I have never been a huge fan of fantasy, I have always preferred tales of science fiction or horror, but sometimes there are books that break the barriers that we as readers impose on ourselves. In my case Sistersong is one of those books.
A retelling of an old british ballad, The Twa Sisters, Sistersong by Lucy Holland is the story of three sisters, daughters of the King of one of the old kingdoms of Britannia. War is close to their land, and after one fateful day the life of the three sisters will change forever. It is, in a few words, a story of love, self-discovery, treachery, and inevitably of murder.
If I had to describe this book in just one word, I would say “tragic.” I left this book with a broken heart (in the best way possible.) The thing that makes this book so grim is that it feels extremely real. It’s clear that the author did her research which adds to the effect, but the realism mainly comes from the strength of the characters’ voices and their detailed descriptions. There is a scene near the end of the book that I won’t be able to shake off my mind in a while.
Like I said, I’m not a fan of fantasy, but I do have to applaud the use of the fantasy elements in this book. The way they integrated into the world makes them feel like something natural, something believable. In addition, the way the fantasy elements play really well off the themes explored in the book and help build some of the more important plot points.
The biggest strengths of Sistersong are its’ three main characters. When I first started reading, I felt like the three sisters were relying on archetypes and cliches, but as I continued to devour the book I found myself liking these characters more and more, and I saw them grow beyond said archetypes into complex and interesting characters. Some of the most heart wrenching scenes in the book have such a powerful impact because of how well these three characters are written.
Because this is a spoiler-free review I will try to avoid details, but I thought it was worth mentioning that this novel deals with queer themes, including themes of gender identity, and it does this quite well. At first I was a bit distrustful of the places the story was heading, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way it went. I found in this book a well informed trans narrative in which (in some places) I could see myself reflected on the character. I loved that it felt really honest and, to a certain degree, real.
My biggest complaints of the book are probably that some plot points are somewhat rushed and have conclusions that left me a bit unsatisfied. On a similar note, there were some secondary characters that I would have liked to see more developed, especially seeing how it would have elevated some of the emotional moments and made them more shocking.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Sistersong. I would absolutely recommend it to any fantasy fan, fans of queer fiction, and fans of tragic stories. I think this will be a book that stays with me for a long time.
Sistersong is available for purchase now at your local independent book store or wherever fine books are sold.