There is a lot going on in Seanan McGuire’s latest genre-blending, mind-bending novel Middlegame, most of it centered on two special, if not entirely unique, twins: Roger and Dodger.
Roger and Dodger (whose names rhyme for a reason, I swear) are initially the unwitting pawns in a century-spanning alchemical quest to embody the very forces of the universe into one powerful pair of siblings.
No big, right?
This scheme to rewrite reality requires a mathematically gifted twin (Dodger) and another who can bend words to their will (Roger). Kept apart for most of their lives so that they might manifest their powers without interference, Roger and Dodger have a pesky habit of finding their way to each other, more often than not via the mental “doorway” of their telepathic connection.
As the two grow up—and move in and out of each other’s lives—they begin to uncover the truly earth-shattering nature of their abilities, kicking off a race to prevent an apocalypse of their own making. While their bond is potentially catastrophic, it’s also the one undeniable tether that binds them—to the world, to each other, and to their own identities.
With that in mind, let’s celebrate some other complex twin sets in recent science fiction and fantasy (Jaime and Cersei most definitely excluded).
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire
McGuire has a knack for troubled twosomes, as demonstrated by Jack and Jill, recurring stars of her Wayward Children series. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a sanctuary for kids like Jack and Jill who’ve fallen down rabbit holes into new worlds, only to be spit back out again. Though we initially met the girls as residents there in Every Heart a Doorway (in which they play a key role), this origin story whisks us away to The Moors, the bleak world the twins discovered via a trip through an old trunk. In this land of monsters and mania, Jillian and Jacqueline, pegged into prim-and-proper roles of their suburban home, find their true selves, though their respective journeys threaten to tear apart their bond. Jack and Jill will be back next year in Come Tumbling Down.
False Hearts, by Laura Lam
After reading this indomitable thriller, I think you’ll agree with me in saying there are not enough conjoined-twin narratives in the world today. Admittedly, the sister protagonists at the heart of this novel, Tila and Taema, are formerly conjoined twins. But even a decade after the surgery that separated them, and the subsequent splintering of their lives, their bond remains unique—strong enough, certainly, to endure infiltration by an underground crime syndicate. When free-spirited Tila is accused of murder, reliable Taema is thrust into a world of secrets, danger, and terrifying dream-like drugs as she fights to save her sister’s neck.
Temper, by Nicky Drayden
Twins are the name of the game in this alt-future Cape Town, South Africa. In Drayden’s gonzo second novel, most everyone is one-half of a twin set, with each pair splitting between them a balance of vice and virtue. Brothers Kasim and Auben share an unnatural six-and-one balance: Kasim carries six virtues and one vice, while Auben boasts the opposite. That disparity makes a difference, all but ensuring Kasim will escape their family’s humble station while Auben is almost assuredly doomed to a difficult life. That is until the matter of demons arises and a fleet-footed race to shove the proverbial genie back into the bottle begins.
The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang
In the first two of Yang’s Tensorate novellas, we follow twins Mokoya and Akeha through the years spent navigating their tumultuous world, Ea. By no stretch of the imagination are they identical, growing in divergent ways, developing distinct powers, and choosing sharply different life paths. Moreover, in a world in which gender is chosen at maturity, gifted soothsayer Mokoya opts to become female, while machine-minded Akeha becomes male. Both twins attempt to influence and shape the world in their own ways, and their eventual estrangement may be bridged only by rebellion.
In the Shadow of the Gods, by Rachel Dunne
Sibling relationships can be hard to manage. In Dunne’s Bound Gods series, they could destroy the world. Twins are considered a mark of evil in this world, namely because of the bound gods in question: Sororra and Fratarro, chained, separated, and cast down by their divine parents, yet still looming as a threat, should they ever be restored to power. Humanity is divided between those who follow the parent gods and those who remain loyal to the diminished twins. As is standard in matters divinely wrought, it’s the mortals who stand to lose as a war over the deities looms.
Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey
You’ll have to wait till June to read Sarah Gailey’s first novel, but it’s worth your wait—and your preorder. For private eye Ivy Gamble, the request was unusual from the start: the gruesome suspected murder of a faculty member at a magic academy. But the corpse may not be the case’s most unsettling element for Ivy; the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages just happens to be where her estranged twin, Tabitha, teaches the next generation of magical kids. The sisters’ relationship has been sour ever since Tabitha came into her magical abilities and Ivy, well, didn’t. Here they find themselves locked together again, and inside a twisted whodunit no less—long-term baggage and all.
Who are your favorite twins in SFF?