Monday, January 10, 2011

Sister Light, Sister Dark

Title: Sister Light, Sister Dark
Author: Jane Yolen
Themes: destiny, hunting, escape, responsibility, friendship, duty, myth, prophecy
Rating: ****

Plot: Jenna was a warrior.

Raised on a mountainside, she learned the arts of the warrior, and from the mountain woman the magic of the ancient lore. But the greatest magic of all was her ability to call forth her dark sister from the depths of the mirror of the land of light and shadow.

Skada was the dark one, able to exist only when the moonlight cast a shadow or lamplight flickered in a darkened room.

This is the story of Jenna and Skada. Sister Light and Sister Dark...

My Thoughts: Sister Light, Sister Dark has a fairly interesting, if perhaps hurried and and flat story. I don't mean flat as in lifeless, just that it was bare-boned and the writing could have been "filled in" a bit and extended. However, Yolen has written an ingenious book. Yes, ingenious. The format is so very clever that the story could have been a direct copy of any other generic fantasy book and I would have still immensely enjoyed it. You see, Yolen doesn't just hand us the story of Sister Light. Instead, she gives us a story, and then she gives us anthropologists (fictional of course…since the whole civilization she discusses is of her own creation), historians, passed down and perhaps altered ballads, myths, and archaeological artifacts. The book is broken into segments. There is the story proper, of Skada and Joenanna, then there are segments with just lyrics, old wives tales, tall tales, legends, etc. that all reflect or look back on Joenanna's story or lifetime. My favorite parts, perhaps because of my background in history, are the "essays." In these segments a scholar discusses the material finds from the period of Sister Light, Sister Dark-which is some mostly recordless distant past-and the divisions amongst scholars about their interpretations. For instance, do common rhymes about Alta reflect any historical truths? Was there really a warrior-queen-saint type called Anna? Do "Blanket Companions" refer to female warriors or homosexual encounters within ancient armies? Were the female communities discussed truly warrior/feminist towns connected through a goddess worshiping tradition, or something else entirely-since there is so little evidence any way. I found this to be terribly clever, fun to read, and (yes I am repeating myself) ingenious. These essays also give a bit of background-whether they are correct interpretations of the (fictional) historical record or not-to the main story of Skada and Joenanna. Brilliant.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this short novel to any lover of fantasy, young adult reads, adventure, or even historical monographs because it is just so clever and unusual in format. I will most definitely continue reading the second and third installments.

Similar Reads: Deerskin by Robin McKinley, Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper

Yolen, Jane. Sister Light, Sister Dark. New York: TOR, 1988.

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