by Mark Lawrence
Series: Book of the Ancestor #1
Published on April 4, 2017 by Ace
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.
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…
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For my first read of a Mark Lawrence book, Red Sister had me hooked from start to finish. But I likely would have taken ages to finish it if not for the audiobook.
We’re introduced to Nona, a young girl taken into train as an assassin nun. Yes, you read that right. With a cast composed almost entirely of women, I was delighted to see how Nona’s story would play out in the hands of the Sisters of the Sweet Mercy Convent. I’m a sucker for fantasy schools and one where you train as an assassin from a young age? Count me in! It actually reminded me a bit of Nevernight in that regard, and as I loved that book, I had high hopes for this one.
Nona starts the book young, around eight years old, and while the book spans many years with scenes set in the future scattered throughout (they were my favorite by far, so succinct and intriguing), she didn’t age much by the end of Red Sister. Yet despite her young age, I felt the maturity of her voice through the narration. She changed a lot in just this book alone, developing friendships with the other girls at the convent and growing as a person.
I really loved the characters in this one. The story took its time meandering about but the characters, that’s where this book excels. Beyond Nona, there are her classmates and teachers, each with distinct personalities and histories that all weave together to form a bond of sisterhood that stands to defy the world. To be perfectly honest, I get a tad worried with adult fantasy and male authors writing female characters as protagonists. I’ve read too many epic fantasies where the women are poorly written and fall into offensive stereotypes, so I was pleasantly surprised with Red Sister and eager to read the next book now!
The plot itself was less exciting and more background for something greater to come. Much of it focused on Nona and her relationships with the other students, how she began growing up doing something she never expected. Story-wise it wasn’t the greatest of plots but I still found it interesting enough to want to read the next book.
But ultimately. . . I wouldn’t have finished this novel if it weren’t for the audiobook.
I tried reading it time and again but never made it very far before putting it down. The world-building is great, but it’s written as though the entire book is setting up for a later book. That’s especially enforced with the future scenes that indicate something will go down but it’s going to take some time to get to that point. Possibly another book entirely before the story is even close. All that set-up is needed, but doesn’t make for an especially engaging read. But listening to the audiobook, I was able to do other things while the book played and finally got through Red Sister.
Don’t get me wrong, once I actually read this book, I really liked it. Assassin nuns and schemes and sisterhood and strong female characters, all good stuff! I’d absolutely recommend Red Sister with the understanding that it’s a lot of set-up for what is sure to be an exciting sequel! And I definitely recommend the audiobook, the narrator did a great job!