Prophecy of the Sisters haunts as goth mystery

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink; published by Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2009; 343 pages.

It is 1890 New York, and the Milthorpe family is well-to-do.  But tragedy haunts them.  Ten year old Henry was crippled at birth, leaving him bound to his wheelchair.  Shortly after his birth, Mother died tragically on the grounds of their estate.  Ten years after her death, Father died in the house, his death shrouded in mystery.  Henry and his sisters, 16 year old twins Lia (Amalia) and Alice are orphaned, left to live with their Aunt Virginia.  As the story reveals itself, a bizarre welt, shaped like a jorgamond, appears on Lia’s wrist.  The mystery of the prophecy of the sisters begins to reveal itself as Lia’s mark develops.  Family bears the secrets.  Friends may hold the key.  What defines good and evil will be put to the test.

This gothic period piece is almost flawless.  The chilling voices heard whispering from nowhere, the travels in Otherworlds with the Souls in pursuit, and the prophecy itself create a torrential flow of storytelling.  I literally found myself holding my breath at certain points.  However, the attempt to create a narrator’s voice (and dialog) in the style of the period occasionally gets in the way of the story (it frequently felt forced); and when the text slips into more contemporary voices, the distraction was frustrating.  Frankly, the premise of the story itself made up for this flaw.

In keeping with the period, the title page is decorated with a vine pattern featuring two snakes: one hissing and one submissive.  The pattern continues on the first page of each chapter, as vine only.  Each facing page then is bounded on the bottom by the vine and the snakes; the snakes slither to the binding, and again, one is passive and one is aggressive.  I liked this gothic touch.

Teens will gobble this one up.  Fortunately, Prophecy of the Sisters is but the first book in a trilogy.  I can’t wait to see how Zink develops the story, and her style, in book 2, due out in August 2010.  In the meantime, the book’s official website includes moody graphics, a video discussion with the author, information about the trilogy, and downloads (the jorgamond image, above, was downloaded from the website).  Visit here:

5P     4Q     Grade Level: 8-12+

Cover art: I read the hardcover version with cemetary statues on the cover.  The antiqued silver cast to the dark image and superimposed rose reminded me of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and given the dichotomy of the book, that may be a good image to start with.  However, I don’t think it would appeal to teens.

The paperback cover, with a photographic image of teen girls in period costumes, will draw more attention from the intended audience.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy); Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA) nominee 2009.


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