Synopsis: At the Convent of Sweet Mercy, young girls are raised to be killers. In some children the old bloods show, gifting rare talents that can be honed to deadly or mystic effect. But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls.
Despite the security and isolation of the convent, Nona’s secret and violent past finds her out, drawing with it the tangled politics of a crumbling empire. Her arrival sparks old feuds to life, igniting vicious struggles within the church and even drawing the eye of the emperor himself.
Corey: I know it’s only mid-March when we’re reviewing this, but I think it’s very safe to say this book is going to wind up on my top five books of 2017 list. Just totally immersive from the first word, and honestly, I just couldn’t have loved this book any harder. For me, it’s like the ultimate Book One. So many pieces getting set in motion, a fantasy world rich with history (without feeling bogged down by it), a really expansive cast of compelling characters, breathless action scenes…this book just kicked my ass.
Holly: I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I’m calling it. This is my Girl With All the Gifts this year! Just a completely overwhelmingly beautiful, tragic, gut punch that murdered my feelings!
Red Sister begins with an old fantasy trope – a magical school. We compared it to Harry Potter & X-Men, with reason! However, it takes that plot device & runs in it’s own direction. An apocalypse of Lawrenceness! He is setting the stage for what is seemingly going to be another brilliant series.
Corey: YES! I’ll be honest, the Harry Potter vibes were totally unexpected, but totally welcome. I don’t think anyone should confuse this for a middle grade fantasy series, though. Because there’s some straight-up bloody carnage in this book!
Holly: It *is* a Mark Lawrence novel, after all! A Mark Lawrence novel that starts off with his first ever female protagonist (yes, yes, YES), Nona. A young peasant who is being accused of murder. Her story is indeed a bloody one!
Corey: Nona Grey… what a fucking boss! Yeah, not just a female protagonist, but the vast majority of the characters in this book are women!
Holly: We’ve got badass Sisters of Sweet Mercy who train future nuns to become hardcore, deadly killers using their unique talents. They come from descendants of four “tribes”, who may have inherited special abilities. There is a potential that mixed bloods are the most powerful of all. The magic system is some of the best I have ever read & we have barely even touched on it yet within this first installment!
Corey: Absolutely! Those fight scenes where Nona uses her Hunska speed, digging into the moment, effectively slowing down time….it’s a really cool way to describe an action scene. Almost like an exploded view of a battle, if that makes any sense.
Holly: The combat between the groups was outstanding, as well! The Blade Path training, especially. Those scenes were so full of immense detail & the adrenaline was high!
Corey: I also love how, even though the world feels big, and the stakes feel high…it’s a pretty personal story. I mean, obviously towards the end, you can feel the story building towards something bigger and bigger, but it’s just a very focused narrative for book one. There’s almost a sense of comfort within the walls of Sweet Mercy, even with some of the external threats.
Holly: YES! We have the often harrowing flashbacks to Nona’s past, as well as when the nuns & novices leave the confines of the convent for outside training.. there is such an intensity there. The very real moments inside of the convent with these kids created such an alarming, haunting, almost soul-crushing juxtaposition. I think it was an effective part of Lawrence’s storytelling – that these things are happening to VERY young children. They are training to become these highly skilled killers one minute, yet chatting with friends after class another.
Corey: I think it will be interesting to see how the tone changes as the series moves along and these characters grow. It certainly works well as a coming-of-age story, and I think the trajectory of this story means these girls are going to grow up fast. This is a book I want to see everyone read! There’s just so much to like here, and to latch on to. I’m already imagining how exciting it will be to find out the title of the second book! The cover reveal! I’m just so over the moon about Red Sister! It’s that rare book that feels like it was written just for you…like it was everything you needed it to be at that exact moment in your life.
Holly: I am with you, I absolutely want to recommend this to everyone I talk to. I love it so much, it makes me want to tear my face off!
It really has everything. Intensely passionate writing; complex, full characters; grab you by the throat plots.. not to mention the phenomenal world-building! Lawrence’s world features a dying sun, ice fields that cover most of the planet, subtle magic hinted throughout. Yet again he blurs genres with this Book of the Ancestor series! If that doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what will!
Red Sister is a different kind of Mark Lawrence. Still dark, still almost poetic.. yet there is something else within these pages. I dare say it is his best work (that I have read) yet!
Corey: Completely agree. It’s a much different experience than The Broken Empire trilogy, and I think that speaks to Lawrence’s skill as a writer. The voice and the language used is so different here. The shift from the first-person perspective of the Broken Empire books to a third-person perspective here…it’s a different vibe altogether, and probably one that will appeal to a much wider audience (knowing that some folks have trouble with Jorg Ancrath’s more….unsavory qualities).
Holly: I think so, too! Although hopefully people give Nona Grey a chance, because in many ways she has more walls up than Jorg & is a bit harder to read at first. Jorg is just so damn charismatic! Nona is such an incredible character.. there are so many layers to her & this is only the first book. Just wait until she gets older! I cannot wait! I think this series will be added to The Grimdragons top favorites by the time it is done, for sure.
Corey: Hell yes. This is a really special book!! EVERYONE MUST READ IT!!!!!
Holly: Seriously. What are you waiting for?! Mark Lawrence is a must-read author. Get in on his brilliance immediately!
The Grimdragons Rating: 5 kick-ass nuns!
(Thank you to Ace for providing us with a copy before the release date, in exchange for an honest review!)