Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) (Mark Lawrence)

I have waited three days to write the review for this, to try and give some perspective on why I liked it, and I still do not feel like I can say much of why I loved this without spoilers. But I am determined to keep this a spoiler free blog (as much as possible) so I’m going to give it a whack…

I borrowed Red Sister by Mark Lawrence from my local library. The book has been recommended on every list based on my interests that Goodreads can produce. I’ve been a bit wary, I haven’t read any Mark Lawrence before, but I found it in the library and thought ‘I’ll give it a whirl’. It took me three days to read in snatches while travelling and then I’m a huge chunk and the summary of this review is that it was complex and difficult in places but it was amazing and had me in complete suspense.

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.

Red Sister – Blurb from Goodreads

Right. Where to start? I would love to talk you through all the points i loved but I doubt you want to read a books worth of praise when you could just read the book yourself. So I’ll start with criticisms. This book was complex, you have to concentrate on keeping people straight in your head in the earlier sections, but by the end you’re reading going ‘well, Kettle is here so Apple can’t be too far behind…’. I would not recommend reading this if you’re in the mood for something light hearted and fun. I liked that I needed to concentrate to keep on top of the plot, I’ve been reading a lot of ‘easy’ books and this was a more challenging sci-fi to read. It also jumps across time, following key events as well as the everyday of the girls becoming friends as they train, and subtle hints as to the life of the Sisters of Sweet Mercy.

Ok so now you know this book is crazy complex, I’m going to tell you generally why it’s awesome. First off, it’s a book about warrior nuns living on a cliff in a nearing ice age. Nona is eight when she arrives at Sweet Mercy, straight from waiting for the hangmans noose for attempting to kill a man. She’s not very good at fitting in, and she isn’t all that find of religion so she and Sister Wheel don’t get on that well. But then there is Sister Kettle who teaches Nona to read, and her gf Sister Apple who teaches Shade and who loves poisons. I love them both. It’s interesting how Nona notices more the older she gets, and how her relationships with the other girls change and honestly it’s just lots of women teaching girls how to be deadly and not to take any nonsense from any man. The High Priest comes to visit, and he seems to dislike Abbess Glass, but she schools him.

This book trips from disaster to disaster and it is incredibly suspenseful in places. The first line of the book states:

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.”

and there are several points where you revisit that cliff face with Sister Thorn, where you think you know what is happening BUT THEN YOU FIND SOMETHING ELSE OUT. Honestly half the stuff I did not see coming, and then towards the end I was crying (but I am not going to tell you why) and it was late and I was tired but I had to finish.

Luckily, despite the sequel being relatively new out, my local library has it so I have reserved it and now I’m just tapping my fingers against my desk waiting for the email telling me it has arrived. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger as such, I’m just desperate to find out more and what happens next.

I hope this has helped convince you to give Red Sister a chance! It’s a complex book, and can be a challenge in the middle but it’s intense and it is incredibly well written, and only a scattering of the characters are men, who generally get punished for underestimating a woman. I absolutely recommend this series and I am going to see what other Mark Lawrence the library has. If this review seems a bit sparse or restrained, it is because I am avoiding spoilers, if you have already read it and loved it as much as me, please please comment.

Bea

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