Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Harper Voyager
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler free.
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… *
I admit I’ve only read one of Mark Lawrence’s books, Prince of Thorns, and it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. However I have been following his writing career — he’s a good guy and very active on social media — and when I heard about this book it intrigued me. I grabbed a copy and am so glad I did. It is compelling from page one; Nona gets her hooks in you and doesn’t let go until the very end.
I love a well-written, strong female character, but I find them few and far between, especially if they’re slotted into any kind of assassin or murdery role. They usually end up hating what they do and avoid it at all costs because killing is bad. Nona, however, is exactly the kind of character I’m looking for. She’s fierce and intelligent and murdery, but also a child in search of a place where she belongs. She has friends, but a complicated relationship with them. She struggles through school, has nightmares, is fiercely loyal to those who are loyal to her. She is an ordinary girl in such a way that you forget she’s living this extraordinary life. She is complex and has depth — she is far from perfect, but you don’t want to shake her every time she makes a decision. I found her so well-written, kudos to Lawrence for really hitting the nail on the head.
The world of Red Sister is one of the more unique ones I’ve read. Set on Abeth, a frozen planet orbiting a dying star, the world’s earlier inhabitants left for the stars. They left behind an artificial moon, a mirror that concentrates the weak sunlight and melts the ice in a strip across the planet’s center daily. This area is the Corridor, where the events of the book take place. The people of the Corridor scrape out a pitiful existence, but manage to survive in the harsh cold under the light of a red star.
Don’t be fooled by Nona’s age — I wouldn’t call this a YA novel despite its classification on Amazon. Red Sister is pure grimdark and fans of the genre will not be disappointed. Told in a style that is more a series of vignettes than a linear plot, Red Sister is among one of the most unique fantasy books I’ve read in a long time. It’s a dark and violent novel that lacks the sexual violence that is often seen in these kinds of books — long-time fans of Lawrence’s books and new readers alike will enjoy this well-crafted novel. The only problem is now we have to wait for a sequel.
*copy courtesy of Goodreads