, but things had not panned out as she had thought. Arrangements had been reached but at what cost.

Flora’s journey was to take her from a naïve barefoot islander with dirt on her face and tangled long hair to the bright lights of Paris where fame and fortune can be hers, but her priorities have changed through experience, and she now looks back on her life on St Kilda through a different lens.

I look forward to reading the final book in this series.

The Lost Lover


by Karen Swan



$34.99; 448pp

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

Scroll to Top