Unexpected and enthralling, Sisters of Shadow and Light by Sara B. Larson is a dark tale of sisters, magic, and prejudice that will grab YA readers by the ankle and pull them into a whole new world.
Rating: 4 Stars
Sisters of Shadow and Light
Author: Sara B. Larson
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: November 5th, 2019
Goodreads Synopsis: “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.
This ARC was provided to me via Edelweiss by the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.
FYI: This review is kind of a beast that grew and changed as I wrote it. I didn’t want to go back and edit the beginning to match the end, because I’m kinda intrigued by how the review morphed.
You know when you are reading a book and you are enjoying it so much, but then when you finish your brain sort of catches up and points out all the writing/plot flaws in the story? That’s what happened to me with Sisters of Shadow and Light. I read a bulk of the book in one night a few days back and LOVED IT! But as I sit here to write up the review my brain keeps chiming in with things that didn’t really work, even though I ignored them in my initial read.
The story centers around two sisters, Zuhra and Inara. They have been trapped in a Paladin citadel by a magical hedge that keeps them in and the rest of the world out their whole life with their (abusive) mother and a local woman who had dedicated herself to take care of the two young girls. Zuhra is the eldest and takes care of Inara, since their mother refuses to acknowledge her. The night of Inara’s birth, the girls’ Paladin father disappeared and Inara was born with Paladin magic. Inara spends most of her time trapped in her own mind and Zuhra longs to find a way to help her sister so they can escape their trapped existence. When a stranger somehow makes it through the enchanted hedge trapping them in the citadel, Zuhra sees her chance to change her and her sister’s life.
I’ve seen many criticize Zuhra’s character because of how she reacts to boys and I’d like to point out that she is an 18 year old girl who has NEVER spent any time around boy. I don’t know about y’all, but I was awkward as heck around boys when I was that age and I had grown up with them around me. And most of her 18 years, her mother has been trying to push the idea of getting married on to her, so of course that’s one of the first things that pops into her head when she sees a strange boy suddenly at the citadel. I get where these people are coming from, but you gotta look at it through the lens of the character. Some of the interactions between Zuhra and boys were cringey, but they made perfect sense for the story.
The sister relationship between Zuhra and Inara is sweet and poignant. I love when sisters will fight for each other instead of with each other. Their dynamic constantly grows and changes throughout the story and I’m definitely interested in seeing where it goes in the next book.
Now we come to the issue of the Mother. Oh boy, is she a piece of work. Despite having fallen in love with, married, and born children to a Paladin, after her husband abandons her, the mother is intensely prejudice of Paladin magic. She all but abandon’s the care of Inara, who has Paladin magic, to Zuhra and refuses to let Zuhra research Paladin magic in an effort to help Inara. There is much alluding to past abuse and there are scenes where the mother locks Zuhra in her room with barely enough bread and water to stay alive. Towards the end of the story the mother is painted in a sympathetic light, but I can’t get over her past behavior.
You are going to have to forgive me for the rest of this review because I have to skirt around a lot of plot development because I want to avoid spoilers. There is a bit of a twist halfway through the book that I found utterly delightful and I don’t want to take that away from readers.
The world building is small, but fascinating. It is interesting to me how contained of a story this is. Normally I’d whine about not knowing enough about the world and what is the daily life of the random villager like and blah, blah, blah. But it just works for this story. It’s a bottle episode with a twist and I absolutely loved that.
Okay, time to dig into some of those “writing/plot flaws” I mentioned earlier. The more I think about it, most of the flaws are things I know other people have issues with, but they don’t bother me too much. Yes, there is a bit a predictability in the story. And while I believe predictability is hard to escape when you’ve read approximately 1 million YA books, it really can be a thing that will either not bother you or will kill a book for you. In this case, I wasn’t bothered. Some of the twists I called and some I didn’t, but I enjoyed the journey the whole way through. I think older readers will have issues with Zuhra, because we all apparently forget how broody and love obsessed some teens can be, and her actions may grate on nerves. It’s not a writing flaw, it’s just not connecting with or liking a character. And to be honest, I didn’t connect with any of the characters, but I was invested in their stories. Except the mother. Someone lock her up in a tower and toss the key into an abyss.
You know, there was a moment at the beginning of this review where I was questioning myself on how much I actually liked this book and as I’ve written the review, I am reminded how much I did enjoy this story. It isn’t perfect and there is stuff that just will not work for certain people. But things that don’t work for others might work for me, and I have to remember that when I’m writing reviews. Don’t let other’s opinions change your own. I think if you go into this one with an open mind you have a stronger chance of enjoying it and just know that the story might not always take you where you expect.