Childe Rolande by Samantha Lee

I can only find one review for Samantha Lee’s Science Fiction novel ‘Childe Rolande’, which is surprising as it is astonishingly good on many levels.

The accomplished Ursula K. Le Guin first broached the theme of androgyny in 1969 in The Left Hand of Darkness, a fascinating effort, instrumental in popularizing feminist fiction. The fact that Storm Constantine began her Wraeththu Chronicles with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit published just over a year before what became a highly popular series may have overshadowed Childe Rolande. In the now complex, if not incomprehensible, field of androgenous, intersex, transgender fiction and reality, Childe Rolande written in 1988 and published in 1989 deserves a far greater spot in the development of this sub-genre.

What of the novel: Firstly, it’s very entertaining. Secondly, it’s very different. I’ve called it Science Fiction but I might easily have used fantasy as it has elements of both. It’s also about earth and the main character, Childe Rolande is not an alien but an earth creature; a genuine human hermaphrodite.

Lee blends three distinctive elements – a dystopian post-apocalyptic  society of mutations and plague where woman are on top: Very SF. A world where elements of magic abide and certain impossible things happen: Very Fantastical. And elements of the occult where our hero and heroine are one person merged into a modern Baphomet – Childe Roland who is prophesized to unite the world.

The novel is best when Lee speaks with the voice of the fascinating Childe Roland. It is a bit weaker in the final sections when lesser characters, wonderfully well developed in themselves, explain events. The use of Scottish language, setting and tropes lend a mystic feel to the enterprise and the sensual eroticism keeps the pages turning.

Lee may well have gotten her title from the Fairy tale Childe Rowland written by the Scots antiquarian Robert Jamieson in 1814 and her dark tower is certainly from Browning’s later English remake (I had to throw that in as the Scots invented everything).

I’m not going to give any spoilers. Suffice to say that Childe Rolande was written very early in the development of the subgenre, it is a great read and it is very different from the rest.  John Gilbert favourably reviewed it in 1990 in ‘Fear’ Magazine and that should have precipitated great success and many republishings. It is out of print now but should be in print and top of the reading list. It would be great if someone in the genre stepped in to make this happen.