Review: Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

I intended to do another first-chapter review for this one, and then my internet was out and I couldn’t put it down!!

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson is urban mythic fantasy, very much in the same genre as Charles de Lint’s Newford series and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods but still wildly different. Instead of the standard Irish, Greek and Germanic faeries and gods that tend to stroll the streets, Hopkinson’s book follows the celestial mischief and family bickering of a pantheon reimagined from the Orishas of Southwest Africa. The book follows Makeda and Abby, conjoined twins born from the coupling of a mortal woman and divine man. The surgery that separated them left Abby with a permanent limp, Makeda on anti-rejection meds, and Makeda without any mojo – the magic that marks the celestials from the claypicken.

As a (mostly) white and Western reader, the Orisha (Orishas? unsure of the pluralization) are completely new to me. However, the care taken in their portrayal and the richness of their mythology shows through in Hopkinson’s writing, and it doesn’t take long to settle into the world and accept it as it comes. I’m unsure how much of the terminology is Hopkinson’s creation and how much is Caribbean patois I’m just unfamiliar with; ‘claypicken’ to mean ‘mortal’, for example, was one that took me a few pages.

As a story, and a mythical one at that, Sister Mine, is fantastic. Makeda is rightfully angry, if a little bit petty, balancing on the edge between the mystic and the mundane. The prose does the same, dancing effortlessly between musings on why her father is entertained by tentacle porn and mindbreaking passages of pure synesthesia. However, as a novel, Sister Mine leaves a lot of loose ends, and balances possibly too many plotlines at once. I would have loved to see the novel be perhaps 50-100 pages longer, to give all of the characters a little more room to breathe. Some stories do well at breakneck speeds; Sister Mine is a story that should take its time in the telling. Additionally, some of the plot twists in the last third of the book come a little out of the blue, taking an already-strange book into the realm of disbelief. (Of course, magical realism and urban fantasy always tread that line to begin with.)

Favourite character: Makeda is a standout, but I have to say, the living embodiment of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar is a favourite. Not just because of who he is, but because he’s so damn nice.

Overall, I’m giving Sister Mine a 3.5/5!

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