Sistersong by Lucy Holland – REVIEW

535 AD. In the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, King Cador’s children inherit a fragmented land abandoned by the Romans.

Riva, scarred in a terrible fire, fears she will never heal.
Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, when born a daughter.
And Sinne, the spoiled youngest girl, yearns for romance.

All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold – a last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. But change comes on the day ash falls from the sky, bringing Myrddhin, meddler and magician, and Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear the siblings apart. Riva, Keyne and Sinne must take fate into their own hands, or risk being tangled in a story they could never have imagined; one of treachery, love and ultimately, murder. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Macmillan.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

“A world with no magic is no world at all.”

One of my favourite books of the year so far has been Sistersong by Lucy Holland. A retelling of an old folk ballad set in 535 AD, the story revolves around the three children of King Cador of Dumnonia: Riva, Keyne, and Sinne. Their relationship anchors the book and each character is beautifully complex and engaging. Twenty-year-old Riva is a healer who feels helpless at being unable to heal her own scars, seventeen-year-old Keyne identifies as a man but lives in a world trying to force him to conform to strict gender expectations, and fifteen-year-old Sinne feels trapped in her stultifying life.

“In a world full of people who see what they expect or wish to see, suggestion is sometimes more powerful than any magic.”

The narrative switches between the points of view of Riva, Keyne and Sinne. In a time of rigid gender norms and societal expectations, all three chafe against their prescribed roles and long to find freedom. The push and pull of the sibling bond is poignantly portrayed and it’s the connection between these three characters that is so special – together they just might change the future of magic. All three siblings are exquisitely presented but Keyne’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance was my favourite. 

“We belong together. There have always been three of us. There always will be.”

The story is told over the course of one year and the sections are very almanac-like, with their reference to the seasons and religious festivals. The action takes place against the threat of invading Saxons, with a sense of worry gnawing at the edges of the narrative. As the old magic that infuses those born in Dumnonia begins to clash with the Christianity left behind by the Romans, it is left to these three siblings to restore the fast-dwindling magic of the land.

“The only names that matter are the ones we take for ourselves.”

Those that know the ballad it is based on will appreciate the sense of tragic inevitability that permeates the story, enhancing every moment. Told with lyrical and descriptive prose, Sistersong is a historical fantasy I’d definitely recommend. 

(Goodreads | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Book Depository)

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