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Sister Light, Sister Dark (Great Alta #1)

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,883 Ratings  ·  95 Reviews
Raised on a mountainside, Jenna learned the arts of the warrior, and from the mountain women the magic of the ancient lore. But the greatest magic of all was her ability to call forth her dark sister from the depths of the mirror of the land of light and shadow.

Skada was the dark one, able to exist only when the moonlight cast a shadow or lamplight flickered in a darkened
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 15th 2003 by Tor Teen (first published September 1st 1988)
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Gail Carriger
Jun 27, 2012 Gail Carriger rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ya, fantasy
The best thing about this lyrical almost mythological two part series is the world building. I've not seen anything like it before or since and it's, simply put, amazing. The writing is definitely on the side of strong and empowered women (showing feminist 1970s roots, I believe). I think the world and story are complex enough for any reader, although I believe the target audience is YA. (When she wrote it I'm not certain there really was a "YA" concept yet.) Anyway, I love it, it's brilliant!
Dec 04, 2015 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
When I first saw the movie Willow, I enjoyed it. As I got older, however, my view got a little more jaded. It's true, you have some really good aspects in it - Jean Marsh's acting is great, the character of Sorsha, a young Val Kilmer, a father who wants to be more than that for a bit, a female Gandalf - and the chosen one is female.

And that's the rub - for the chosen one is a baby thoughout the whole damn movie, and the ones that do the major getting rid of baddies are male. The Chosen One just
Heidi Stewart
Sep 18, 2014 Heidi Stewart rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
With this book's consistent 5-star ratings, I feel a little bad for not enjoying it as much. The world is certainly imaginative. The women of Alta hames have the power to call forth their dark sisters from the other side of the mirror, sisters who are them and not them at the same time. Learning the culture of the hame was a large draw of the book for me. I got into it, and I enjoyed being in that world.

What I didn't like is how the book is divided up into sections - Legend, Myth, History, Song,
Allen Garvin
Multilayered Jane Yolen novel that works on several levels. Jenna, a three-times orphaned child, is brought to a secret woodlands camp to be raised by the all-female followers of Great Alta, a mother Goddess figure. The concept of dark sisters, who only appear after the sun sets, who share a soul with their light sisters, is certainly unique, and is presented in a mysterious fashion that only becomes clear near the end of the book. In between the chapters are little folktales or folk rhymes from ...more
Aug 01, 2016 Jacqie rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

So here's a book that I thought read very old-school but pulled it off. It looks like this is about to be re-released.

If you like the old Marion Zimmer Bradley, Juliet Marillier, Judith Tarr style of writing fantasy for women, you'll probably enjoy this one. There's nothing incredibly new about it, it's just that the author does this style well and it worked for me.

Most of the book is the origin story of a young gir
Apr 23, 2016 Margaret rated it really liked it
Is Jenna the one from the prophecy--the white Anna that will bring both the end and the beginning for the Amazonian women of Alta's hames? Three mothers die before she's out of infancy, and she's covered in white hair, as the prophecy foretold. But is that enough to make someone the chosen one, when they still have an absolutely normal childhood?

Sister Light, Sister Dark is a YA novel that explores the chosen one archetype among an all-female religion and society. It mixes the story of Jenna--th
Originally read sometime around 1998. Rating reflects most recent rereading and the new edition. Review TK.
Bridget Mckinney
Apr 03, 2016 Bridget Mckinney rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Somehow, I’ve never gotten around to reading much by Jane Yolen, so I was excited to see this title pop up on NetGalley prior to its rerelease (with new and striking cover art) as an ebook. Sadly, it was just okay. First published in 1988, Sister Light, Sister Dark has aged fairly well, all things considered, but like many feminist fantasy works of the ‘80s, it tends towards second-wave gender essentialism and a sort of pseudo-pagan sensibility. There’s nothing particularly offensive or terribly ...more
Dec 17, 2009 Melanti rated it really liked it
I'm not a fan of the "chosen one" fantasy trope, but I try to be a little more lenient on books like this one that were written in the era that trope was so prominent.

