One of the best reprints produced by Starscape books has been the reissue of Jane Yolen's Alta trilogy, the first of which is "Sister Light, Sister Dark." While it takes awhile to get going, this unique and imaginative fantasy book introduces us to a fantasy story that's both familiar and innovative.
Jenna was orphaned three times: Her mother died in childbirth, the midwife died while taking her away, and the warrior woman who adopted her was also killed. She's taken in collectively by the follows of Great Alta, a benevolent goddess. They're somewhat Amazonian -- there are no men in their "hames," they are warriors, farmers, priestesses, and everything else that they need to be.
But Jenna is different from the rest. There's a prophecy that a white-haired child who lost three mothers is the Anna, a savior who will change everything. Events are set into motion when Jenna and her friend Pynt encounter teenage prince Carum in the woods, who is being hunted by a vicious warrior. Killing the warrior and saving Carum leads to destruction for Jenna's home and family...
Jane Yolen crafts a wonderful, believable place in the Dales. Not only is it very detailed and plausible-sounding, but she also sprinkles it with songs and historical studies. While the Alta series is often labelled "feminist fantasy," there's no preaching or two-dimensional male characters. Yolen simply shows us Jenna and Pynt operating on the same level as Carum, and leaves it at that.
Her writing is earthy and has plenty of detail without bogging itself down. The concept of "dark sisters" (sort of a nighttime-only spiritual twin) is an unusual and well-crafted one. The only problem is that it takes quite some time for the plot to get moving, and it's a jolt when it finally does; we go from no action to all-action in an instant.
Jenna is an excellent reluctant lead. Her mixed feelings (she both wants and doesn't want to be the Anna) are quite plausible, as are her strength and gutsiness. She's not some sort of supergirl; she cries, feels pain and loneliness like anyone else. Pynt is a good sidekick, with her mischievous attitude. And Carum is a strong counterpart (and romantic interest) to Jenna.
Since "Sister Light Sister Dark" ends on an unfinished note, readers will want to check out the second volume of the trilogy (also available from Starscape) "White Jenna." A unique epic fantasy.