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Sister Light, Sister Dark (1988)

by Jane Yolen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Books of Great Alta (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7751524,162 (3.85)36
A warrior woman and her dark twin are destined to remake the world in this "powerful" tale, the first in a trilogy by a World Fantasy Award winner (Newsweek). Legend foretold the child named Jenna, who was three-times orphaned before she could crawl, a fate that would leave her in the hands of women who worshipped the benevolent goddess Great Alta. In this world without men, Jenna comes of age, learning quickly the skills of close combat. But her most powerful gift lies elsewhere: a mirror sister who emerges only in the darkness--a twin named Skada--and shares the soul of the young, white-haired warrior who might well be the goddess reborn. But if Jenna is, in truth, the one whose coming is awaited, there is cause for great alarm among those who rule the Dales, for the prophecy speaks of upheaval and change, and a devastating end of all things. An incomparable world-builder and one of America's premier fantasists, the remarkable Jane Yolen begins a three-part saga as inventive, intelligent, and exciting as anything that has ever been produced in the literature of the fantastic. Brilliantly contrasting the "true" story of Jenna with the later myths, poetry, and so-called scholarship that her coming engendered, Yolen creates a culture as richly imagined as those found in the acclaimed novels of Ursula K. Le Guin. A truly magnificent work, Sister Light, Sister Dark takes fantasy fiction to wondrous places it has never gone before.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Broken Citadel by Joyce Ballou Gregorian (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Both have poems and songs of the story world used to give the narrative a wider backdrop- Sister Light, Sister Dark gives these equal status to the narrative and cuts between the story, the myth, and the legend, whereas The Broken Citadel places them at the end of each chapter, reflecting back on the thoughts or actions of characters both onscreen and off.… (more)
  2. 00
    Heroic Visions by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: The short story Sister Light, Sister Dark in Heroic Visions was later rewritten/expanded to the novel Sister Light, Sister Dark. It's been a while since I read the novel, so unfortunately I can't say the exact relationship between them scene-wise.
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» See also 36 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
A little dated, but there's a special place in my heart for 70s-feminist fantasy. I also love everything Jane Yolen does. ( )
  AlainaZ | Jun 5, 2022 |
I just could not get into this book. The many different sections (The Myth, The Legend, The Ballad, The History, etc) didn't add anything and just served as a constant distraction that kept me from engaging with the actual story. The story itself was so ponderous, the writing and characters distanced and difficult to break into. I liked the ideas, but the execution was all over the place and weak. ( )
  hissingpotatoes | Dec 28, 2021 |
I really liked this book, though the story did have its problems. I think my favorite part was seeing the difference between the happenings of the story and the later interpretations of historians, musicians, and poets of the society long after it took place. The religion of Jenna's people reminds me of the religion of the people in the Dragon Age games in that it has a vague, female Jesus feel to it, but it also has a hearty helping of reconstructed ancient European religion in there too. Unfortunately, even though I really enjoyed the sections about the future interpretations and the songs, I can see what other reviewers have said about them jarring the reader out of the plot. I did have a hard time keeping my attention on the story, though that may have also been because I have had a lot going on in my life to think about the past few weeks, or because the story was geared towards much younger readers. I was also a little thrown by the obvious subplot that the least academic historian writing about the subject was the one most right about what actually happened. While that may be true in this fantasy world, I'm leery of people taking that message back to our real world and doubting historians/archaeologists about their research. I've seen a little of what's on the real world side of that profession and I know that the pickiness of the field is there to ensure that no one is led astray and that spiritually or politically motivated ideologies are not warping the academic sources being produced, though that's happened in the past.

