My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Alex and Maggie, with their two young children, move into a new house, one with lots of history. While cleaning out the fireplace, they discover an ancient journal hidden in the chimney. Maggie’s an intelligent, curious woman who loves her family, but Alex is controlling, and she’s been feeling stifled. As she peruses the journal, she becomes embroiled in the writer’s thoughts. Bella is a healer and wise woman who is studying the ways of magic, particularly clairvoyance and shape-shifting. Before long, Maggie identifies fully with Bella, who has a “dark sister” (mentor) whom she refers to only as “A”. Then she meets Ash, the proprietor of a local herb shop, and becomes interested in making and trying some of Bella’s healing ointments. As Maggie gets deeper and deeper into the mysteries, she herself becomes determined to master them, to the detriment of her marriage. Little by little, she loses more of her true personality, nearly losing herself to the craft.
In 1993, Dark Sister earned a British Fantasy Award for author Graham Joyce, who is much better known in Britain than here in the US. This is a darkly mesmerizing novel, one in which you don’t like a lot of what happens, but are compelled to keep reading. The scenes in which Maggie learns to “fly” and “shift” are vivid, and the culmination of the tale is horrific. As for characterization, both Maggie and Alex are manipulative and petulant, each of them acting more childlike than their own children when out to get what they want. The psychiatrist brought in to help the family is so ditsy as to be unbelievable; he surely would have been stripped of his license in the real world. The most convincing and genuine characters for me were Ash, the herbalist who has his head on straight, and Maggie’s mentor, old Liz, who is reaching the end of her life and wants to pass on her healing and psychic skills to a worthy successor before she dies. For such a dark novel, Sister has a pleasantly upbeat ending, although it seems likely that there might be more trouble on the far horizon.
Not for sensitive readers, but if you enjoy good paranormal writing, give this one a try.