Inspired by British folklore and the “Twa Sisters” ballad, Sistersong tells the tale of sisters Keyne, Riva and Sinne. They are the daughters of King Cador and Queen Enica who are having to pick up the pieces in their land of Dunbriga after the Romans left Brittain due to invading Saxons, and tribes who are on the brink of war. Magic once travelled through the land and inside the people’s hearts. But after Gildas, a Christian leader who has a tendency to use scare tactics arrives, everything changes. The people of Dunbriga are slowly forgetting the ways of old because of Gildas and without magic the defensive walls of Dunbriga are on the brink of collapse. It’s all down to the sisters as they must discover their own hidden powers in order to save their broken land.
Sistersong by Lucy Holland was a powerful, captivating, and a downright epic historical fiction read that I absolutely loved! Everything about this book for me was just stupendous from the writing, to the world, and the complexity of each character.
The story is told from the POV of three sister, Riva, Keyne, and Sinne. Firstly we have Riva, who after a childhood injury has been left with burn marks. Riva is a healer who although has the ability to heal others has been unable to heal her own scars. Her life changes after the arrival of the mysterious Tristan who causes a divide Riva and her sister Sinne. Then we have Sinne who is a seer and has the ability to see into the future. Sinne dreams of adventure and yearns to find her one true love. Finally, we have my favourite, Keyne. Like her father Cador, Keyne is also one with the land and feels its struggles. Although a princess, Keyne sees himself more so as a man and wishes to be seen that way by everyone else. Keyn struggling as he is fully pushing for others to see him as a male rather than female. But after the arrival of Myrdhin, a wizard and friend of King Cador, Keyne begins to gain more confidence in himself and his identity
What all three of them have in common is that they are trying to find themselves during a time of turmoil and distruption. On one hand you have Gildas who is spreading nothing but hate and fear in the name of religion. The land is slowly withering away as a result of it’s people no longer taking magic in their hearts. Then you have Saxons who are causing havoc left, right, centre. So yeah not a great time for any of them really. Lucy Holland has written these characters so well as you begin to understand them and their choices.
The tension between the three sisters was also done really well.After the arrival of a certain individual, the jealousy between Riva and Sinne bubbles up into an exploding volcano which we see fully erupt right at the end. There is also tension between Sinne and Keyne. Sinne is basically a snitch and a jealous person of sorts. She is always trying to catch out her sisters and get them into trouble. However, it was nice to see them look past their differences in order to come together right at the end.
When considering the world, much of the story is boxed into the land of Dunbriga. It is definitely a land divided, on hand you have Gildas who is spreading Christianity dangerously and in a way that creates hate for others. Gildas attempts to place strict restrictions on society using fear. He was definitely a character I despised due to his actions and words. He is definitely a reminder of those people who use religion as a way of spreading their own hate and in turn creating divisions in society. Opposite to this you have Myrdhin who believes the land needs magic to survive and stave off the invading Saxons. He is the opposite of Gildas and believes magic can help society and also believe everyone should make their own choices. I really enjoyed the back and forth between Gildas and Myrdhin, especially when Myrdhin got one up on Gildas.
Overall, Sistersong was a fantastic novel that explores many important and relevant themes such as loyalty, family, and gender identity. Lucy Holland has done superb in using British folklore and making it her own. I won’t be surprised if the novel wins the Women’s Prize and many other accolades! Thank you Angela and Orbit for sending me an early copy 😊. The book releases on the 5th of October 2021.