Monday, November 28, 2011


Siblings aren't celebrated nearly enough. And when they are the focus of the story, rivalry comes up far more often than devotion. So, in honor of siblings with the kind of bone-deep love that fiction often assumes is only possible between young women and supernatural beings, or only runs one-way from mothers to their kids, I give you:

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

I've looked all over Sarah Rees Brennan's site and can't find the reference, but I believe she said Nick was supposed to be that hot, dangerous guy women are always falling for - except he's exactly what he seems. No heart of gold, no nice-guy-faking-gruff-exterior-to-hide-pain.

Nick is one of the most fascinating protagonists I've ever read. I think it would be more accurate to say Nick presents as a psychopath than that he is one. Like psychopaths, Nick lacks empathy, doesn't care what others think of him, and can be charming (in his case, seductive) when he feels like it. Unlike psychopaths, Nick never lies, and he doesn't make excuses for his actions.

The only person Nick cares about is his older brother Alan. And while Alan will do literally anything for Nick, he's a warm, friendly people-person, and so is often confused and disappointed by the way Nick chooses to show his love (usually by calling him stupid and fleeing at the first sign of affection). I'm not making this sound like the witty, heart-warming, amazing book that it is. Sarah Rees Brennan does a much better job with her characters than I do describing them.

This isn't the only sibling relationship in the book. There's also Mae and her younger brother Jamie. Unlike Nick and Alan, who take care of their mother and can barely make ends meet, Mae and Jamie have rich, busy, absent, divorced parents. When it comes to familial affection, all they have is each other.

Genre Urban fantasy

How it starts First lines:

The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink.

Someone who could read that and not keep going has more willpower than I do!

General Premise Nick and Alan have spent their lives running from magicians who want the charm keeping their mother alive. When Mae and Jamie arrive on their doorstep looking for help, Nick wants to kick them out, but Alan's attempt to help leads to his being marked by a demon. Now the only way to save his life is to fight the magicians hunting them.

Ugh. I hate trying to summarize gorgeous books with a few sentences. This isn't consomme. You can't reduce books like this to something retaining the richness of the whole.


I'm all for messed-up relationships in fiction, but occasionally you want the conflict to be somewhere else. You want the character to have a solid bond with someone who has a well-rounded life of their own, not just a cardboard cutout whose death (or whatever) motivates the main character into action. Mae and Jamie are friends as well as siblings, and it makes you smile to see them interact and protect each other. Nick and Alan are just as witty and entertaining, but the dangerous lives they lead have resulted in personality quirks making for amazing characterization.

Two more books with a strong sibling bond:

The Millionaires by Brad Meltzer
Genre: suspense

As you can tell by the size of his name versus the title of the book, Brad Meltzer is pretty hot stuff. He's currently hosting a History Channel show called Decoded. It largely consists of him standing in front of a black background with sciency-looking symbols moving around on it, explaining the mystery-du-jour to us, while his team (an attorney, an engineer, and a historian) tracks down crackpots with "proof" for their conspiracy theories and tries to pretend they're taking these people seriously. I think the engineer has the hardest time with this pretense - she spends most of the meetings failing at faking that wide-eyed awe that the historian does so well. She totally has my sympathies, because I couldn't do it, either.

Still, they've done episodes on the missing White House cornerstone, the Spear of Destiny (the spear that pierced Jesus's side on the cross, which megalomaniacs like Justinian, Charlemagne, numerous emperors and popes, and Hitler have supposedly owned at one time or another), D.B. Cooper, and General Patton's death, among other things. I'm perfectly willing to sit through conspiracy theories if they come cloaked in histo-tainment.

I read The Millionaires in college, thought it was great, and forgot about it until years later when I found myself breathlessly listening to a book review on NPR. It was Brad Meltzer talking about Replay. I immediately rushed to Amazon to buy the book, but it was sold out (pretty rare for a twenty-year-old book), and thanks to the review, remained sold out for weeks. I didn't even know that many people listened to NPR!

As it turned out, the most fascinating things about Replay were the premise and what Meltzer managed to see in it. Yes, in case you haven't guessed, author Ken Grimwood is dead, so I don't think it will get back to him that I was a bit let-down by what he did with his fascinating premise - a 43-year-old man keeps dying of a heart attack, going back into his younger self and reliving his life. Because he knows what's coming, he makes different decisions each time, resulting in consequences he hadn't anticipated. He's also running out of time. Each repeat goes back less far than the one before it, but he keeps dying at 43, and now he's desperate to figure out how to change his future, not just his past.

None of this has anything to do with siblings! Back to The Millionaires. Oliver and Charlie are brothers working at the same private bank, Oliver as a junior partner, Charlie in the back office. Charlie has a chronic disease requiring expensive medication, which is why Oliver is still stuck at a job he should have moved on from long ago. When Oliver realizes he's being sabotaged by the senior partner he trusted most, he succumbs to Charlie's urging and commits the perfect crime - stealing money no one knew was there. But it turns out they weren't the only ones with that idea, and soon they're running from the bank, a private investigator, and shady secret service agents who not only want the money, but want them dead.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
Genre: YA

This book really surprised me. Long after I forgot what happens in it, the family dynamic stayed with me. Jessie was doing well in school, both parents were present and active in their kids' lives, and her older brother genuinely liked and cared about her, just like she did him. There's room for all kinds of books, of course, but I wish there were more like this. It's okay to like your parents. Siblings can be fascinating without being a menace.

Other books featuring great siblings?

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