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The Books of the Great Alta by Jane Yolen
Published by St. Martin's Press
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
This omnibus edition contains the novels Sister Light Sister Dark and White Jenna, originally published separately. They tell the story of the girl-child who grew up to lead the women of the Dales in the conflict known as the Gender Wars.
Orphaned at birth, Jenna was taken into one of the Hames, places where women lived apart from men. The women of the Hames follow the goddess Alta and practice a mysterious magic by which they summon their dark sisters from a mirror. These sisters can be seen only by the light of the moon or special candles used by the Hame.
Within the Hame Jenna's presence led to such an ugly conflict that she was fostered by all the women of the Hame. Thus they fulfil a prophecy about her birth.
Jenna grows up in the hame and learns to be a strong and self-confident woman. As part of her coming of age she travels to other hames. On the way she encounters a young man who appeals to her for help and catapaults her into history.
Jane Yolen tells the story in an unusual way. Instead of just giving the straight narrative, she combines Jenna's story with the myths, legends and songs that future generations created about her, as well as the academic natterings of historians in the still more distant future. It is often as interesting to see how future generations interperet the story of Jenna as it is to read the actual story.
She also includes some interesting inside jokes in the "history" sections. Many of the scholars her fictional historian cites are named for actual people that Jane Yolen knows.
Click to buy The Books of the Great Alta in paperback.
If you enjoy stories of women living apart in collective households, you may also enjoy Marion Zimmer Bradley's novels of the Free Amazons of Darkover, The Shattered Chain, Thendara House, and City of Sorcery.
This review posted October 18, 2000
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