Lucy Holland’s Sistersong is an epic historical fantasy that needs to be on your radar. Released in April 2021, this story based on the ‘Twa Sisters’ folk ballad is set in a late Antique Britain after the Romans have left. Many thanks to Black Crow PR and Macmillan for sending me an advance review copy.
Keyne, Riva and Sinne are the children of King Cador, three siblings with complicated relationships. Keyne is struggling to be perceived as the man he feels he is, although he was born a daughter, chafing against the confinements of tradition and religion. Riva, the middle child, possesses healing powers but is herself scarred from a childhood accident with fire. Sinne, their youngest sister is a flighty and free-spirited girl wanting to find love and happiness. Set among the historical background of the advent of the Saxons, and a court dominated by the monk Gildas and his Christian ideas is a tale of betrayal and forging your own fate.
Sistersong retells the story of the ‘Twa Sisters’ ballad, which can be found at least as far back as the seventeenth century, but Lucy Holland manages to craft this story, which might be familiar to many readers, into something fully her own. Combining some of my favourite elements of books in one, I loved Sistersong so much – an undisputed five stars from me and a spot on the top three books I’ve read in 2020. It is a retelling of legend, set in a medieval Britain and queer, all things that would attract me to a book. But it is also brilliantly written and full of memorable characters framing the narrative.
The story is told from the perspectives of the three siblings, all with their own distinct voice and perspective on the world, making them come to life. Keyne’s transmasculinity is approached with nuance within the constraints of the period – avoiding creating an inherently modern character, but one that fits the context of the story. His story was probably my favourite of the three points of view. That isn’t to say that his sisters aren’t just as interesting. Accompanied by a cast of secondary characters, such as the gender-fluid magician Myrdhin/Mori, the historical figure of Gildas, mysterious Tristan and their royal parents, Sistersong is a complex web of relationships and power struggles. Not least of all in terms of the tensions between Christianity and the Pagan traditions still present at the court. This cultural struggle dominates much of the atmosphere, which made me love the book even more. I honestly can’t find anything to criticise about Sistersong, it is a book that feels like it was written for me personally.
If you like poetic reimaginings of mythology, such as Madeline Miller’s Circe and The Song of Achilles, you need to make sure to pick up Sistersong as soon as it’s available.