Nalo Hopkinson’s 2013 Sister Mine is a stand-alone modern fantasy novel.
The product of a marriage between a mortal human and a demi-god, former conjoined twin Makeda has little to show for her father’s semi-divine status. Alone of her family, she has no discernable magic, a trait that has earned her the no-so-friendly nickname “donkey.”
After one argument too many with her twin sister Abby, Makeda decides the time has come to leave the house she co-owns with Abby and strike out on her own. Step one: talking her way past a deplorable credit rating and lamentable job history into a dicey rental in the Cheerful Rest.
Step one is the only step that goes according to plan.
Although Makeda lacks magic of her own, although Abby is far better at magic, Makeda has always pitied her sister. Makeda tells herself that she was the viable twin.
When Abby and Makeda were born, only one of the two conjoined twins was viable. The other was clearly not viable. Rather than allow one twin to die, the twins’ mother, father, and uncle magically altered the ailing twin. Both Abby and Makeda survived, albeit with challenges. Abby has mobility challenges and Makeda has health issues that require daily medication.
What the mother, father, and uncle did was an egregious violation of demi-god law. Harsh punishments were imposed. The mother was turned into a sea monster and their father was stripped of his immortality. He became a mortal man, subject to all the weaknesses and ills of mortal flesh1, until such time as he dies and is reborn a god.
One of those mortal ills is dementia. The father has been put in a care facility. The sisters (but Makeda more than Abby) visit him regularly. They have affection for him, yes, but they also have a duty. He still retains some of his divine power over plants, which could have dangerous consequences when wielded by a dementia patient. He must be supervised.
Distracted by her efforts to make an independent life for herself, Makeda misses her regular visit. Consequences ensue.
Assisted by an obedient kudzu plant, the twins’ father vanishes. Makeda and Abby have to set their differences aside to find their confused father, lost somewhere in Toronto. Along the way, Makeda will discover that she has fundamentally misunderstood important facts about her family’s history. Her mortal span2 may be considerably shorter than she expected.
The twins’ family on their father’s side is composed of honest-to-goodness demigods. The paternal kin are prone to behaving badly: sibling rivalry, incest, and overweening entitlement. Abby and Makeda have to deal with family and the family peccadillos. As a result, Makeda accepts with equanimity things that mundanes might ignore, such as an extremely alarming fact about her new neighbours at Cheerful Rest, a fact that in another novel would have been the focus of the plot.
Compared with the rest of her family, Makeda is the disabled one, lacking as she does the magical knacks her sister and father’s kin possess. Compared with mundanes, she’s normal. Normal here includes lacking good judgement, a quality in which many mundanes are deficient. If she had better judgement she might do better at resisting the contempt she endures from her demi-god family. They never hesitate to let her know how far she falls short3 of expectations. The fast-moving plot never allows her enough time with mortals to reassess her perspective.
As one would expect from Hopkinson, the novel is deftly written, the central characters intriguingly flawed without being so much so that one wants to throw a boot at them. Despite being set in Canada, the novel’s plot moves long nicely, and not always in the direction readers may expect. All in all, a fine choice for the final novel reviewed in 2022.
1: Their uncle, avatar of death, was spared, but only so that he would have to live with the memory of his part in his brother and sister-in-law’s downfall.
2: The afterlife in this setting does not seem to be all that bad. Probably just as well, given how long people spend there. In Makeda’s case, certain conditions apply that may complicate her afterlife.
3: It’s not clear what qualities earned Makeda’s immortal kin their positions as demigods millennia ago, but clearly abusive jackasses were considered fit for purpose.