Prophecy of the Sisters, by Michelle Zink (Little Brown 2009, YA, 339 pp)
Two sisters stand on either side of a struggle between the forces of law and chaos, destined from birth to play their roles in a conflict that has ranged among the angels and spirits for millennia. Lia, who narrates the story, and Alice, her identical twin, are children of late 19th-century privilege, recently orphaned with the death of their father, who have never been close. Now they find themselves on opposite sides, physically marked as players in this struggle by strange insignia on their wrists. Alice has been drawn into darkness; Lia is charged with defending the gate from the spirit realm from the hoards of supernatural beings who will bring about the end of the earth if they break through.
To prevent this from happening, Lia must find the clues and information she needs (in old books and in the spirit realm) that will let her be the Angel who ends the conflict once and for all. With the help of two new friends, girls who are tied to her destiny, she slowly makes progress. But the evil spirits are hungry and restless, and Alice, her own sister, is working on their behest...
Lia tells the story in the first person present, bringing the reader along with her as she works to understand the struggle in which she has been caught. At times, this adds spooky immediacy to the story, at others, Lia's detailed telling makes the book feel a little slow. This is exacerbated by the slightly stilted, carefully unmodern prose--while reading this, I vacillated between intent interest and a desire to speed things up.
"She grows serious, the light leaving her eyes. "The walls are thin between the physical world and the Otherworlds, Lia. It is the very thing that makes it possible to do such wondrous things and the very thing that makes it so dangerous. What was following you last night...Its strength was like nothing I've ever encountered, and I have chanced upon many beings in my travels, both good and evil." (p 75)
I think the reader has to be willing to invest themselves in a story like this, taking it very seriously and soaking in the late Victorian ambiance--it's not one for the reader looking for briskness of plot and snappiness of dialogue. (And I think the cover does a very good job of conveying this--the still and quiet eeriness of the stone grave markers fits the story well).
This is the first book of a trilogy, and much of it is spent providing the background for events to come. The tension builds gradually throughout the book, with Gothic creepiness. Near the end, when the conflict between the two sisters comes to a head, the suspense grows dramatically ...but, this being the first book, resolution is still nowhere in sight.
(I hope we see more of Alice in the next books--I found her the most interesting character, what with having gone over to the dark side, but still retaining some humanity...will she be redeemed, and if so, how?)
This is a Young Adult book mainly because of the age of the protagonists--there are scary and even horrifying bits, but nothing too terribly disturbing, and I think it would be very much enjoyed by the middle-school girl who likes historical, Gothic-y, fiction.
(ARC provided by the publisher)