Tl;dr This book is beautiful, and I really enjoyed a look into a fantasy world that felt real because of the layers, but I would caution people not to take it to heart as a commentary on our world. This would be best for young readers and those who have good concentration skills. ( )
  Noeshia | Oct 23, 2020 |
Yolen’s world building in this book is incredible. The story is interwoven with “historical analysis”, folklore, and even folk songs (the sheet music is an appendix). A product of 70s feminism, this tells the story of thrice-orphaned Jenna, the warrior woman foretold in prophecy by the worshippers of the mother Goddess, Alta. The followers of Alta are bonded to their “dark sisters” who are called to them by a scrying mirror and can only be corporeal in moonlight or lamplight. ( )
1 vote memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
Sister Light, Sister Dark is the beginning to a YA fantasy trilogy. And let me emphasize that it is very much a beginning and not at all a complete story. Sister Light, Sister Dark intermingles songs, legends, and historical analysis with the story of Jenna, a girl who’s birth was prophesied by the followers of Alta, a cult of women warriors. When they’re fourteen, the followers of Alta first call up their dark sisters, who can appear only in shadow.

Sister Light, Sister Dark being a beginning and not a complete story on it’s own should not be a problem. Isn’t this the case for many fantasy series? However, Sister Light, Sister Dark is not strong enough to compel me to read the sequel. Upon finishing the book, my overall feeling was confusion that I’d reached the end.

Sister Light, Sister Dark felt like an older fantasy novel, which would be accurate since it was published in 1988. It’s YA and includes elements of coming of age, but it doesn’t follow the typical path of modern YA fantasy novels (it’s not so focused on romance, for one). Something that also felt older, although you could debate if this narrative trend has really decreased, was the heavy reliance on prophecy. There wouldn’t be much of a story at all to Sister Light, Sister Dark if it weren’t for Jenna being the child of prophecy.

While I didn’t care much about the songs or legends inter spaced with the main story, I did like the parts written by presumed future historians. They don’t add to the plot of the book, but it does provide commentary on how historians can see the past through their own cultural assumptions. The historians don’t believe that the characters and warrior women could really have existed and dismiss the characters and events of Sister Light, Sister Dark has folklore. It reminds of reading about how females have been identified as male because they were buried with weapons. This examination of how the narrative of history is shaped and relates to the truth was my favorite part of Sister Light, Sister Dark.

Themes surrounding gender can also be found within the main story line. Besides the obvious focus on sisterhood, the followers of Alta dwell in a land that’s implied to have been formally matriarchal but is now patriarchal. The followers of Alta are an exception and remnant of an older way.

While there was ultimately not enough about Sister Light, Sister Dark to get me to read the sequel, it seems a decent enough classic fantasy novel. If you’re looking for 1980s fantasy novels dealing with gender, it might be a good one to pick up.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.

I received a free ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
1 vote pwaites | Apr 16, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yolen, Janeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Elwell, TristanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For Jessica who mothered the book and for Patty, Ann, Shulamith, Zane, and Kara who nursed it along the way

Special thanks to Joyce Rankin, who helped me write down the music of the Dales
First words
Then Great Alta plaited the left side of her hair, the golden side, and let it fall into the sinkhole of night.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A warrior woman and her dark twin are destined to remake the world in this "powerful" tale, the first in a trilogy by a World Fantasy Award winner (Newsweek). Legend foretold the child named Jenna, who was three-times orphaned before she could crawl, a fate that would leave her in the hands of women who worshipped the benevolent goddess Great Alta. In this world without men, Jenna comes of age, learning quickly the skills of close combat. But her most powerful gift lies elsewhere: a mirror sister who emerges only in the darkness--a twin named Skada--and shares the soul of the young, white-haired warrior who might well be the goddess reborn. But if Jenna is, in truth, the one whose coming is awaited, there is cause for great alarm among those who rule the Dales, for the prophecy speaks of upheaval and change, and a devastating end of all things. An incomparable world-builder and one of America's premier fantasists, the remarkable Jane Yolen begins a three-part saga as inventive, intelligent, and exciting as anything that has ever been produced in the literature of the fantastic. Brilliantly contrasting the "true" story of Jenna with the later myths, poetry, and so-called scholarship that her coming engendered, Yolen creates a culture as richly imagined as those found in the acclaimed novels of Ursula K. Le Guin. A truly magnificent work, Sister Light, Sister Dark takes fantasy fiction to wondrous places it has never gone before.

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