The world building is really great (lots of side stories and tales showing how the events and situations in this book might be viewed a few centuries down the line) and it shows a huge feminist slant (also not unusual for that era) since it is, of course, a society comprised entirely by females.

But I think I would have enjoyed it
May 04, 2016 Hilary rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, netgalley
3.5 stars, might upgrade after reread.

Through myth and legend, history and ballad, story and song is this tale told. The intricacies of the world history, the academic jibes, the ominous warnings and the sociological studies were quite fascinating to me, almost surpassing the story itself as I saw how the passing of time would alter the "real" tale.

The storyline itself didn't seem as strong as I'd expect from Jane Yolen, and there are some elements of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkovan Reununciate
Rachel Brown
Jul 24, 2012 Rachel Brown rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, young-adult
An excellent novel with a particularly compelling premise: a group of women in an otherwise non-magical fantasy world can call up their "dark sisters" from mirrors. The "dark sisters" are their alter egos, like yet unlike them, real and solid in moonlight or firelight, but who vanish like mist when the light goes out.

Told in an intriguing mix of conflicting "sources" like "history," "legend," "story," "ballad," etc. Like Yolen's Briar Rose, it's about the knowability and unknowability of the pa
This is such an easy read and a really fun one too! I got so into it that by the time I finished I was flipping through the pages screaming, IS THAT IT??? IS THAT THE END???? WHERE IS THE REST OF IT?!? Then promptly went off to Amazon to find cheap used copies of the rest of the trilogy.

I was cackling but in a good way while reading this, it just REEKS of 2nd wave Feminism and 80s/90s new agey spiritualism. But in the best way possible.

So like, imagine 'Herland', but more spiritual and new age
Nov 20, 2016 Joanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After a slew of books that I didn't care for, or were not to my taste, or just didn't quite come together for me in some undefinable way, it's nice to have a nice, original fantasy to chew on. No factory-extruded fantasy product here, even if a prophecy is involved. The annoying aspect, though, is that the story is regularly interrupted by legends that grow up after the fact and uninformed historical analysis trying to remove all the fantastical elements. As playing with folklore and how it evol ...more
Dec 19, 2009 Tammy rated it it was amazing
I stumbled upon this book years ago, and to this day, it is my favorite book of all time. I don't know why it struck me the way it did, maybe being an only child, this was a nice fantasy to have.
The second book in the series is good, but not as good as this one. It isn't a page-turner, or a story that you can't put down, but it just sticks with you.
I don't know how else to say it, but I love this book.
Rhonda Paglia
Jan 09, 2016 Rhonda Paglia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I read this book years ago and decided to read it again. I couldn't put it down - and found myself, once again, totally drawn into the story, the characters, and the drama. I loved every minute of this book and, thankfully, I still have a copy of book #2 - White Jenna. Starting it this evening.
Feb 03, 2015 lauren rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book mostly because I was thinking of the friend who lent it to me being a young teen and reading this and being so into it. I do kind of want to read more in the series.
Jun 20, 2016 Trinity rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf, fantasy, netgalley
So haphazard. Not for me.
I vaguely recall having picked up Sister Light, Sister Dark back in the '90s at my public library and not finishing it. I am really glad I picked it up again. The world and mythology of Alta's warrior women and their prophecy was intriguing, and there were some very poignant moments. However, what really elevated the book for me was the snippets of songs, legends, and historical analyses interspersed in the story itself - these were excellent. I particularly loved some of the commentaries in the ...more
Dec 30, 2016 Ruth rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya, fantasy
I loved this whole series when I was younger. I regret getting rid of my copies when I moved many years ago. I guess that's what used bookstores are for, right?
Alysa H.
Mar 10, 2016 Alysa H. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
There were some things that I really liked about this book. The relationships between female friends, for a start, were refreshingly complex -- as well they should be in a story taking place almost entirely within a women-only sub-society. The structure was also fascinating, as "The Story" was broken up with snippets of "The Myth" and "The Ballad" (things which grew up thousands of years later as "The [real] Story" receded into the dark past), and especially "The History" -- a fictional non-fict ...more
Jan 01, 2017 Chari rated it it was amazing
Another one I need to reread!
Apr 04, 2016 Coolcurry rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, ya, protag-female
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 an
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I was expecting to like this so much more than I did. Yet another book that sounds like it will be exactly what I want in so many ways....but ends up just falling flat or being a bit of a slog to get through.

