Review: Sistersong by Lucy Holland

Sistersong by Lucy Holland

Paul reviews Sistersong, a standalone Historical Fantasy novel by Lucy Holland.

This review was originally published on Bookends & Bagends on April 6th, 2021.

About the Book
Series: standaloneGenre: Historical Fantasy
Date of Publishing: April 1st, 2021Trigger Warnings: Transphobia, Deadnaming, Violence, Familial death/murder, Chronic Illness
Page count: 416Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Book Blurb
Sistersong by Lucy Holland

My sister’s heart broke on the river—and the river took it and bore it away.

In the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, there is old magic to be found in the whisper of the wind, the roots of the trees, and the curl of the grass. King Cador knew this once, but now the land has turned from him, calling instead to his three children. Riva can cure others, but can’t seem to heal her own deep scars. Keyne battles to be accepted for who he truly is—the king’s son. And Sinne dreams of seeing the world, of finding adventure.

All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky. It brings with it Myrdhin, meddler and magician. And Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.

Riva, Keyne and Sinne—three siblings entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, who must fight to forge their own paths.

Their story will shape the destiny of Britain.

Song of the Book

Given that Sistersong was based on the traditional ballad ‘The Twa Sisters’ I couldn’t not link it here.

SISTERSONG is a stunning blend of historical fiction, British folklore, and magical fantasy. It is set at the beginning of the 6th Century when King Cador was the ruler of Dummonia, a region that comprises modern-day Cornwall and Devon.

During this period, Britain was in a state of upheaval. The Roman Empire had abandoned the land, and the Saxons had arrived, moving north and west, conquering Roman-Britain through violence, destruction, and massacre.

In SISTERSONG, we find ourselves in the halls of King Cador, seeing the world through the eyes of his three daughters, as the Saxon dragon inches ever closer to the walls.

This period of British history is such fertile ground for storytelling as there is so much going on but so little actually known. It’s a time when magic and reality are woven together so tightly it’s impossible to tease the threads apart, it was a surprise to me that this is the first book I’ve read in the period — and I want more.

Lucy Holland has built her story on a fault line a million times more potent than the San Andreas Fault or The Ring of Fire.

You have conflict between Christianity and Paganism, between Saxons and Britons, between gender identity and society, and between sisters.

Throughout SISTERSONG, you can feel the rumble in your bones, the knot in your stomach as the tension slowly, slowly, slowly builds to an explosive conclusion.

The journey from beginning to end was sensational and glorious.

SISTERSONG’s world is masterfully created with both love and care. Everything is just so rich and resplendent with authenticity. It helps that Holland’s writing is so beautifully lyrical, at times, it feels as though you’re listening to ethereal poetry carried quietly on the whispering voice of the wind. It’s not flowery, so don’t let that put you off, it’s just a delight to read and I imagine its cadence and flow would suit an audiobook perfectly.

It’s a book that you both see and feel. Often what you feel isn’t what you are shown, and that is a tremendous skill and something that ties implicitly into the message and magic of the book — what you see isn’t what you get, nor is what you show necessarily what you are.

The three sisters, Riva, Keyne, and Sinne are spellbinding characters. All three have utterly transformative journeys, and it was impossible not to be invested in each of them. They are each fierce, intelligent and deeply feeling individuals, shackled absolutely by the patriarchal society that wishes them to be nought but submissive heir-producing vessels. Desires and ambitions burn inside them, unquenchable and unsmotherable, and — well, I’ve already mentioned fault lines, and we all know what happens to them.

All of the characters, beyond the sisters themselves, are nuanced and add so much flavour to an already ambrosial mixture. Myrdhin and Tristan, for example, are perfect catalysts for the ongoing conflict but deeply complex and faceted characters in their own right. Tristan, particularly, is a supremely enigmatic character and one whose motives will leave you guessing until the very end.

The mixture of characters from history and folklore was genius. You have King Cador, Gildas, and Cynric, who are real historical characters sharing the stage with Myrdhin and Gwen from Arthurian legend. You then have [REDACTED] who acts as the bridge between the two being someone whom Gildas historically referred to as the ‘tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Damnonia’ plus also being ‘mates’ with King Arthur — according to Geoffrey of Monmouth at least.

SISTERSONG is a phenomenal book and one I would encourage anyone with a passing interest in either historical fiction or fantasy to read. It was revelatory to read something set in the (not so dark) Dark Ages that wasn’t primarily focused on men or war.

As with Madeline Miller’s Circe, or Natalie Hayne’s A Thousand Ships, SISTERSONG is a book that we need as it gives a voice to the forgotten people, whether they be women, trans or non-binary, people, who have shaped this world and contributed enormously to the rich history and cultures, which we all cherish.

Our Judgement
Praise Their Name - 5 crowns

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