This is my first venture into the fantasy worlds of Mark Lawrence! I was very excited when I received TWO books in my Feb Illumicrate box, one of which was Red Sister. It’s one big book, let me tell you! The print was massive and I received the ARC copy – I don’t doubt that they’ve made the print a little smaller in the real copy. This book is also the first book I’ve finished for the Tome Topple Readathon – so thanks to that, this book has been read and thoroughly enjoyed! On with it!
Spoiler Free Review
Title: Red Sister
Author: Mark Lawrence
Published: Ace, 2017
Pages: 600+ (fully published copy 512)
(from GR) 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.
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…
I’ll be honest. If I was in a bookshop, I probably wouldn’t pick this book up. It’s really big, which translates to me as ‘daunting’, and the premise of it wouldn’t strike me as something I’d enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of fantasy fiction, but the war-type and assassin-ish premise isn’t something I’d normally go for. However, when you are given in a book and it has the sparkley, arc-ishness of it, I’ll give it a go. It’s really exciting to read books that are just being released!
We follow the character of Nona in this story as she deals with being sold into a convent, known for making deadly warriors, and watch her as she tries to understand her own history and how she fits into the convent’s mold. Although she is only nine years old when we first meet her, she seems older – as she has seen, and committed, much more than the average nine year old ever has. I couldn’t immediately relate to Nona’s character, but I could empathise with her struggle, and recognise where her violent nature and anger was coming from. I really grew to like Nona – how she acted in situations, how she used her own strengths to overcome barriers in the story, and how she valued the friendships she made. Very Positive Sidenote: there is no romance in this story – hurrah! Something nice and different for a change.
I also enjoyed the long list of side characters, all morally deceptive and all struggling with their own wants and demons, and living within a society that is corrupt. It was interesting to watch Nona let her guard down and interact with others, putting aside her trust issues every once in a while. The only thing I found a little confusing at first was the fact that there are SO MANY characters. I found it difficult to differentiate between the Sisters at the convent especially, because they are all called Sister____, but I overcame that once I got further into the story.
The plot moved at a steady pace and went through a logical progression. I couldn’t always see what was going to happen next, and I enjoyed being kept on my toes as a reader. There were some points when I felt that things were happening just to show how some parts of this world worked, rather than having a major impact on the plot, but I can see why these needed to be put in place, as it helped create a solid foundation for the rest of the series.
As I began to read, I started to make a comparison to a very well known series – and I’m not sure I should even mention it, but I’m gonna anyway. Harry Potter. There were so many instances when I felt like I was reading a grown up, war type version of the first book in the Harry Potter series. The parallels were similar: new kid at new school, traumatic past, no parents, trying to cope with their past and deal with their new ‘gifts’. It wasn’t a bad thing, just very unexpected, and it made me feel a little unsure of how I felt about the book. By the end, though, I was fully on board and immersed in the story.
The only thing that I personally found difficult was the fact that there was so much to learn about the world that, until about half way through the book, I felt pretty confused as to what all the concepts were, how all the groups of learners related to each other, and what their gifts really were. I didn’t read the part at the beginning of the book where Lawrence gives a guide on who people are and what their powers are etc. I’d really recommend reading that first, as once I had, I felt much more sure of my understanding and was able to enjoy it more.
Finally, one of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was how accessible it felt. As a person who isn’t always sure of adult fantasy books, and never really knew where to start, this felt like a safe bet and I was right. I could have been really daunted about this read, but I wasn’t. Well, I was about the size, but not about the story. This story was the fantasy book I didn’t know I’d been looking for.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars!
Some parts were confusing, and some parts of the plot made more story-sense than others (again, I can acknowledge that it’s for world building purposes), but still a solid, great book! I’ll definitely be looking out for other Lawrence novels and the further books in the series.
Anyone else planning on reading Red Sister? I’d really recommend – regardless of whether you’re an adult fantasy newbie or have been reading this genre for decades!
See you in the next post!