Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen. ★★★
Sister Light, Sister Dark is the beginning to a YA fantasy trilogy. And let me emphasize that it is very much a beginning and not at all a complete story. Sister Light, Sister Dark intermingles songs, legends, and historical analysis with the story of Jenna, a girl who’s birth was prophesied by the followers of Alta, a cult of women warriors. When they’re fourteen, the followers of Alta first call up their dark sisters, who can appear only in shadow.
Sister Light, Sister Dark being a beginning and not a complete story on it’s own should not be a problem. Isn’t this the case for many fantasy series? However, Sister Light, Sister Dark is not strong enough to compel me to read the sequel. Upon finishing the book, my overall feeling was confusion that I’d reached the end.
Sister Light, Sister Dark felt like an older fantasy novel, which would be accurate since it was published in 1988. It’s YA and includes elements of coming of age, but it doesn’t follow the typical path of modern YA fantasy novels (it’s not so focused on romance, for one). Something that also felt older, although you could debate if this narrative trend has really decreased, was the heavy reliance on prophecy. There wouldn’t be much of a story at all to Sister Light, Sister Dark if it weren’t for Jenna being the child of prophecy.
While I didn’t care much about the songs or legends inter spaced with the main story, I did like the parts written by presumed future historians. They don’t add to the plot of the book, but it does provide commentary on how historians can see the past through their own cultural assumptions. The historians don’t believe that the characters and warrior women could really have existed and dismiss the characters and events of Sister Light, Sister Dark has folklore. It reminds of reading about how females have been identified as male because they were buried with weapons. This examination of how the narrative of history is shaped and relates to the truth was my favorite part of Sister Light, Sister Dark.
Themes surrounding gender can also be found within the main story line. Besides the obvious focus on sisterhood, the followers of Alta dwell in a land that’s implied to have been formally matriarchal but is now patriarchal. The followers of Alta are an exception and remnant of an older way.
While there was ultimately not enough about Sister Light, Sister Dark to get me to read the sequel, it seems a decent enough classic fantasy novel. If you’re looking for 1980s fantasy novels dealing with gender, it might be a good one to pick up.
I received a free ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.