Jane Yolen's White Jenna is less a sequel to Sister Light, Sister Dark than it is the second half of a great story. In fact, the last words of Sister Light, Sister Dark are "Here ends Book 1" and together, these two books are known as The Books of Great Alta (or The Chronicles of Great Alta, as they are called on the inside dust cover of the other, much weaker member of the series, The One-Armed Queen). They tell the story behind and around a myth, a legend, and offer glimpses into the folklore and history of an imaginary people, and do so very well.

The myth of White Jenna is that of the Great Goddess Alta, the creator goddess worshipped by the people of the Dales and especially the women warriors of the Hames, sanctuaries that adopt unwanted female children and teach them the secrets of Alta's lore. According to myth, Great Alta drew the queen of shadows out of light and the queen of light out of darkness, and made them as sisters. Likewise, the women of the Hames practice a secret magic that allows them to call forth their dark sisters --- mirror twins who appear in the shadows of the moon or by firelight. Finally, Alta is believed to call forth the White Queen, the Anna, who may or may not be the queen of light or an avatar of the great mother goddess herself, but who is nonetheless associated with great change and upheavals, endings and beginnings.

Conflict arises because although the Garunians, invaders from the mainland who rule the Dales, also believe in the legend of the Anna, they strive to impose patriarchy on the peaceful, pastoral Dalites (also called Altites). The Dales have accepted Garunian rule for the most part, although most have continued to believe a combination of the two cultures' mythology. Unfortunately, certain treacherous factions in the Garunian ruling class are not willing to accept this compromise.

The story of White Jenna is a continuation of Sister Light, Sister Dark, which is summarized briefly at the beginning of Book 2. SPOILER ALERT! Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know too much about Sister Light, Sister Dark. Book 1 told of a white-haired girl, Jenna, who grew up in Selden Hame after her mother died in childbirth. At the end of Sister Light, Sister Dark, Jenna had already become caught up in great events, severed from the childhood friend Pynt, whom she called her dark sister and her shadow, and was preparing to play a greater role in what looked like a turning point the history of the Dales. She had also met Prince Carum Longbow, a scholar and youngest son of a king killed by treachery. Perhaps most importantly of all, she called forth her dark sister, Skada, months before she was considered ready to do so and without the traditional ritual. This accomplishment was met with the great surprise and consternation of everyone but Skada, who said simply, "Need called to need."

In White Jenna, the title character, an orphaned girl child of the Hames caught up in great events during her coming of age, grows into her role as the White Queen, and plays a crucial part in what are referred to by historians cited in the book as the Gender Wars. The book is a mixture of Jenna's story, the legend of the White Queen, and the myth of Great Alta. Like Sister Light, Sister Dark, White Jenna's main plot is interwoven with songs from the Dales and excerpts from scholarly work about Jenna and Carum's period done hundreds of years afterwards. Yolen offers her readers a glimpse into the academic controversies surrounding the Gender Wars, the G'runs, and the "legendary" White Goddess which are particularly hilarious when contrasted with Jenna's actual story. Yolen, a noted folklorist and storyteller, throws in a few relevant folktales for good measure, and a list of the Dalite proverbs quoted in both White Jenna and its predecessor. Each book contains the sheet music to all the songs featured in its story, which is another nice touch, I thought.

Finally,as I mentioned in my review of Sister Light, Sister Dark, The Books of Great Alta are especially notable for doing something new with the worn out old concept of duality. Even their ending can be read two different ways, and there's something very appropriate and satisfying about that. All stories are true, says Alan Moore, and so it is with all the different layers of these lovely, lovely books.

Yolen, Jane. White Jenna. New York: A Tor Book (published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.), 1989.

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