Title: Red Sister
Author: Mark Lawrence
Series: Book of the Ancestor #1
Rating: 4/5 stars
The Overview: 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… – Goodreads
Red Sister surprised me in quite a few ways. I’d heard a lot about this author’s Broken Empire Trilogy, and much of the hearsay led me to believe I wouldn’t enjoy those books because of difficult subject-matter. However, when the author offered me a review copy of Red Sister, I decided to accept it… with reservations.
As it turns out, I didn’t need any. Red Sister was a really good first installment of The Ancestor series. What surprised me the most was how beautiful his writing and composition was. Very lyrical, but always careful not to overwhelm the story. The same could be said about his world building – it was a subtle integration of details that gradually described the interesting ailments of this world. There were a lot of cool ideas that I can’t wait to see expanded on in the next book.
My favorite part of the story was Nona, the main character. She was such an enigma! As with the world-building, Lawrence revealed bits and pieces about her past as the story went along, and I enjoyed diving into the mystery of it. She was a very compelling character. [Spoiler] highlight to reveal: Nona thought she was a monster, but found a home and friendship with these sisters even though, deep down, she didn’t believe she deserved it. Watching her find a place in this convent and become a cherished member was easily my favorite part of Red Sister – so profound! [End Spoiler]
Red Sister primarily takes place in a convent where the Sisters train on everything from spiritual focus (involving a bit of magic) to hand-to-hand combat. I love school settings as is, but it was cool to read about one in a dark and gritty context. But thankfully it wasn’t too dark, as some of his other works are rumored to be (which I’m sure are still good books, as lots of people really like them. I’m just too squeamish). Red Sister wasn’t nearly as gritty as I was prepared for, containing just enough to make the events realistic and intense without being off-putting.
Overall, Red Sister is a book I’ll be thinking about for a while. I’d recommend it to fantasy readers who don’t mind a little blood and gore. It’s definitely worth your time.
Thank you, Mark Lawrence, for the opportunity to read and review Red Sister. :)
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I really enjoyed the Broken Empire Trilogy and started into his second but went astray somewhere along the way. One criticism I did have of those books was the flat female characters and their lacking agency, but it sounds like he has addressed this and grown as a writer. Definitely adding to my TBR! Thanks for the review and recommendation!
I just can’t bring myself to try Broken Empire Trilogy – how was it on the gnarly/grittiness scale? I hear tell of a dog torture scene that I don’t know if I can handle… But yes, the good news here is that he definitely has a lot of interesting female characters in this book, and I think if you’re already familiar with his writing you will definitely like Red Sister. :-)
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It has been a couple of years since I read them but gnarly grit is definitely present. The series opens with something pretty terrible, so that tone is set pretty early.
I can’t remember much, but I tried it a few years ago and put it down after about 10 pages. I’ve been wanting to read him for quite a while, so it’s really nice that I found a home with this one. Thank you for letting me know – I think I’ll hold off on picking those back up. ^_^
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Really glad to hear that this wasn’t as gritty as you were expecting.
Thank you :-) I was braced for something really awful lol. I’ve read too many rumors and reactions to his other series.
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You’ve just reminded me that I’ve had Mark’s Broken Empire Trilogy for a while but I still haven’t started reading the first book yet.
You’ll have to let me know what you think – I tried it but was too squeamish to really get into it. Lots of people like it though :-)
I liked his Red Queen trilogy best. Broken Empire was good, and this one was an OK set up but didn’t really do it for me, but the Red Queen trilogy had the right amount of humor to offset the darkness.
That’s good to know – can you read Red Queen without reading Broken Empire? Because I really would like to explore more of his writing. :-)
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