7 Complicated Sibling Bonds in Science Fiction & Fantasy Books

Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s a truth borne out every vacation season by cross-country family road trips. But when it comes to family, contempt is complex: revulsion and loyalty, irritation and affection, all mixed together. Maybe that’s why the sibling fantasy quest proves so irresistible: it’s offers a little bit of everything—but mostly exasperation.

Here’s a few of our favorite complicated sibling pairs who set off on their own adventures.

Kandri and Mektu
Master Assassins, by Robert V.S. Redick

The brothers Hinjuman are opposites in just about every way—except for the reason they’re on the run. Through a series of unfortunate events, cautious, careful Kandri and erratic, impulsive Mektu have been pegged (inaccurately) as trained assassins by the madwoman at the helm of their nation, known as The Prophet. They spend the bulk of the novel on the run through the untold dangers of the desert dubbed The Land That Eats Men. Their tumultuous relationship—and the past hurts behind it—prove just about as damaging as the hellcats and trained killers on their tail. The bickering doesn’t necessarily lead to betrayal, thankfully, as Kandri and Mektu’s combined strength will be required to survive.

Imogen and Marin
Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard

Fairy tales don’t offer the best lessons in family dynamics, as Imogen well knows; of course, for her, neither does reality. Having withstood their mother’s abuse, Imogen and her younger sister Marin have found a way out through artist’s residencies at the elite campus of Melete. The two have been estranged for years, but they’ve reunited at the exclusive institution, where they’re able to pursue their passions: fiction and ballet, respectively. Things, of course, don’t go quite to plan, and there are supernatural and surreal forces in the surrounding forest that threaten the sisters’ nascent bond—and their lives.

Kai and Ley
The Ruin of Angels, by Max Gladstone

The streets of Agdel Lex are dicey, prone to shifting at a moment’s notice, and are difficult to fully trust. Something similar can be said of the strained relationship between priestess Kai Pohala and her ne’er-do-well sister Ley. There’s a considerable amount of baggage between them (and even more of it once Ley ensnares her ex-girlfriend in a new and dangerous scheme), and not a little bit of envy and jealousy. In her own way, each feels inadequate to her wildly different sister. The dynamics propel the action and heighten the tension of the sixth, largely standalone installment of Max Gladstone’s addictive series of fantasy adventures-cum-legal thrillers, as Ley embarks on a plot that puts her on the wrong side of the law and Kai tries desperately to figure out her sister, and a plan to save her.

Jack and Jill
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire

It should say quite a bit about the life they’ve lived when twin sisters find their ideal world in the deadly bleakness of the Moors. And it does. Long forced to conform to their parents’ respective expectations, Jacqueline and Jill find a set of hidden stairs in a trunk in their closet, and follow them into a darker world where each can live according to the truth in their hearts. In the Moors, they meet monsters and they discover more about themselves, some of it, in fact, monstrous. But pursuing their own goals—and the goals of their respective mentors (one of them a doctor who puts people back together, the other a monster who wants to tear them apart)—may separate them by a vast gulf not even a magical doorway can traverse.

Johannes and Horst
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: so, a necromancer and a vampire walk into a bar…they’re brothers. That’s the arrangement in the first book of this darkly funny series. As you might expect, the sibling bond has its ups and downs, particularly when Cabal decides he needs back the soul he sold to the devil—his own. After striking up a deal with Satan to balance the books, so to speak, Cabal and his brother Horst light out on a quest to steal souls across the countryside through the guise of a traveling carnival. That particular goal affects the brothers differently. (Remember: one literally does not have a soul.) The lunacy of it all somehow still strikes a relatable chord, even if the ethical tango has higher-than-average stakes.

Scarlett and Tella
Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

For much of her young life, Scarlett has been the sensible, careful, and protective older sister; Tella, spared by her sister from some of their father’s fury, flirts more invitingly with adventure. But when an invitation arrives from the mysterious Legend, the hidden genius behind the magical traveling circus Caraval, it’s Scarlett who seems most likely to lose herself in the game. Caraval is supposed to be just smoke-and-mirrors, a spectacle that requires audience participation but makes for no lasting consequences. The doubt around that claim begins to build as the sisters find themselves separated from each other, and quite possibly reality, and one must go in search of the other.

Taema and Tila
False Hearts, by Laura Lam

No sibling relationship could be quite so complicated as that between conjoined twins. For their first 16 years, that was Taema and Tila: raised in a reclusive cult, the sisters found salvation at death’s door; as their shared heart began to fail, they fled Mana’s Hearth for San Francisco, where they were saved and separated. After a decade apart, though, other fractures in their bond have appeared. It all comes crashing down with Tila, accused of murder and soaked in blood, appearing on her sibling’s doorstep. To absolve her sister, Taema goes undercover in the city’s underground crime syndicate, where Tila’s many, many secrets seem central to solving the other perverse mysteries surrounding the trade of a new drug.

What’s your favorite pair of siblings in fantasy?

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