Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Series: Book of the Ancestor #1
Published by: Harper Voyager
ISBN: 0008152292
ISBN 13: 9780008152291
Published: April 2017
Pages: 512
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

I mean, smashing opening line. ‘It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.’

Nona is young. Assessed for powers by the child-taker she is sold from her village as no one wants to keep her there as she’s always been known to be odd and not fit in. Gifted talents exist through certain clans but they need to be caught young, and with her abilities to fight she is soon sold to another, and then sent to be hanged through a series of unfortunate events.

To go with epic opening lines, a chapter opens with ‘no child truly believes they will be hanged,’ which is true as it’s here that Nona is instead saved and taken to be a nun at Sweet Mercy’s Convent for Young Girls, where they are raised to be killers depending on their specific gift. Some, like Nona, are Red Sisters – meant for fighting. It’s here she makes friendships and learns the ache that can come with them, she’s put to trial and protected like she has never witnessed before in her short life… but probably most importantly, she gets three square meals a day, and the food is the best she’s ever had.

The first thing that stands out with this book is the world building being centred around climate change, and it would be excellent for a book study to happen between this series and that of Glenda Larke’s Watergivers trilogy – though instead of lacking for water, in this world there is ice almost everywhere, and it’s thick, leaving only a small corridor of usable land left for the inhabitants, who are now firmly packed together.

The second is that we see the adult and ‘old’ characters as a huge central focus, almost main characters of the book, and integral, in a way we don’t often see. There are various mentions of what they did or what happened when they were children. Those who are now known under titles are referred to by names they used to be known by – either as a sign of friendship, or as a nasty dig that the speakers holds no respect for their current position. And it’s refreshing to see them humanised where they’re not just there to be plot points and elements of power or control – we get such a feel for who they are personally, and what they’ve been through growing up.

Overall this is an excellent book – it’s rough and their world is a hard place to be part of – the powerful still control what they want by money, and Nona almost loses her life for that countless times, all over a little man’s pride. The magic system, the world building – it has the detail of Sanderson’s series such as Mistborn  and yet somehow easier to flow into. I’m writing this review halfway through the book so I don’t give too much away, and I can basically say read it! And that I’m going to go do the same right now.

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