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Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Book Name: Red Sister
Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher(s): Ace (US) HarperVoyager (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 4, 2017 (US) April 6, 2017 (US)

Mark Lawrence is an author whose name gets lost within his stories. This is because his stories are so poignant and so ubiquitous that one could easily forget the name of the author. If you are able to remember the titles of his books, then it is justified that you remember his name. The Book of the Ancestor Trilogy will have you knowing the name Mark Lawrence. Red Sister is the first Book of the Ancestor, and most of the story takes place at a convent where girls are taught academics and religion and are trained to become assassins and to use magic. Welcome to a world where nuns don’t need yardsticks to discipline their students!

Nona Grey is the protagonist in this series. When we first meet her, she is nine years old and had just eluded execution for murder. Abbess Glass takes her to the Convent of Sweet Mercy where she is fed and clothed; and, where she learns literacy, religion, swordplay, poisons, and magic. Red Sister covers the first half of Nona’s education at the Convent and the buildup surrounding both the “Chosen One” prophecy and Nona’s past. Nona gains knowledge, friends, and abilities but, like everyone else, she has her flaws (i.e. her temper) and her secrets (i.e. her abilities). Nona may be a peasant girl from an unnamed village, but she has captured the attention of several noble families for reasons good, bad, and lethal.

We learn about Nona’s character from her interactions with her friends, her classmates, and her instructions—who are nuns. Readers get the point-of-view of Nona and a few other characters throughout the story, some of which are told in flashback. In fact, Nona’s first PoV chapter isn’t until chapter three and it begins with a flashback. These multiple points-of-view allow for a swifter narration of the story and more insight into Nona as she grows up. Nona is closest to Clera—the daughter of a failed merchant, Arabella—a noble with similar abilities to Nona’s, Hessa—a girl who traveled with Nona to the Convent, and Darla, Jula, and Ruli.

Nona is a well-developed character who knows what she is to those involved in her life. It is through these other students, or novices, that Nona is able to open up and feel comfortable around other people for the first time in her life. However, she does not get the same courtesy from her instructors. While all the nuns agree that Nona’s crimes would make her vulnerable outside the Convent, one or two of them don’t hide their opinion that Nona does NOT belong there. Furthermore, there are a few people who have become obsessed with Nona—for the wrong reasons, and they’re from noble families.

Red Sister stands out from other fantasy novels for two reasons. One, is the realistic events that occur throughout the story. A place of worship and education is interfered over and over again by outside influences who want—not for pious reasons—things to be done their way. While it goes without saying that those in power want to control everything, using that power at a school—especially when it comes to the welfare of children—displays both the greed and the desperation within such people. Two, the concept of the Chosen One prophecy and how it affects anyone who is willing to believe it. Mark Lawrence demonstrates how prophecy can exploit and harm several people with a (potential) notion that it will all be worth it once the world is safe again. There are some who are aware of its origins, some who search for the Chosen One in order to fulfill their own goals, some who believe it, and some who don’t. Mark Lawrence does a very fascinating thing with this fantasy trope that has his readers questioning whether or not the Chosen One is real.

My favorite part of this novel is the normalcy surrounding the education of these children. The Convent of Sweet Mercy trains girls who have magical/tribal abilities into fighters and society is okay with that. In many other fantasy stories where there are female fighters, warriors, etc., there is always an adverse group who is displeased with those females who go against gender and societal norms. In Mark Lawrence’s world—Abeth—both males and females are expected to perform their roles within society regardless of their sex. This omission makes it easier to focus on the story that is presented—a convent that trains assassins and fights against political corruption—rather than focusing on issues about gender roles. More emphasis is placed on the characters, and that is when you realize the characters could be monks training males at a monastery.

Mark Lawrence presents the world of Abeth as one where nobles do all they can to gain more power and more influence over others. While there is supposed to be a separation of church and state, it is obvious that there is anything but. While the royal family, the nobles, and the leaders of the Church fight over who has the most power, Nona, the nuns, and the other novices find themselves pawns in a political game in which none of them are interested in participating. Nona Grey is a peasant who becomes the focus of these power players. All she wants to do is live, learn, and survive; but, due to her abilities and her past, Nona is going to have to fight as well, and she’s all right with that.

I would describe Red Sister as a story with a protagonist from a Tamora Pierce story, who attends a school similar to Hogwarts but with lessons in deadly arts; with the politics found in A Song of Ice and Fire; with the brutality of Mark Lawrence’s previous books. The realism presented within this story is one of the many reasons why I enjoyed Red Sister so much. If any of these piqued your interest, then you should read Red Sister immediately! You won’t regret it!

Red Sister is a brilliant beginning to the Book of the Ancestortrilogy. Just like The Name of the Wind, Red Sister is a fun and a fast read that presents all of the characteristics of the protagonist to the other characters and to the readers. Once you’ve read it, not only will you read the next book—Grey Sister, but also understand the hype and the popularity surrounding Mark Lawrence.


One Comment

  1. Thanks for the solid review. I like that you brought out the nuance in the book.

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