Book: “Sisters of Shadow and Light” by Sara B. Larson
Publishing Info: Tor Teen, November 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley
Book Description: “The night my sister was born, the stars died and were reborn in her eyes…”.
Zuhra and Inara have grown up in the Citadel of the Paladins, an abandoned fortress where legendary, magical warriors once lived before disappearing from the world―including their Paladin father the night Inara was born.
On that same night, a massive, magical hedge grew and imprisoned them within the citadel. Inara inherited their father’s Paladin power; her eyes glow blue and she is able to make plants grow at unbelievable rates, but she has been trapped in her own mind because of a “roar” that drowns everything else out―leaving Zuhra virtually alone with their emotionally broken human mother.
For fifteen years they have lived, trapped in the citadel, with little contact from the outside world…until the day a stranger passes through the hedge, and everything changes.
Review: I highlighted this book as one I was looking forward to reading this month. I had requested it based on the fact that it seemed to be a YA fantasy that centered around a relationship between sisters, a pretty basic plot that I typically enjoy. Unfortunately, while it does deliver on the elements that drew me to it originally, there wasn’t enough else to keep me invested, and a few too many YA tropes that induced eyerolls.
Zuhra and Inara have grown up in the wreckage of what was once a great power in the world. Locked in a fortress and surrounded by a sentient hedge that keeps out all others, the two sisters have grown up isolated from the world with only their fragile mother as a connection to not only their origins but also the world outside the walls. Inara is isolated even further by a power that manifests itself in ways that produce great effects but also cut her off from the world outside her own mind. But the world has continued to move outside their small home, and one day it breaks in, bringing new faces and new challenges.
While this book wasn’t for me, I do, as always, want to start with the things I did appreciate. I requested this book based on my love for sister stories, and luckily for me, that was the aspect of the story that was the strongest throughout. There was a clear, consistent bond between the two from start to finish, without any delving into melodrama or cattiness. We start out the story with only Zuhra’s POV, so there was a lot of time spent setting up how she view the relationship between herself and her sister, who is very cutoff from those around her. This was all well and good. But this aspect of the story was greatly strengthened when, about a third of the way in, we’re given Inara’s perspective as well. Having both POVs really fleshed out the nuances of their relationship, and while I did struggle with much of the rest of the book, I did still enjoy this portion of the story throughout.
Alas, much of the rest of it wasn’t as much of a hit. For me, part of the problem was how similar this read felt to “Strange the Dreamer.” The set up of siblings, some with magical abilities, growing up isolated from the world in the husk of a place that used to belong to god-like beings, one of whom was the father of said siblings? It’s pretty identical. And “Strange the Dreamer” was a superb book, so it’s rare that a direct comparison like this is going to go well for another book. Had I read this one without that one in mind, perhaps some things would have been better received. But that’s also the world of books: readers will always approach stories in the context of what they’ve read before. This can be a good or bad thing; unfortunately, here it was a bad thing. While the elements were similar, they were noticably weaker than Laini Taylor’s similar set-up.
While I liked the sister relationship between our two main characters, I still never really connected to either of them as wholly realized characters on their own. Zuhra, in particularly, was hard to identify with, especially in the beginning when we are left with only her perspective. Both sisters fell into the unfortunate trap of immediately going googly-eyed over the first boys they see, which felt not only silly, but also undermined some of the strengths we had been told they possess, having grown up needing to be so self-reliant.
The world and plot suffered from a writing style that erred more towards telling rather than showing. The middle of the book especially dragged, which I find is often a problem with this style of writing. When you have a new world to introduced, it’s easier for a “tell vs show” style to go unnoticed amid all of the new things being thrown at the reader. And the end typically has enough action when building to the climax of the story to also get away with it. But the middle is where it always shows up, and it was just as true here as in other books with a similar writing issue.
There were some good ideas in this book, and I did enjoy the sister relationship. I was able to predict a few of the twists, but one or two did actually catch me by surprise. However, all of that was not enough to pull the book through. The characters fell into a few too many YA “boy crazy” tropes, the world and plot were a bit on the limp side, and the style of writing was particularly captivating. Not to say that this book should be written off anyone’s list full-stop. But I do think there are betters versions of it out there.
Rating 6: An OK read, but one that felt flat and dim in comparison to its contemporaries.
“Sisters of Shadow and Light” can be found on this Goodreads list: “We Fire the Darkness And Flame At Night.”
Find “Sisters of Shadow and Light” at your library using WorldCat!