I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Series: Book of the Ancestor #1
Published by Harper Voyager on 4th April 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Source: the author
I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.
But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.
Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…
Red Sister is the third of Mark Lawrence’s books that I’ve read – and you know what they say, third time lucky. That was definitely the case here, as I completely fell in love with the book. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Prince of Thorns, which I read with my online book group, but I enjoyed Prince of Fools a lot more. However, Red Sister just completely blew me away.
I can’t resist a good origin story, nor stories containing assassins, and Red Sister is both of these. It follows a young girl called Nona, who ends up at the Convent of Sweet Mercy after several unfortunate events. However, this is not any old convent, and the Sisters are not normal nuns. Many are ‘Red Sisters’, trained in the arts of fighting, and this is what Nona is on the path to become. Just look at this opening line:
It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.
Doesn’t that just intrigue you? I read the first 170 pages of the book in one sitting, absolutely enthralled by the world Lawrence had created, and what Nona was going through. Nona as a character is quite mysterious for much of the novel, she is perhaps almost as unfamiliar to the reader as she is to her classmates, but that certainly kept me reading. One of the things that made me eager to read this book was that it was centered around female characters, rather than a largely male cast. And within this cast of women and girls, there are some fantastic characters. Nona’s friends and their relationships are great, with rivalries soon becoming friendships. The Nuns are an interesting bunch – some kind, others cruel – so basically just like real teachers!
I have to admit that when I first started reading the book, I hadn’t realised that the protagonist was so young. However, this was not an issue – she therefore has plenty of room to develop, and due to the conditions in which she has grown up, she is very headstrong and mature for her age. I suppose in the sort of world that many of them have grown up in, childhood ends very early. The book is quite slow, and not much really happened in terms of ‘big’ events during the first half. This, to me, was actually pretty perfect. It meant I really got to explore the world Lawrence had created, learn along with Nona and her friends, and I got to see more of the ‘school’ setting (another story element I love!). There were flashes of the future in between, showing a huge and possibly catastrophic event, which only made me want to read even faster, even more in one setting to find out how this could happen.
Overall, Red Sister was an absolutely fantastic read, definitely one of the best series openers I have read in a while, and one of my top reads of 2017 thus far. Mark Lawrence has created something completely different from his other books with this series, so even if you did not get along with his other work I would absolutely recommend that you try Red Sister. If it’s already on your ‘to read’ list, then hurry up and grab a copy! I’m already anticipating book two, but looks like I’ll be waiting a while – so maybe I’ll continue on with Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War series, to tide me over.
I also just want to extend my thanks to Mark Lawrence himself, who got in touch with me via Facebook to offer me a (signed!) ARC. I was ecstatic to receive this message, and so glad for the opportunity to read this book. I also need to thank Mark for being responsible for quite a bit of my blog traffic – a while ago he linked to my review of Prince of Fools on Reddit, as a review by someone who enjoyed the book but did not like Prince of Thorns. I’m still receiving blog traffic from that Reddit post, so thank you, Mark! 🙂