I’m one of three sisters, and the older I get, the more I realize what a gift sisterhood has been for me. So naturally, the focus of my first novel, City of Savages, was the relationship between dual-protagonist sisters. With my second, A Criminal Magic (which releases today!), I set out to write a very different story, but after a couple rounds of revisions, I found myself subconsciously working a sister relationship into that one too.
As a writer, I find sister relationships fascinating—sisters can go from joking in their own shorthand to undercutting each other in a matter of minutes, can be each other’s greatest champions and biggest hurdles in the same conversation. And as a reader, there’s nothing better than reading something about sisterhood that hits me with almost chilling familiarity, and whispering as I turn the page, “Wow, this is us.”
Here are five speculative fiction novels that feature unforgettable sisters:
Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
Kate Elliott’s young adult series has been pitched as Game of Thrones meets Little Women, and the first book absolutely delivers on that irresistible pitch. Yes, this is most certainly an epic fantasy—our female protagonist, Jessamy, lives in a world divided by class, a kingdom where worthy contenders compete in a series of trials called the Fives. But while the world-building is extraordinary, it’s the Little Women aspect of this series that most captivated me. Jessamy and her sisters are all unique, three-dimensional and compelling, and the relationships between them are rich, complex and real.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This twisted, terrific novel tells the story of peculiar Merricat Blackwood and her older, agoraphobic sister, Constance, who live in isolation with their uncle at Blackwood House. When an opportunistic cousin comes calling in search of the family fortune, the sisters’ lives are irreparably disrupted—Constance becomes enamored with a life outside Blackwood House’s walls, but Merricat retaliates with her own unusual brand of “magic.” Psychological suspense and the promise of revealed family secrets keep the pages turning, but for me, the dark beating heart of this story was the fierce, singular bond between Merricat and Constance.
What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
Zhang’s premise rests on a unique, claustrophobic definition of sisters: two souls that live together in one body. In this novel’s world, each person is born with two souls, but it’s normal for the body’s dominant soul to “settle” during early childhood, and for the other to fade away. But when the story opens, teen sisters Addie and Eva are still sharing the same body, as well as the dangerous secret that secondary-soul Eva still exists (though she’s unable to move their body or speak, except internally to Addie). What follows is a tense dystopic thriller, but the most standout moments in this debut for me were the very real and heartbreaking exchanges between these sisters. Addie has everything, while Eva only has Addie—and yet I felt for both sisters as they each struggled with identity, loyalty, and sacrifice.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
It’s really hard to categorize (or even adequately explain) Atwood’s tale of two sisters that spans nearly a century of time and several genres, but suffice it to say this is one of the most powerful books about sisterhood I’ve ever read. The story opens with Iris recounting her sister Laura’s death, and then jumps to Laura’s posthumously published science fiction novel (entitled The Blind Assassin), then to an elderly Iris many years in the future, and then backward in time as Iris recalls her childhood with Laura. It’s a portrait of two remarkable sisters, cut into puzzle pieces—pieces that the reader must fit and put together—and the experience is breathtaking and rewarding all the way through.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Saba lives with her brother Lugh, her little sister Emmi, and her Pa in a post-apocalyptic, sandstorm-plagued wasteland left by the previous “Wrecker” civilization. When Saba’s brother is kidnapped, Saba vows to cross her dangerous world to save him—but she’s forced to take her sister Emmi with her. The setting and plot of this post-apocalyptic tale are Mad Max-level epic: cage fighting, girl-gang revolutionaries and a corrupt, mind-controlling society. But what made this blockbuster story accessible for me was the complicated relationship between Saba and Emmi. At the beginning of the novel, Saba holds Emmi responsible for her mother’s death. But over the course of their quest, Emmi earns Saba’s respect, and their relationship evolves, matures and deepens.
Top image from Little Women (1994)
Lee Kelly is the author of A Criminal Magic and City of Savages. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced in Los Angeles and New York. She lives with her husband and two children in Millburn, New Jersey.