I am sandwiched in the middle of a basketball team sized family of brilliant siblings so I am, generally speaking, pro-sibling, and perhaps for that reason I love finding portrayals of this unique relationship in SFF. But while it’s common to find children’s books with siblings as joint protagonists, working together, this natural grouping seems to die out abruptly in YA and adult novels. Our protagonists fight and magic and politick their way through realms of fantastic worlds and alternative futures but more commonly they do so as loners, or with friends or romantic partners, rather than with family. Amidst all the orphans and only children and protagonists whose families have been killed off off-screen, where do all our siblings go when we grow up?
Obviously having your protagonist out on their own can be convenient from a narrative point of view, but leaving siblings in to support, antagonise, frustrate and really know our protagonist opens up all kinds of excellent potential for fascinating, nuanced relationships that add to the story even as they complicate it. Here are five SFF books that take on this challenge and run with it.
Court of Fives series by Kate Elliot
The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling
Brother is an intrinsic feature of the story, a reminder of the evil act that was done by otherwise “good” characters to protect Tobin and bring about his/her eventual return as Queen Tamir. Brother’s disruptive, sometimes malevolent force acts against the characters throughout, and Tobin’s developing relationship with the ghost is the aspect of this story I loved the best. At times frightening, always creepy, sometimes pitiful or even touching, this shadow brotherhood, underpinned by recognisable jealousies and tensions (after all, what happened to Brother was in a way the ultimate “favouritism” by parents), makes these books stand out among their peers.
False Hearts by Laura Lam
The narrative is told in alternating perspectives each chapter from the twins, and their differences in nature are explored both in flashbacks to their youth, when secrets were impossible, and the modern day, where Tila has become involved in a very deadly underground world, and Taema must impersonate her sister to save her life. Their closeness and distance is a crucial part of the narrative as Taema yearns to understand who her sister has become, but also fears what she finds.
Wars of Light and Shadow series by Janny Wurts
Although the hatred between the brothers is, in this story, a literal magic curse, I love that fundamentally it plays with a family dynamic, where real and perceived wounds and slights can fester into unrelenting, life-altering enmity. Empathetic Arithon is able to see through and break the curse, but Lysaer, faced with the same choices about self-reflection and responsibility for mistakes, chooses not to accept his culpability and to embrace Arithon’s supposed role as the villain in his life. World-wrecking, grand scale projection of real life family dramas. Love it!
A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
We have everyone’s favourite incestuous twins, Cersei and Jamie, whose close relationship (in every gross sense) has started to bend and fracture; the range of intra-Stark dynamics (the loving Jon and Arya, fractious, childish squabbles between Arya and Sansa, the shifting loyalties inherent in the fraught foster-brother relationship between Robb and Theon, and let’s not forget the jealousies that drove Catelyn and Lysa apart); the abusive Viserys’ use of his sister Daenerys; the sad pressures of Tyrion and Jamie and the murderous enmity of Tyrion and Cersei; Asha and Theon and the bond and rivalries between them, and SO MANY MORE. I mean, I could go on—the Baratheons, the Sand Snakes… these books are jam packed full of family loyalties and loves and fights that are often the cause of world-altering events, and it’s awesome.
A black belt in jujitsu, Sam Hawke lives with her husband and children in Australia. City of Lies is her first novel.