Red Sister – Book of the Ancestor #1 – Mark Lawrence
Release date: April 6th, 2017
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Age Group: Adult
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…
It’s been five years since I read Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence’s debut dark fantasy novel. Back then I could see a lot of promise in his writing style and his creative thinking. The Broken Empire proved not to be for everyone, with some voices going up about the protagonist, an anti-hero taken to a whole new level. But even so, the books gained a lot of popularity and Lawrence has been publishing books at a steady pace since then. I haven’t had a chance yet to read his second trilogy, The Red Queen’s War, but it’s definitely on my TBR list.
Red Sister, the first book in a new series called Book of the Ancestor, seems to go down a different road than the previous books he’s written. It is set in a new world, written from a third person perspective and is less dark and gritty than The Broken Empire. Though different, it is just as cleverly put together and just as addictive as his previous books. When I finished Red Sister I had that genuine sad feeling that always seems to creep up on you after finishing a really good book. You don’t want it to end, you want it to keep going. It is a lot harder to pick up a new book after one like Red Sister too, because what will compare?
Right at the start of the book we get a sneak peak of the future, where a nun is facing a horde of assassins and warriors. Going in to the book like that is a bit confusing, but gradually things start fitting together and by the end of the book the glimpses of the future make sense and leave you wanting more.
Going back in history to explain why that nun is facing an army all alone, we meet Nona Grey. Nona is a young girl growing up in a village close to the ice planes. The world Nona lives on, called Abeth, is a world that could very well be ours in the future, almost completely covered in ice, with only one stretch of land left where people have settled down. All the people are descendants from 4 different tribes or races that landed on the planet in their ‘ships’. Gerants are big and muscular, relying on their strength. Hunska are incredibly fast. Marjals can use some of the magic that still lives on in Abeth, while the Quantal can tap into the Path, a subconscious kind of road they can walk and that holds incredible power. Now, many generations later, lots of the abilities these races had have been lost and only some kids show signs of the blood. Mixed bloods showing more than one ancestry are very rare. There is even a prophecy that says that one particular child that has the blood of all four races will be able to open the Ark, a building in the centre of the city that holds something mysterious that could possibly have a huge impact on everyone’s lives.
At a young age, Nona shows signs of having Hunska blood and she is sold to Giljohn, who travels around the country with his cage, buying children to then sell them in the city to the fighting ring, the Academy or the Church. Nona ends up in the fighting ring because of her extraordinary speed, but when she attacks and nearly kills the son of a noble, she is sentenced to hang. At the last minute she gets taken away by a nun and she is brought to the convent of Sweet Mercy where she becomes a novice and will hone her Hunska skills to become a Red Sister. This is only the start of Nona’s journey though as her past keeps following her and she desperately tries to keep her true nature hidden from her friends.
I liked Nona’s character a lot. Having grown up as she has, shunned because of her different appearance and skills, she has a very basic idea of companionship. She puts a lot of weight on the word ‘friend’ and doesn’t take a sentence as ‘I am your friend’ lightly. For Nona, a simple thing like that means a lot. I have the urge to call Nona ‘innocent’ and though in some aspects she’s far from innocent, in others she definitely is. She is fiercely loyal and doesn’t completely understand the backstabbing nature of people. This combined with her pull towards violence creates a very interesting and complex character. In the convent Nona also can at least be a little bit more herself, because now she’s not the only one who’s special anymore. They all are.
The whole convent/school setting is also something that really appealed to me. In a way it reminded me of what I really liked about the Harry Potter series: different classes, lessons and skills being honed in a fascinating fantasy world. The atmosphere is completely different than the HP books though. Red Sister is, to say the least, a tad darker. The other novices in Nona’s class and the sisters in charge of the convent are all interesting and varied characters that contributed in their own ways to make this story even more complex and fascinating. At the end of the book I cared for all of them deeply.
The ending was spectacular. I don’t think I have much more to say about it than that. I read the last 10% of the book in the morning before going to work and actually showed up an hour late because I just HAD to finish it. I couldn’t leave home without knowing how it ended. It might have broken my heart a little, but it has also made me super excited about the next book. Lawrence has delivered another excellent book and I can’t wait for more.