Litstack rec | Tinkers & Sistersong

Sistersong, by Lucy Holland

This week, my recommendation comes with a few caveats.

One of them is that this book is not deep, nor earthshattering. Sistersong is fanciful, predictable, and not-quite authentic. But it does hit some notes with clarity, and deftly satisfies a fantasy yearning, especially if your yearning leans towards ancient British legend and placement – and present magic.

Lucy Holland

The book follows three sisters, daughters of the King of Dumnonia. Riva is the sensible elder sister, who has an innate talent for healing, although she cannot heal her own hand and foot that are hideously deformed from being trapped in a fire. Riva feels broken and unlovable in the most regal sense of the word. Sinne is the youngest; lovely, golden, dreamy, spoiled yet spirited. She has been told she is a seer, but is not sure if she believes it or not – or cares. Then there is Keyne, the middle sister, who prefers trousers to dresses and feels the most drawn to the magic of the land, and the legends of her heritage.  

The book takes place after the withdrawal of the Roman Empire, when Christianity is starting its relentless sweep across the land and many kingdoms live in fear of the fierce Saxons bent on conquest and destruction.

This is a wonderful backdrop, but Sistersong skirts along the surface of most of it, like a decorative tapestry – intricate, conjuring many images and pulling in many influences, but without a lot of depth. The three sisters are well drawn but not complex, and there is little mystery on where their stories are taking them, for the most part. In this book, good is good, evil is obvious, magic is unequivocally wonderous and yet bad choices do have consequences, which keeps the book from languishing.

The other caveat is that Sistersong takes a decidedly uncomfortable detour at the end of the book, that might have worked had the characters involved shown any foreshadowing in their earlier style or actions. It the book had been gritter, the tone grimier – if the good had been more tarnished, perhaps, the characters less whole(some) – it may have worked, but as it unfolded, it felt more like a means to an end rather than an intrinsic flow of style or substance.

So why do I recommend Sistersong? Because it is a decorative tapestry. There are sections of it that are downright lovely; dare I say it – magical. And it takes some modern day sensitivities and places them in ancient Briton which is brave, if not necessarily historically successful. If nothing else it reminds us that although we may think of the past as being simpler, that does not mean that it did not hold as much human complexity and personal struggle as our lives do today.

And that in and of itself is a good thing to experience.

— Sharon Browning