Sistersong by Lucy Holland
Author: Lucy Holland
Publisher: Macmillan, Pan Macmillan
Published Date: April 1st 2021
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Fiction, Historical fiction, Fantasy, Mythology, LGBT, Retellings
535 AD. In the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, King Cador’s children inherit a fragmented land abandoned by the Romans.
Riva, scarred in a terrible fire, fears she will never heal.
Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, when born a daughter.
And Sinne, the spoiled youngest girl, yearns for romance.
All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold – a last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. But change comes on the day ash falls from the sky, bringing Myrddhin, meddler and magician, and Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear the siblings apart. Riva, Keyne and Sinne must take fate into their own hands, or risk being tangled in a story they could never have imagined; one of treachery, love and ultimately, murder. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.
Okay, I will be the first to admit that I really don’t know much about the time period this story is based on or the ballad that it is a retelling of. Yeah, I know, great start to a review but I think, that does not necessarily hinder my enjoyment of this story because it’s so well-told.
There’s so much packed into this one that I am pretty sure I am going to do a terrible job of it. Especially considering the fact that I haven’t properly reviewed a book in a while. I am slowly getting back to getting used to writing reviews. So a couple of them are most likely to be less than perfect. Not that they were perfect to begin with. Anyway. I am rambling. Let’s get into the review.
The story is about so many themes, from gender identity, to family and loyalty and an ever-changing world with no way of knowing for sure how to navigate the changing waters. It is a retelling of ‘Twa Sisters’ and I read up on it a little bit just to see how it works with this story. I think the author managed to keep the essence of the ballad while trying to work her own themes into the story and I have to say that she succeeded quite well.
The main focus, for me, at least was the bond of the siblings and how they each found themselves throughout the story. The oldest, Riva, is a brilliant healer and has great potential (there’s also the incident that she does not remember but has impacted her life greatly) but all that is threatened when she falls for a stranger. The middle sibling, Keyne, tries so hard to find a sense of belonging, a sense of self. The struggle to be seen as a man despite being born a girl is the core of Keyne’s troubles. The youngest sister, Sinne, who is dreaming of love and adventure but is a little bit flighty? I can’t find the right word for some reason. All three siblings have been growing apart for a while but their bond is truly tested when Tristan comes from the neighbouring kingdom. He’s an emissary who’s come to consult with the priest Gildas. Tristan seems like the answer to Riva and Sinne’s collective wish of getting away from their own community while Keyne has been learning/ training from Myrddhin.
Everything is truly changed when the king is wounded in the battle and the kingdom needs to be stable in order to stop the Saxons from invading. Throughout the story, the pace and the tension keeps steady and then during the last third of the book, it explodes and it was so good! For me, while Sistersong is about family and love and finding one’s self in times where it was very hard to do so because of society’s views, it is also about the rivalry that comes naturally in a family. It could and probably save or ruin a family or a kingdom. What actually happens is something you need to read to know!