ARC provided by the publisher—Harper Voyager—in exchange for an honest review.
The magic of rereading Red Sister strikes a gold mine.
Other than a few changes or grammatical fix, I rarely rewrite my full review. However, Red Sister merits one because I loved it so much more than my first read; the quality jumped from great to amazing in my criteria. I was pleasantly surprised by this. I decided to reread Red Sister in order to refresh my memory before I continue with the series, I didn’t expect to enjoy it this much and I certainly didn’t realize how much I forgot and failed to appreciate in my first read.
Red Sister, the first installment in Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy. The story revolves around Nona Grey, a nine-year-old girl brought and raised to become a killer in the Convent of Sweet Mercy. It usually requires ten years in order to become a Red Sister; a class of Sister specialized in armed & unarmed combat. The majority of the story in the book takes place in the Convent and focuses its narrative on Nona’s coming-of-age story. I loved this book. Red Sister is a character-driven coming-of-age fantasy with a battle/magic school setting. If you’ve read and loved Blood Song by Anthony Ryan, I envision you’ll find a lot of things to love in this book. Friendships, faith, sisterhood, money, life, and death were some of the main themes implemented that I immensely enjoyed reading.
“Your death has not been waiting for your arrival at the appointed hour: it has, for all the years of your life, been racing towards you with the fierce velocity of time’s arrow. It cannot be evaded, it cannot be bargained with, deflected or placated. All that is given to you is the choice: meet it with open eyes and peace in your heart, go gentle to your reward. Or burn bright, take up arms, and fight the bitch.”
The main story and themes were great but it was the characters that shone. Almost all the characters in the book were female; they were splendidly written. Nona as the main character was simply relatable and compelling to read. Although the narrative was told almost in entirety from her perspective, I found every single side character to have their own clear personality. Nona treats friendship preciously; it’s her life, her treasure and she’ll do anything for her friends. Reading about Nona’s new found friendship and family was endearing. Arabella, Abbess Glass, and the badass Sisters interaction with Nona provided a sense of addiction in the narrative. If I weren’t before, now I’m definitely intrigued to find out how the relationships between the characters will develop in the sequels.
Picture: Nona Grey by Francesca Resta
Action scenes were also integral in improving the quality of the book. Bloody, vivid, and well-written; the action sequences were placed at the right time after a superbly build pacing. Plus, instead of one, there were two climax sequences that happened in the book; at the end of the first and second half. I’m just going to say that these two climax sequences were incredible. For example, the votive candle and the Shield Test scene—especially on my first read—made me grit my teeth due to how fantastically written it was.
“I have been too young to know, and I have been too old to care. It’s in that oh so narrow slice between that memories are made.”
What made this reread experience so much better? I wasn’t able to appreciate Lawrence’s prose and the world-building this book back then. Sometimes when I finished a book, there’s this feeling that I should’ve loved it more; the problems might lie with me and my mindset rather than the book itself not working out for me. That was me with Red Sister. In my first read, I was dumbfounded and confused by the world-building. I also had a difficult time adjusting myself to Lawrence’s prose back then. Now though, on my reread, I came to realize just how much I missed—especially in world-building aspect—on my first read. In my honest opinion, Lawrence’s prose is not too suitable for new entrants to high fantasy, they’re more difficult to appreciate compared to, let’s say, Sanderson’s highly simplistic prose; I feel like I was able to appreciate and understand it so much more now. The world-building was original and interesting. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world under a dying sun; unique and destructive magic system originated from an old bloodline; I simply can’t wait to learn more about the world that Lawrence has crafted in this trilogy.
“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 them with respect.”
I’m really glad I decided to reread Red Sister. Having finished it almost two years ago, sometimes this book appeared in my mind telling me that I should give it another go one day. I’m super pleased that I did because right now, I think of Red Sister as an amazing beginning to a trilogy. This was the first Mark Lawrence’s book that I read and reread. It has also become the first book by Lawrence that entered my ‘favorites’ shelf. I’m super excited to find out whether Grey Sister or Holy Sister will topple it. If you’re a fan of coming-of-age fantasy with battle/magic school premise, accompanied by well-written female characters and a beautiful literary prose, you really can’t go wrong with giving Red Sister a read.
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)