Author: Lucy Holland
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication Date: April 1st 2021
Comment: I was given a free copy thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone and Stephen Haskins of Black Crow and the author in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way swayed by the impending arrival of the Saxons.
A tale of three siblings and three deadly sins.
In a magical ancient Britain, bards sing a story of treachery, love and death. This is that story.
For fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Lucy Holland’s Sistersong retells the folk ballad ‘The Two Sisters.’
King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for 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 – bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician. The siblings discover the power that lies within them and the land. But fate also brings Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.
Riva, Keyne and Sinne become entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, and must fight to forge their own paths. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.
Sistersong is a powerfully moving story, perfect for readers who loved Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale.
Riva, Keyne and Sinne are three sisters who couldn’t be more different. Riva, the eldest, was badly burnt in a fire and it has led to her being a timid and obedient daughter. Not so middle child Keyne, who hates the role she is thrust into, knowing that her true self is not what they want nor what they see. Sinne, the youngest, is flighty and desperate for adventure and love.
All three share magical gifts passed onto them from the beloved land around them.
But that magic is dying as their father, the King, turns his back on the old ways to worship the new God of the Christians.
As the insidious power of Gildas the Priest threatens their home, the ever present menace of the Saxon invasion moves closer.
Just as the sisters should be drawing together to save the land, a mysterious and handsome stranger appears and threads start to unravel.
Betrayal, jealousy and murder follow as the three sisters fight for their own story.
According to the author, Sistersong was inspired by a murder ballad called The Two Sisters, (The twa sisters) in which a young woman drowns her sister out of jealousy and that sister is transformed after death into a harp. The harp sings out the tale of truth and justice follows. Oh, those fun time old folktales of death and dismemberment!
That tale was taken and moulded into a truly beautiful story of acceptance and bravery that will stay with you long after you’ve finished. (Especially if you pulled out someone’s bones to make a musical instrument.)
Not usually one for historical stories, I wasn’t sure whether I would like this book, but I do have a soft spot for Arthurian magic and decided to give it a go. (also, because the cover is just gorgeous).
The sisters each had their own personalities and the narration switched between them for each chapter. I have to admit that I found Keyne’s story far more interesting and compelling as she slowly transitioned and discovered himself. (I will refer to Keyne as he from here out.)
Keyne was well aware that he was different and was eager to be the son his father thought he didn’t have. Keyne’s progress was wonderful to read as he went from strength to strength without ever truly changing who he was- just who people saw him as. I had no idea the amount of joy one would get when being gendered correctly for the first time but I think (as far as I’m aware) that the author did a good job in conveying it.
(Small disclaimer I can only speak as a hetero-norm female here. I thought it was good but obvs can’t speak to anyone else’s experience.)
I love how brave Keyne was in standing up for himself against Gildas, the other leaders, and against his father.
Riva and Sinne I found that I didn’t particularly care for. Despite the tense situation that surrounded them they seemed far too concerned with petty issues.
Riva’s fixation with her ‘deformity’ led her to be quite an easy mark. In addition, her unwillingness to listen to her sisters was frustrating. She was very bitter and had obvious PTSD from the fire that burned her but I never felt pity for her. More, she annoyed me.
Sinne was the precocious younger sister whose flirtatious ways often bordered on creepy. She tried to glamour several men in order to get her own way, despite how they felt. Her only redeeming relationship, as far as I was concerned, was her friendship with Os.
It became very easy to be swept along by the story because the rest of the characters were so engaging. From the King and Queen, to the blacksmith and the guards, they made that world immersive.
Gildas and Myrdhin were brilliant as dichotomies of Christianity versus paganism and the back and forth between the two was gripping.
The overall plot, pace and description was on point and I really didn’t want to stop reading. The narrative flowed nicely and didn’t falter even when the perspective was switched.
If this is how historical novels are, I might have to give more of them a go. Truly enjoyable.
Sistersong is out April 1st