Review: Red Sister
Mark Lawrence is one of those authors that I’ve been chasing for a while. As in, I’ve been trying to convince my subconscious that I need to read his stuff. Ever since PRINCE OF THORNS came out, I’ve been telling myself, “That looks good. I should pick it up.” But for whatever reason, I never have. Regardless, I’ve always held him in high regard because of Steve’s opinion of not only Mark’s books, but the man himself. I actually bought PRINCE OF FOOLS about a year ago. Haven’t read it yet. But this year, I just took the leap. Because… well because I knew he’d be a good read and I had some Amazon credit and I just didn’t hesitate when the notion came to me this time. Actually got the sequel to it at the same time. Really looking forward to that read. Until then, we have this one. And it’s a pretty good read indeed.
RED SISTER (Amazon) is the first of the Book of the Ancestor Series, and third series to date, by one of our favorite authors here at EBR, Mark Lawrence. He’s been around for a while now. Almost old hat at getting EBR “Books We Love” ratings, and a regular champion of the newbie author through his Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off efforts over the last several years. Guy is a class act. But enough about him. On to the goods.
Nona Grey is a child. Sold by her single mother to a child-taker and then passed to the highest bidder at a fighting house, she hasn’t had much luck in her life. A few friends yes, to whom she is fiercely devoted. One, from her time in the child-taker’s donkey-drawn cage, is assaulted by a big man. A merchant’s son, proud and arrogant and wanting what he wants. But Nona is more than just a little girl.
Nona has the ability not only to fight well, and to hurt others with her hands, but to slow time. To react in the interstices of other’s thoughts; to move and respond while others can barely begin to perceive. Thus, the merchant’s son ends up as close to dead as makes no difference, and Nona and her friend are taken and sentenced to die for the crime.
On her way to the gallows though, a miracle arrives. A holy nun appears, someone Nona doesn’t recognize, and asks but a few questions of her before taking her from out of the guard’s hands and whisking her away to the Convent of Sweet Mercy. Here, she learns about the world at large. She learns to write. To read. To fight with a blade. And perhaps also to walk the Path of the magic of this land. But she has made an enemy of the man she nearly killed and his father, who is a very wealthy and powerful man indeed. And it’s going to take more than a bunch of young girls and older women to stop him.
The first thing I noticed about the story is the atmosphere. Just brilliant. Especially the prologue. This guy really knows how to write. Surprised? Not really. It did start out a little rough for me. Couple different POVs for the first two chapters and then we get Nona, but then we get Nona’s backstory, which is good but it’s… hmmm… backstory. When the story line finally settles into her POV it’s easy to slide into the pages and have em burn past.
For me, the strongest part of this book was the worldbuilding. Lawrence gets the details of the world, its history, the government at large, the magic system (of sorts), the convent, and so much more into these pages. They’re introduced and woven into the story really well. It’s so nice to find an author that simply seems to refuse to infodump on their readers. And yet, soooo much information is passed to us through the lens of the story. Nona knows very little when she begins this journey with the nuns of Sweet Mercy and the several other girls within the convent’s halls.
In some respects, that was my largest complaint about the book, though. Because Nona knows so little about what is happening in the world around her, the story focuses intently on her life in the convent and the things she is taught there. So it feels really slow for the large majority of the book. When it gets exciting (once just shy of the middle of the book and then again toward the end) it’s super great. Those moments are just few and far between. Secondary characters are developed pretty minimally. Mostly, I would recognize another girl’s name by a physical characteristic instead of a personal one. What they were instead of who they were, or what they meant to Nona. Except her friend Hessa. I knew what Hessa meant to Nona. Still, I would have liked to see some more characterization of the other girls and the nuns especially. More about how Nona felt about each of them. It kind of surprised me when I realized that this was the case, quite a ways into the book. Another sign, for me, that this thing was extremely well-written.
In the end, I think I ended up liking the world and the characters that he’d built more than the entirety of the story itself. All the set pieces are there, all of the building that was necessary to have the tale complete itself (and a great tale it was), I just would have enjoyed a bit more development of all the constituent parts and less mundane detail about life in the convent.
And more commas. Yes, many-much more commas.
A great read though; standing near the top of the fantasy field today.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Strong very infrequently
- Violence: Blade-wielding nuns, somewhat violent when it happens, but it takes a while to get there
- Sex: Threat of rape in one scene, but otherwise mild references to g/g crushes and love interests