Title: Red Sister
Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Red Sister is the first book in a new trilogy by Mark Lawrence, Book of the Ancestor. Having read a previous book by Lawrence, I went into Red Sister expecting it to be good. I was not, however, expecting it to be as good as it was. I struggled to put this book down and, when I finally had to, I was itching to pick it back up again.
Red Sister revolves around a convent of nuns where the inhabitants are trained to be assassins, control magic and worship the Ancestor. Everything about it sounded fantastic when I first heard about this book and, from the first line, it lived up to that (believe me, the first line of this book is probably one of my favourite first lines yet). While Red Sister does have a self-contained plot, it is very much the first book in a series and the build up to both are beautifully intertwined – there is very little distinction between the two.
The big bad of the novel appears throughout, although is not completely obvious to the end, along with the over-arching story-line. The novel is filled with twists and turns, not least a prophecy that turns the trope on its head, many times over. While there were some predictable aspects, I actually found that they worked both as a surprise and if you knew what the twist was all along. The novel is interspersed with three flash-forwards, each of the same moment and each partly related to the story in question. I loved these parts of the book as they added something extra that made me want to keep reading even more.
The characters of Red Sister really added to the world-building and plot development, not to mention that the vast majority of them were female. The main character is a girl called Nona who comes from a desolate village and a rough background; she is wild with a strong temper and unwavering loyalty but with a lot of uncertainty about herself and her place in the world. The girls she surrounds herself with are distinct characters for the most part; however, there are a couple which I did get muddled up (although whenever that did happen, there was always a reminder a few sentences later about which was which). I had the same experience with the nuns – a couple stood out, but I did get a few confused. The main disappointment with the characters for me was the abbess – while incredibly strong at the beginning, she gradually disappears from the plot and I would have loved to see more of her throughout the book.
One of my favourite parts of this novel is that while there is very little romance in the novel itself, the only relationships we really see are between women. No-one’s defining characterisation is their sexuality, it’s just part of who they are, and the main character is bisexual. On top of that, no-one else in the novel displays having any issues with same-sex relationships at all. Although it would have been nice to see the LGBT parts of this novel in a slightly more prominent light, I thought it was written really well and made sense given the focus on the plot on the training and primary story-lines.
For those who have read Mark Lawrence’s previous series, this will be a chance to see where else his writing will take you. It’s set in a completely different world, with new characters, new threats and an intriguing magic system. While it is a little difficult to get your head around at the beginning, the glossary is helpfully at the front of the book, and everything is gradually explained as the book progresses.
The only part that I did struggle with was getting a grasp of the land. While the land was explained, mostly in the context of the religion, I am still not entirely sure of the structure of the corridor, or planet itself. A map would have been incredibly helpful on that front (I was reading on a kindle – the print books may have that map).
That being said, I did really enjoy the world in this book. While the setting was mostly contained within the monastery, we do get to see glimpses of elsewhere through flash-backs and the odd venture away from the convent. I found the magic system really intriguing – based off of four tribes which arrived on the land, each with their own traits (giant, speed, magic and ability to see the path). While expressing the traits are rare, even rarer are those who show more than one. Everything about the magic system gives so much potential for future developments and, alongside the religions depicted in the novel, it makes me very excited to see what else Mark Lawrence will bring to the story in the next book.
I came out of this book ready to read the sequel, desperate even. Which, given that Red Sister is not yet out, means a fair amount of impatient waiting. Mark Lawrence’s writing and world-crafting ability really shone in this book. Nona was a brilliant lead, the plot was gripping and the world felt like I could practically step into it. It’s exciting and I would highly recommend it to any fantasy lover out there.
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence will be released in the UK on 6th April 2017.
The Book Depository (I receive a small commission if this link is used): https://www.bookdepository.com/Red-Sister-Mark-Lawrence/9780008152291/?a_aid=rosienreads