Title:Sisters of Glass
Author: Naomi Cyprus
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Publication date: November 2017
Two girls. Two worlds. Only magic can bring them together, in this fantastical middle grade adventure for fans of the Descendants and School for Good and Evil series.
Halan is a powerless princess. She is heir to the Magi Kingdom, a blazing desert land ruled by ancient magic. But unlike every royal before her, Halan has no magical powers of her own.
Nalah is a powerful pauper. The glassblower’s daughter, she lives in the land of New Hadar, where magic is strictly outlawed. But Nalah has a powerful force growing within her—one she can’t always control.
One girl fears magic, one worships it. But when a legendary mirror connects them, Nalah and Halan finally meet—and must work together to save their two worlds, before everything they know is shattered forever.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
Nalah has always been different. A Thauma child in a society that despises and has outlawed all Thauma magic, Nalah has been told her entire life to be careful. Her father was once a well-reknowned glassworker, infusing his wares with different elements and coaxing the glass into forms that magic as well as delight. But now, ever since the new laws following the great magic war, his work has been relegated to the mundane and his business has suffered. While Nalah and her father may be poor and their magic made illegal, they are happy together–Nalah misses her mother (who died in a magic-induced fire), but she loves her father dearly. The only problem is Nalah’s burgeoning powers, which seem to be growing more wild and unpredictable every day. Her father, terrified for his daughter, tells Nalah that she must rush home immediately after selling their wares in the marketplace each day to avoid suspicion, and also insists that she wear gloves at all times. You see, Nalah’s powers are so strong that if she touches glass, or any other magically-conductive material, things tend to… break.
Nalah yearns for a life where she can be free, where she doesn’t need to wear gloves protecting her from the outside world, and where she can embrace and use her powers. So, when her neighbor and old family friend, Tam, asks Nalah to recreate a powerful Thauma mirror using only a shard of glass, she eagerly takes on the job against her father’s explicit wishes. Nalah is successful beyond her wildest dreams: she is able to create Transcendent Glass. But Tam’s motives for creating the mirror are not what they seem and suddenly, Nalah finds her world turned upside down when he steals her father away and taunts Nalah to follow him–through the looking glass, and into a world very similar, and yet very different than her own.
Halan has always been different. A Thauma princess without any magical ability in a society that reveres powerful magic, Halan has been told her entire life to be careful. The heir apparent, Halan’s life has consisted of classes and lessons on history, etiquette, and strategly–and while she has not a drop of magical ability, she has learned to use her smarts to evaluate people and situations, and to protect herself using her wits. She loves her father, the King, dearly–but her relationship with her mother is always strained. Queen Raina always seems disapproving, always tightly wound around her daughter, and Halan cannot help but feel that she is a constant disappointment and thorn in her mother’s side. Halan yearns for adventure and to prove to her parents and her people that she is worthy of the crown and not someone to be pitied or coddled–so she takes matters into her own hands and devises a plan to sneak out of the palace and see the Old Magi Kingdom using the help of a charming courtier.
Things don’t go according to plan–though Halan is able to escape the palace with the help of Lord Soren, the city is not what she expects. She sees people suffering, neglected, marked by magic weapons wielded by her father’s guards–though she tries to convince herself that these people must be lawbreakers who deserved their fate. Things take a sharp turn for the worse, however, when Halan is kidnapped by rebels who oppose her father’s rule.
Now, Halan must truly rely on her wits to survive, and save herself, her father, and her kingdom.
Nalah and Halan, two girls living parallel lives separated by a pane of transcendent glass, are drawn to each other–and find their stories converge in the Old Magi Kingdom. They must understand what has brought them together, and overcome the evil that threatens to tear them apart and destroy all that they love.
Sisters of Glass is the debut novel from Naomi Cyprus, and oh, dear reader, I enjoyed it so.
It has been a while since I’ve lost myself in a middle grade fantasy novel–a middle grade portal fantasy novel, no less!–and Sisters of Glass hit exactly the right spot. A parallel worlds story, featuring two complex heroines–one over-powered, one under-powered–and a surprisingly breadth and depth of both worldbuilding and character development, Cyprus creates a beautiful, self-contained novel. And though this is middle grade (or perhaps because it is middle grade), this novel is also shockingly cold-hearted and brutal–there is plenty of heartbreak and ruthlessness in this book, lest you think this is a simplistic or candy-coated fantasy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself: first and foremost, the characters. Nalah and Halan are the dual heroines of this novel, and as such, the tale alternates between these two narrators. I loved both characters together as individuals, but even more importantly, I loved the convergence of their stories and their reactions and love for each other. Nalah’s tale is the first one we are introduced to as readers–Nalah has happiness with her father (though she years for her mother), and though they are very poor, they are happy save for the fact that Nalah cannot use her powers. Nalah’s hunger for more is a palpable thing and a driving motivation for her character; she feels like a perpetual outsider in her own world, but for the first time everything clicks when she crosses the transcendent glass into a magic-rich world. Still, Nalah must balance her hunger to prove herself and use her magic against the singular purpose for bringing her to the Old Magi Kingdom: saving her father. Meanwhile, Halan’s motivations are similar. She, too, has felt like a perpetual outsider, perhaps more bitterly than Nalah ever has as Halan is destined to lead a kingdom that sets stock in magic and must figure out how to keep control over her cunning and brutal court without an ounce of magical ability herself. Halan’s journey in this novel is more internal: she grapples with what she has been told by her father and mother from the safety of the palace her entire life, and tries to reconcile the reality of the kingdom and rebels who have kidnapped her with her faith in her father’s rule. When Nalah enters the picture, this picture becomes even more complicated–Halan loves her own family and refuses to believe that the King is capable of all of the things that the rebels and Nalah say he has done. This tension and Halan’s faith in her family are two warring motivations, and both define her character beautifully.
On that note, did I mention that this story is cruel and ruthless and brutal?
From a storytelling perspective, I loved the overall message of family trying to protect each other and trusting in each other, no matter the cost. I also loved the ultimate direction of the novel with the sisters of glass having to make a choice to trust in each other–even though this costs them both dearly.
Suffice it to say: I very much enjoyed this book. Absolutely recommended for anyone looking for a magical middle grade portal fantasy–and I cannot wait to read the next book in the series.
Rating: 7 – Very Good