The Literary Horizon: Sister Light, Sister Dark, Spellwright

With my last Literary Horizon of 2009, I’m going to take a look at the first books in a pair of fantasy series. What a change of pace! Never fear, gentle reader, I’m going to try and diversify the Literary Horizon in 2010. If any of you have suggestions for themes beyond genres, like “queer protagonists” or “non-Western fantasy”, please send them my way. I’m sure I can wrangle something up!

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen
(Book One of the Great Alta Saga)

“Lovers of fantasy will appreciate this title,” raved Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly called it a “fine novel.” It is the story of Jenna. Raised on a mountainside, she 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 room.

This is the story of Jenna and Skada. Sister Light and Sister Dark.

via Macmillan

I ran across a recommendation for this on LiveJournal, where a fan wondered why the internet fan base was so small for such a wonderful book. Never one to let down a fellow geek or turn down a society of women warriors (yet another fantasy trope I adore because of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time), it leaped onto my list, despite the scant information about the plot available. To be honest, the copy sounds like a great deal of fantasy aimed at middle schoolers and young adult novels of the 1990s–sweeping, direct, and short. I find this quite odd for the copy from a 2003 edition of the book, no matter when it was published (1988, incidentally).

Due to its age, the only book blogger review I’ve managed to find is Jenny’s reread of the series, where she praises the world building and how Yolen spices things up with folk tales and inaccurate historical accounts of what’s occurring. Reviews on Amazon tend to mention that the sequel, White Jenna, is required to fully enjoy the story. Still, as it’s a young adult book, I don’t think it’s too much of a time investment to read and enjoy both books. I do believe the Decatur Library has a copy of this…

Sister Light, Sister Dark was released on September 14, 1989.

Spellwright by Blake Charlton
(Book One of the Spellwright Trilogy)

Imagine a world in which you could peel written words off a page and make them physically real. You might pick your teeth with a sentence fragment, protect yourself with defensive paragraphs, or thrust a sharply-worded sentence at an enemy’s throat.

Such a world is home to Nicodemus Weal, an apprentice at the wizardly academy of Starhaven. Because of how fast he can forge the magical runes that create spells, Nicodemus was thought to be the Halcyon, a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent an event called the War of Disjunction, which would destroy all human language. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell.

Runes must be placed in the correct order to create a spell. Deviation results in a “misspell”—a flawed text that behaves in an erratic, sometimes lethal, manner. And Nicodemus has a disability, called cacography, that causes him to misspell texts simply by touching them.

Now twenty-five, Nicodemus lives in the aftermath of failing to fulfill prophecy. He finds solace only in reading knightly romances and in the teachings of Magister Shannon, an old blind wizard who’s left academic politics to care for Starhaven’s disabled students.

But when a powerful wizard is murdered with a misspell, Shannon and Nicodemus becomes the primary suspects. Proving their innocence becomes harder when the murderer begins killing male cacographers one by one…and all evidence suggests that Nicodemus will be next. Hunted by both investigators and a hidden killer, Shannon and Nicodemus must race to discover the truth about the murders, the nature of magic, and themselves.

via the author’s website

As a fantasy nut, I’m always looking for inventive magical systems. As someone who grew up with Harry Potter, I’ve been spoiled with J.K. Rowling’s fairly logical and accessible system of magic for that series. While words as magic is nothing especially new (Zatanna, a DC Comics heroine, works her magic by speaking phrases backwards), words plucked directly from books tied to runes fascinates me. I rarely run across series with dyslexic heroes, making this a must for me. And, of course, the title is a deliciously bad pun- Nicodemus can’t “spellwright”. Bring it on, my friend!

Aiden Moher at A Dribble of Ink loves Charlton’s system of magic, but is not so fond of the necessary exposition dumps required to explain it all. And, while he loves that there’s an autobiographical tone to Nicodemus (Charlton struggled with dyslexia in his youth), he finds the pacing to be a bit hit or miss. I don’t mind exposition dumps if the exposition is interesting. I’m definitely looking forward to this one.

Spellwright will be released on March 2.

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