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Sister Light, Sister Dark

(Great Alta #1)

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  2,332 ratings  ·  154 reviews
Then Great Alta plaited the left side of her hair, the golden side, and let in fall into the sinkhole of the night. And there she drew up the queen of shadows and set her upon the earth. Next she plaited the right side of her hair, the dark side, and with it caught the queen of light. And she set her next to the black queen.
"And you two shall be sisters. You shall be as i
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 15th 2003 by Tor Teen (first published September 1st 1988)
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3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,332 ratings  ·  154 reviews

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Gail Carriger
Jun 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, ya
The best thing about this lyrical almost mythological 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 some 1970s feminist roots). I think the world and story are complex enough for any reader, although I believe the target audience is YA. I love it, it's brilliant!
Apr 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-read
3.5 stars

A solid story with excellent worldbuilding that has aged very well since it was first published.

I loved the women focused story and world that Yolen has constructed. For readers of fantasy, there is some familiar ground here, but what sets this apart is the wide variety of female characters who make up nearly all the actors in the tale.

The story does end rather suddenly, which is something to keep in mind. I do have the next book, and will likely pick that up fairly soon.
Heidi Stewart
Sep 18, 2014 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,
Dec 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Bridget Mckinney
Apr 03, 2016 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
Apr 23, 2016 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
Aug 01, 2016 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
May 04, 2016 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
Dec 17, 2009 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
Mar 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of matriarchal fantasy and good writing
Originally read sometime around 1998. Rating reflects most recent rereading and the new edition. Review TK.
Pam Baddeley
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
On the face of it this book should have appealed to me more: a community of women, including warriors, who worship a goddess and provide a safe haven for the abandoned girl babies of their local communities. It is a 'chosen one' type story which has become rather more of an overused trope than at the time of first publication, but all the same there should have been the opportunity to become involved with the characters and their problems.

Unfortunately, I found the same kind of distancing that I
Nov 02, 2015 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
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting to re-read this many years later. It's a writing style and theme I enjoyed and read so much of years ago. Still do enjoy although I tend to read much more science fiction these days.
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Science fiction people talk in terms of parallel universes, where all the possibilities of our actions—and their consequences—are lived out. But in this book there is simply the dichotomy of dark and light—that there is a self of the light, and a self who emerges out of the darkness. Both are distinct, yet twins. There is no perjuritive judgement of light and dark with good and evil. Just two separate, yet twin states. Enough has been written about how this book—indeed, the series—is a kind of f ...more
Sam (Hissing Potatoes)
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.
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2019reads
Part of the bundle of older fantasy novels by women writers that I bought a while back. This followed some true YA fantasy tropes: orphaned girl who discovers that she is the fulfillment of a prophecy. Good story, if a little heavy on the set up for the next book.
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
Sandra Strange
Sep 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, young-adult
This fantasy novel, the first book in a series, definitely presents a feminist’s medieval world, centering around a religious order/sisterhood that raises girls to become warriors or priestesses (and support personnel) who have “shadow” twins who come from a mirror world, but only at night in the presence of some kind of light. The novel is not the typical fantasy, though the plot is pretty typical, dealing with a prophesied special sister who brings disastrous happenings, as well as triumphs, f ...more
Joanna Chaplin
Nov 20, 2016 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
Rachel Brown
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult, fantasy
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
Dec 19, 2009 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
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 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.
Gwyn Evans
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first read this book in junior high, as I was a big fan of Jane Yolen at that stage of my life. It was included in the recent "Women of Sci Fi & Fantasy" Humble Bundle, and I was happy to re-visit a book I remembered fondly, if dimly.

I did not remember many details about it from my first reading -- I remembered there was a young girl raised in a goddess cult that pulled shadow sisters from the mirror, and she (like the protagonist of so many YA novels) is the Chosen One, but my primary mem
Crystal Miller
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
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. Unfor ...more
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
I don't remember reading any Jane Yolen as a kid, but do remember seeing her name everywhere, so when this book showed up as an ebook deal, I figured why not.

The takeaway is this is the kind of book I would have eaten up when I was 10-13 and reading it took me way back to early in my reading life when I had infinite patience and would pretty much grab anything off the shelf if it was even moderately interesting.

As a ten year old, this book would have blown. my. mind. the idea of an all female
The origin story of a prophesied destroyer/savior to a society of female warriors. This is told via straight narration, but also through fictional folklore, ballads, myths, and via modern historical academic analysis, and that meta-narrative is the highlight of the book. It isn't always successful--the modern sections are an academic pastiche with a grating tone--but the cumulative effect functions to contextualize and deconstruct the otherwise unremarkable tropes as well as the story's feminist ...more
Amanda Howling
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars. I enjoyed the story as well as the historical and anthropological chapters. I appreciated that the 'chosen one' was never convinced she was the chosen one, that really helps a character from an ego perspective. However I wasn't massively engaged with any of the characters and the story came to rather sudden halt, given its size I can't really see why this story is in two parts and am not sure I will buy the next book so resent not having closure a little. Coming full circ ...more
Natalie Carey
This took just over a month to read - and it's short. I did quite like a lot about it, but it took too long to get through, the middle dragged a bit in when the girls leave for their mission, but then the plot picks up in the last 40 pages or so. I don't know how long the other 2 books in the series are, but they probably all could have been combined to make a stronger book.

However, I did enjoy the mythology behind the story, the peppering in of the 'myths' the surrounding town-folk believed, f
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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

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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