The Sister Paradox
by Jack Campbell
Review by Sam Lubell
Espec Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781942990406
Date: 01 February 2017 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Jack Campbell, a pen name for John G. Hemry, mostly writes military science fiction series like The Lost Fleet and Stark's War. However, The Sister Paradox is a YA fantasy short novel/novella that probably could be enjoyed by advanced middle schoolers as well. This is a light, short, fun adventure with a strong emphasis on the importance of family and some real character growth.
The story opens with the unarmed first-person narrator fighting a dragon. Then, after informing the reader that he is in this mess because of his sister, which he knows he does not actually have, the narrative jumps back to early morning, in our world, where sixteen-year-old Liam is an only child. So he is very confused when the principal calls him out of class to tell him he has to take his sister home and he suddenly remembers that her name is Kari. His fourteen-year-old sister is dressed up as someone from a Renaissance Fair, complete with sword. And everyone but Liam (and occasionally his mother) thinks he has always had a sister.
Kari was raised by unicorns in a magical dimension called Elsewhere and has no idea how things work in our world (leading her to the amusing conclusion that the school's principal is an evil overlord enslaving the students.) She needs her brother's help to go on a Quest to recover items from our world that somehow threatens the walls between the worlds. Once the siblings travel to Kari's Elsewhere their roles are reversed and Kari becomes the experienced one while Liam, at first, wonders if he will be of any use. But Kari has unlimited faith that he must be wonderful since he is her brother and Liam, gradually becomes more willing to take on the role of big brother.
The author makes it very obvious, probably too obvious, that Liam is very self-centered at the start of the book--he is glad he is an only child due to the lack of competition for the bathroom or "expensive but important junk"; he asks his mom to let him turn the family's spare bedroom into a place for him to hang out; he says he needs a new phone because his current one is less than a year old; and he failed to do his share of the reading for a joint book report with his best friend. Both his friend and his mother tell him "the world does not revolve around you." But in the course of his adventures he learns to care about Kari, keep his word, and risk his life to save the worlds.
Having the girl, who is also the younger character, be the fighter and leader probably would have been more innovative a few years ago, but it is still an intriguing inversion of the usual tropes. The humor is well done with Kari's cheerful optimism contrasted with Liam's selfish sarcasm. The book's main flaw is the lack of subtlety in characterization and the dangers the siblings face in Elsewhere. The author does not quite talk down to his readers, but he does not appear to want to challenge them either.
The Sister Paradox would be ideal for younger teens acquiring a new sibling or for siblings who need to learn to get along. It also fits well for readers too old for children's books but not yet ready for more complex books for older teens. Readers who enjoy Narnia, Oz, and other portal fantasies where characters from our world visit fantasy lands will also feel right at home.
Still, considering the shortness of the book, less than 200 pages, I'd recommend purchasing the $5 ebook rather than the $15 paperback.