Books & Literature

Book Review: Sistersong, by Lucy Holland

YA FANTASY: Betrayal. Magic. Murder. A tale of three siblings and three deadly sins.

A clever and exquisitely written story with characters that will hook you.

In the sixth century, a time when Britain is torn between the old ways and the growing influence of the Christian church, three sisters must find their place in a changing world. Their kingdom has turned its back on the magic that once protected it, and now their people stand vulnerable to the attack of the advancing Saxon army. 

Sistersong tells the interweaving stories of these three daughters of the king as conflict arises within and around them. Riva, the eldest, struggles with her traumatic past, which has left her disfigured and interferes with her embracing her power to heal in the present. Keyne is not the king’s daughter at all, but a son tapped in the wrong body. And Sinne, the youngest, craves adventure that seems perpetually out of her reach. The plot was inspired by the ballad of The Twa Sisters, which dates back to the mid-17th century.

What starts as a slow-burn quickly becomes a riveting plot bursting with all the things that lovers of YA fantasy typically crave: secrets, war, betrayal, love, loss, and a tonne of family drama. The romance element captures the interest of the reader without stealing away the focus of the plot. 

This is a character-driven story that sees all three main characters evolve in exciting and unpredictable ways. The bond between them changes too, reflecting the realistic nature of family relationships. 

The characters feel like real people rather than caricatures. Riva, Keyne, and Sinne have distinctly different voices so the reader never has to second-guess whose chapter they’re reading. That said, it sometimes feels like Sistersong is really Keyne’s story as the other two protagonists, particularly Sinne, fade into roles that feel more secondary as the novel progresses. 

It’s refreshing to see a story set so far back in history explore issues that are significant and relevant today, including gender identity. The book includes characters who are transgender and gender fluid, making it a brilliant source of representation for a young audience. 

Regarding the prose itself, there are a few words that come to mind. Poetic? Lyrical? Magical? Any of the above would be an understatement. The language has been exquisitely crafted and edited to perfection, resulting in powerful writing that matches the fantastical setting. 

Although this is fantasy, it’s obvious that author Lucy Holland has extensively researched sixth-century Britain. The intricate details make the reader feel like they’re immersed in the world with the three sisters, and the consistency make it easy to forget that many elements did come from Holland’s imagination. The unique way that magic works in this world, as a “pattern” that’s connected to the land, brings new life to an idea that’s been done to death in fantasy. 

Sistersong is a must for fans of YA fantasy or even historical fantasy. This is a clever story that applies a modern feminist lens to ancient ideas and is driven by unpredictable twists rather than tropes and clichés. Gut-wrenching at times, this tale also has moments that will make your heart sing for characters that will reel you in.  

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

Distributed By: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: 27 April 2021
RRP: $39.99

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