The Sisters Mederos by Patrice Sarath

The Sisters Mederos is a well written urban historical fantasy that is light on the magic but heavy on the characterization. For once, we have two lead female characters that are SHOWN (not just told) as strong and resourceful in a complex political world. The setting is an 18th-19th century Italy or France where mercantile controls the society. As each sister uses her own set of skills and opportunities to fix their poor social situation, it is their bravado and ingenuity that see them through rather than plot devices or dumb luck. But the plot also felt stretched and repetitive, as if to create a trilogy from a single large book foundation.

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Story: In a spectacular act of fate, a storm sinks several trade ships of the House of Mederos. Without insurance to cover the loss, the once wealthy family is disgraced and impoverished. Sisters Yvienne and Tesara are sent to a far away boarding school where they are treated to humiliation and privation. Years later, the two return to find out what really happened to their family and to rebuild the family fortune. But the Mederos family has a secret – Tesara has a tenuous and minor elemental magic control (a magic she believes she accidentally used to sink her family’s ships). Yvienne may not believe her sister has magic but Yvienne knows there is more to the story of the sinking of the ships – and she is going to find out exactly who is behind the calamity that destroyed their futures.

First and foremost, my review is perhaps a bit lower than I had hoped going into the read simply because Tesara’s magic is so underrepresented and unexplained in context to the world. Other than the reader knowing through Tesara’s POV that she has a curious set of abilities, no one else in the world seems to have any explanation or context for that magic. Even if rare, there would be stories and mores to deal with magic users. Yet even Yvienne doesn’t believe in magic or that her sister has an ability. Other than hints that the Guild know how important the magic power is, people either ignore her ability when they suspect (as with the headmistress) or avoid the topic. But no one seems surprised that someone has a power and no one has any idea what to do with someone who does have one? It was just odd and I had a hard time with the book because of it.

But that said, I liked that each of the sisters had a strong skill set (of which their intellects were the most important) which they used to good effect. They were both very distinctly people as well, without being caricatures. Yvienne being practical and intelligent, Tesara being more impulsive but able to act quickly and decisively. Interestingly enough, neither knows everything the other is doing because both want to protect the other from the consequences of their dangerous activities.

The book focuses more on the mystery and character development than the action and adventure. Yvienne becoming a ‘highwayman’ and Tesara using cardshark skills to fleece the nobles are the ways the women have chosen to fix the family’s poor situation. But this translated into several scenes of robbing and several scenes of card sharking that began to feel repetitive. They went down in pretty much the same ways and I would have liked to see the focus on something else instead. The plot didn’t move fast enough while they were doing their activities.

There are some interesting side characters that I look forward to learning more about in future books. Author Sarath does an excellent job of characterization, giving people wants, needs, and goals that are offset by their own foibles, weaknesses, and strengths. But that extra effort meant that the story felt inert at quite a few places and that the story moved both too quickly and not quickly enough. But I had a great sense of the milieu in which the Mederos operated and appreciated the “Les Miserable” feel of the story.

In all, I enjoyed The Sisters Mederos but did have some issues with the story. Great characterization and story but nebulous magic definition (and nearly a complete lack of magic in the book) left me feeling a bit cheated in that area. Reviewed from an advanced reader copy provided by the publisher.

This entry was posted in ARC, Book Reviews, Historical, urban fantasy. Bookmark the permalink.

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