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Review: Sistersong by Lucy Holland

Review: Sistersong by Lucy Holland

‘King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure.

All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky – bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician. The siblings discover the power that lies within them and the land. But fate also brings Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.

Riva, Keyne and Sinne become entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, and must fight to forge their own paths. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.’

I found Sistersong to be a hugely enjoyable read and I loved the aspects of history and myth (and what history has all but become myth) at the core of the narrative. One of the things that has always stuck with me from my studies of Classical Civilisation is conversation about how Britain changed after the departure of the Romans and how their advances in technology and architecture became something that the generations that followed started to attribute to magic and fantastical creatures, such as giants, because they simply couldn’t fathom how humans could have created the now ruined structures left behind. I got a big kick out of the comment in Sistersong about how the Romans used to heat their floors and it being something almost unbelievable and beyond the realms of possibility. A tiny detail, but I really appreciated it as one of the many things that make the world of Sistersong feel real and not so different to our own reality and version(s) of history. The rising conflict between religious beliefs and insistences about how society should function is another of the elements of the book that I found most enjoyable in an anthropological sense, given what we understand of the world at the time in which Sistersong is set – and who ultimately got to write that history and what we ‘know’.

Of the points of view, I found Keyne’s to be the most compelling. Cador and his wife obviously have a good deal of responsibilities that keep them occupied, but it feels as if they don’t truly know any of their children, and are wilfully and often hurtfully ignorant of Keyne in particular, his mother most obviously concerned about reputation and rumour instead of what is best for her child – who is truly no longer a child and being actively prevented from following his own path. Compared to his wife, Cador does begin to redeem himself and his attitude towards his son, but it does feel as if it is out of his own necessity, when he could have seen Keyne’s potential and where his strengths lie much sooner, especially for a man who ‘needs’ a son. The setting is of a time when gender roles were much more rigid and in that respect it is clear that his parents don’t have the understanding to realise the truth about Keyne, pressurised further by threats to their way of life and external, judgemental, forces, and I think it’s interesting that it’s one of his sisters that first refers to Keyne as her brother, in that perhaps this is a representation of the differences in our own generations and understanding.

In the opening stages of the narrative, there are hints that Riva could be the connection to the land and the old ways that her people need, with the presence of mind to use it, yet she soon becomes entangled in a relationship that I’m sure readers must realise is going to be her undoing, and so it becomes a case of watching Riva’s potential unravel and feeling sympathy for a girl taken in by what she longs to hear and what she believes she will never have, owing to her injuries. I felt that I wanted to like Riva more than I did (I’ve said before, liking characters is not synonymous with them being a well-written character, in my view), but found myself less and less able to forgive her blindness towards her romantic interest, which is just one of the features of the narrative that makes her story harder to read (in a good way!). There is much that she could have done differently and, like her younger sister, everything seems to spiral very swiftly out of her control and pushes her to points from which there is no return.

Of the three, Sinne feels the most self-absorbed and it’s her youth that predominantly shines through her narrative. She is willing to use her magic and those around her for frivolous means and tends not to think of the consequences of her actions, seemingly fixated on what she feels she deserves and what should rightly be hers. Her history paints her as a somewhat prideful creature with the potential to be spiteful, but with little intent to really hurt or cross the line into ‘evil’. In some ways, she is a little out of sync with reality and genuinely doesn’t appear to grasp her place in it or how it works. It feels as if a lot of what she experiences is owing to things that she cannot control, and her responses are her trying to make sense of them – she is at her most interesting when trying to learn about herself and her gifts; when realisation begins to dawn and what she’s capable of starts to become more apparent. Sinne isn’t ‘bad’, but she is very ‘young’ and ignorant of both herself and the world around her, which makes for a combination that is dangerous for her and those she’s close to.

Thank you to Black Crow PR and Pan Macmillan for sending me a proof copy of Sistersong for review!