Review: SisterSong by Lucy Holland

Over the past few years I have become quite hooked upon retellings of myths, discovering those stories with their roots in history. With one leg in truth , the other in mystic and magic.

The majority of the myths I have read seem to have been from distance shores. Classical Greek retellings have dominated and informed my reading. But since reading ‘Hag’ a collection of reworked and retold folk stories from across the British Isles, I have been on the lookout for other literature of a similar ilk.

It was this rationale that led my to SisterSong: the search for stories of a time when Britain was divided into Kingdoms and ruled by various and great Kings. But in this retelling I stumbled across so much more.

It is a tale set in the West Country, in Dunbriga, where King Cador and his Queen rule. They have inherited a land left by the Romans, and the Anglo – Saxon invaders are now their biggest threat. But they are not the only one. Some threats lie within.

The couple’s three daughters; Riva, Sinne and Keyne, watch with confusion and growing horror as their mother’s new priest Gildas sets about introducing Christianity to their community, encouraging people to turn their back’s on the old ways. To shun the festivals, the power and to stop listening to land that has sustained them all these years.

It is a time of great change and each sister is struggling to find her place within it. Each has different gifts, but all are fading with the passing seasons and the troubles of the world around them.

The story is based on the ‘Two sisters’ folk ballad. And is a tale of revenge, magic and love lost. But it is the third sister, Keyne, the sister lost to time, who brings this retelling to life. Who both embodies the spirit of the past and yet brings it right up to the present.

Keyne is struggling not only to understand the changes around her but to understand the changes within. Keyne has never identified as a women, a daughter of the land. In a story of strength, challenge and slow, hard won acceptance we see Keyne take the place they deserve, as the King’s son.

This is a story alive with connection, with silvery threads of magic that weave their way into a powerful retelling. Told from each sister’s perspective the past is imagined and then alive. Themes of being true to yourself, your inheritance and the land around you are both ancient and wholly current.

SisterSong was a complete and unexpected joy.

Rachel x

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