Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1)
By Mark Lawrence
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…
Let me just air my shame right now, this is my very first title by Mark Lawrence. Yes, I know. I am just now popping the Lawrence cherry. There will be no comparisons to previous work. I am actually thankful for this embarrassing fact (although I was about 100 pages when I immediately ran out and bought the entire Broken Empire series) <– Spoiler, this book is flipping good! As I excitedly dove into this 400 page beauty, I discovered the an unbiased approach was going to work in my favor because this is going to be a tough review minus any previous conceptions or comparisons.
“It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient skill.”
The sun is dying and in a world encapsulated and limited by ice. One young girl has been bought and sold. Nona Grey has been labeled a monster and cast aside. When she finds herself staring through the noose of her finality, rescue comes in the unlikely form of a nun.
Taken to the Convent of Sweet Mercy, she begins the arduous task of training and transformation. She is to become a Red Sister. Devoting her life to the Ancestor, she enters a journey of self discovery and metamorphosis that will challenge her to face her inner demons head on and learn to hone the very skills that have terrified and haunted her throughout her short existence.
But why have the nuns chosen to spare Nona and take her in? Why is she still sought after? During her transition and time at the convent, Nona Grey will uncover answers and a world she never knew existed. Is she prepared to accept her fate and fight?
“The Path had filled her and in doing so had woken her to the understanding that for all her life she had been hollow. It turned her flesh to gold, her mind to crystal. She wanted more. Even as the power of it terrified her and she felt her body shaking beyond her control, she wanted more.”
Instead of concentrating on the plot of a story you should be reading, I want to discuss the elements to make this worth the time of any fantasy fan. Red Sister is a slower but steady and rewarding read. At times I felt mentally tapped after pouring through the pages, but in the greatest of ways. I was heavily invested and there is a lot to digest. Nona Grey is complex and consuming. She is delivered to us as so much more than one could expect to comprehend at 8 years old. Her sheer rawness and brutality draw you in immediately, refusing to release. Walking in her footsteps, we soon realize that the fact that she is a child is often lost because she instantly becomes so much more.
This is a highly character driven account that presents a tale of the fight for survival through an amazing ensemble of individuals and lavish world construction. Lawrence has created a cast of children, Sisters and adversaries that manage to deliver on the grandest of scales. While the gore and action are very much present, I found all emotions being fully accessed and tapped into to create a truly unique and provoking experience.
The plot manages to go beyond engaging as I found myself almost exhausted at times. I was completely immersed and committed to Nona and her personal battle. And it did feel very personal. There are many things occurring within the Convent and out, but Nona’s internal struggle is a pilgrimage.
“Those that burn short burn bright. The shortest lives can cast the longest shadows.”
The world that Lawrence has constructed is elegant. The fluid transition of flawless narration between past memories and the present solidify this beautiful composition, adding a real sense of depth and vastness that I have come to expect from true epic fantasies. An innovative magical system is set in place that is not only refined and well thought out, but captivating while carefully avoiding any unnecessary complexities.
I found myself in great admiration of the Lawrence’s ability to develop an amazingly strong yet imperfect world of female protagonists. The writing carries throughout each page with such ease, almost poetic at times, inviting your further. For all of the bleakness and dark, there is an amount of sophistication and poise present that make this a deeply gratifying and beautiful read.
“A single flame in the dark. A single note hanging in an empty place. A single sparkle upon a wind-rippled lake.”
Well polished and seductive, this is a story best left for the reader to discover and devour on their own accord. Red Sister tempts with many promises and delivers and caters to even the greatest of expectations. A gripping, yet open conclusion has left me yearning for more. I have fallen for Nona Grey in the most spectacular of ways.
*I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for this opportunity. The above review is my own, unbiased opinion.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