I really wasn't a fan of the constant breaking up into sections with myth, history, song, and story. Two of the four read more like a fictional resear
Jan 10, 2009 Paula rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, series
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kelsey Dangelo
Aug 27, 2014 Kelsey Dangelo rated it it was amazing
Jenna, a white-haired foundling, thrice orphaned, is brought to the warrior women of the Hame, where rumors abound whether or not she is the prophesized “Anna”, the rebirth of the goddess. Jenna grows up, revealing her talents and gifts, her wisdom and ability to survive the wilderness and harsh world, but she angers the priestess who refuses to acknowledge her talents. Jenna herself doesn’t believe in them. Jenna is sent on her missioning, where we finds herself saving the life of a prince and ...more
I read this and it's sequel "White Jenna" along with "The One Armed Queen" several years ago after finding them both in a second hand bookstore and they've all stuck with me. The story that Jane Yolen weaves is both magical and exciting beautiful. The story is told in three parts: First is the historical "sources" and theories written like evidence gathered from experts and historians and the like. The second is the lore, stories, songs and poetry passed from generation to generation written in ...more
Terri Rosen
Aug 13, 2016 Terri Rosen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
In the land of the Dales,Jenna--with pure white hair and dark eyes--takes her first breath, as her mother takes her last. Rejected by her father, the midwife heads off toward the Hame, a community of women, intending to leave the infant there. This midwife, in turn, loses her life to a wild cat while on the path. The baby's rescuers, Selna and Marjo of the Hame, become Jenna's foster mothers only to die a short time later. Thus, Jenna becomes motherless three times. As she grows, her intelligenc ...more
May 31, 2016 Theresa rated it it was amazing
Sister Light, Sister Dark
by Jane Yolen

This is the beginning of an epic series of stories, like the Pit Dragon series I see this story being one of my favorite young adult book series. I like the concept that one sister is paired with another through need. The concept having someone to support you and guide you, to be your right hand when your burden is more than you can bare, has an appeal to young readers. The close friendship between two of the characters as if they were sisters is appealing

Jenna, a white-haired babe orphaned three times, is taken in and raised by an all-women community who worships a white-haired goddess named Alta. There, she learns about dark sisters - shadow women called out from a great mirror who only appear during the night. She also discovers that she might be the subject of a prophecy that foretells the goddess's rebirth on earth.

Folktales, ballads, and history lessons interrupt each chapter, told from sometime in the future looking back. It really re
Nov 02, 2015 Sara rated it it was amazing
A wondrous fantasy series with a rich mythology and enough wry humor to keep even the most cynical fantasy reader amused. I love Jane Yolen and my only wish is that she were a teeny tiny bit more prolific with her adult fantasy. Siter Light, Sister Dark and its companion White Jenna are a veritable feast for the imagination. The saga of Jenna an orphan destined to be the warrior queen of her people the tribes of Alta and her battle against the patriarchal Garunians is totally riveting and perfec ...more
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Jane Yolen is a novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author who has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachuset ...more
More about Jane Yolen...

Other Books in the Series

Great Alta (3 books)
  • White Jenna (Great Alta, #2)
  • The One-Armed Queen (Great Alta, #3)

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