Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1)

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1)

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“It’s not until you’re broken that you find your sharpest edge.”

Upon rereading both the novel and my review of it, I stand beside every word written below. This is a phenomenal story that has catapulted itself into the company of my very favorite books.

I was late to the Mark Lawrence game. And I was missing out. Red Sister is Lawrence’s seventh full-length novel, and the first in a new series entitled “Book of the Ancestor.” Reading his other trilogies has definitely made its way onto my agenda, because this book was fantastic. I am so insanely excited to continue reading Nona’s story.

“There is a thread that runs through all things, that binds each story to every other, a thread that runs through the veins and the marrow and the memory of every creature.”

If X-23 ever donned a habit, she would be Nona’s twin. Nona is perhaps one of the most intense children I’ve ever read. She’s as savage as Arya Stark, but far less selfish. Here is a girl who is different and deadly, but would lay down her life for a friend without a second thought. With all she had been through, Nona could have been cold and closed-off, but she is anything but either of those things. She might not understand people, but she values those she loves more highly life itself. And she is not a character who skates easily through life. More than anything else, Nona has known pain. She has endured things that would break most people; but they don’t break Nona, because she won’t let them.

“Every star, turning in the black depth of heaven, burns for no better reason than that humanity raised its face to look. Every great deed needs to be witnessed. Go out there and do something great.”

Although this book is without a doubt Nona’s story, Lawrence has assembled an incredible cast around her, most of whom are women. The majority of the story takes place in a convent, and the nuns here are unique, to say the least. At Sweet Mercy Convent of the Ancestor, a nun’s education is more well-rounded, shall we say, than most. Here, a girl must learn the arts of warfare and poisoning and far more in addition to their religious education if they are to become Sisters of Sweet Mercy. The Sisters here, as well as Nona’s fellow novices, are an incredibly diverse group of females. There are women young and old, fat and thin, light and dark, spiritual and physical and both. These girls and women grow and change tremendously over the course of the book. I won’t mention any names, so that when you read this book (because you definitely should), you get to meet the characters for yourself and make your own judgements without my interference.

“Those that burn short burn bright. The shortest lives can cast the longest shadows.”

A trope that will never get old for me is the “special school” trope. I just always love it with all of my heart. It all started with Harry Potter, as it does for most people. I’ve read a plethora of such stories since then, some better told than others. This one was very well told, and diving into the training necessary to produce such deadly nuns was enthralling. The fighting instruction, the classes with the Poisoner, the scenes in the dormitory and the cafeteria, were all so much fun. Lawrence did an especially great job with the fighting in this book, both in the convent and outside of it. But honestly, one of my favorite smaller aspects of the book was every time Nona woke up in the infirmary. Not because I’m sadistic, I promise! This was another of the things that reminded me of Harry Potter without feeling at all like a rip-off of Harry Potter. Whenever Harry went through something traumatic and woke up in the infirmary, you knew that everything was going to be okay. I felt the same relief every time Nona woke up under the care of Sister Rose. And those times were many.

“‘Tell me a story’ began every seduction ever.”

I’ve heard some mixed opinions of Lawrence’s prose, which was actually one of the reasons I hadn’t yet picked up any of his books. Some people love it; some people struggle with it. Most agree that it’s lovely. Thankfully I fell into the category of those who love his writing style. I thought it was beautifully written, and I respected the fact that he made writing decisions that weren’t safe. He plays with language and has fun with it. Take this quote, for instance:

“A lone chicken strutted in the shadow of the scriptorium, pausing to scrape and peck as if looking for any dropped punctuation.”

That sentence delighted me. The image he invoked there was just so fun that I couldn’t help but grin. Lawrence’s writing style is different, even from itself as he moves through the story.
But I think that the beauty of stories is that they can be told in such vastly different ways,
and I loved the choices Lawrence made here. I also enjoyed the setting much more than I expected. This is firmly fantasy, and yet the arrival of alien races and space ships has made its way into the history of world. Seeing science-fiction as a backdrop for a predecessor to a fantasy setting felt very original.

. I’ll leave you with one of my absolute favorite quotes from the book:

“But be warned…: a book is as dangerous as any journey you might take. The person who closes the back cover may not be the same one that opened the front one. Treat books with respect.”

I received an e-ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Review originally written April 2017.

You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!

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