I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1) by Mark Lawrence
Published: April 4th 2017 by Ace
Source: the publisher
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Red Sister by Mark Lawrence is a fantasy novel unlike any I’ve read before. It’s been a while since I finished this book (it was in the middle of my travels to and from PA a few months back and I was an emotional wreck at the time, so please excuse any fuzziness), but I wanted to get out my thoughts and impressions from this book, scattered though they may be, because it was one of my favorites this year so far.
I’ll start with the setting. Red Sister takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that’s been devastated by climate change and a major unknown calamity. Most of the planet is covered in ice and darkness. A previous civilization made typical human life possible by pointing mirrors in outer space at the planet, but that technology has long been lost, the mirrors only illuminate a small equatorial sliver of the planet, and those mirrors are slowly but surely succumbing to the forces of gravity. Unless something changes, this world is doomed and/or dying, and the societies that live on it are your stereotypical territorial medieval fare rather than people capable cooperating to develop/repair advanced technology.
That brings us to our protagonist, Nona. Nona is a special little girl. She’s only eight or nine years old and has already had such a hard life that she’s been sentenced to death for trying to kill (very nearly successfully) a powerful noble. As she’s about to be executed, Nona is saved by Sister Glass of the Convent of Sweet Mercy. Sister Glass suspects that Nona carries at least one of the bloodlines that grant special abilities (though often those abilities come with downsides such as shortened life expectancy, which is a unique way of looking at superpowers–they aren’t just a blessing, but also a curse, and while they provide some advantages they are mutations that come with some very real problems), and so decides to take her into the Convent and train her to be a killer.
Nona begins to thrive at the convent, and is finally able to nurture her talents. But the Sisters of Sweet Mercy are more than just a religious order dedicated to the arts swords and poison–they’re also the keepers of secrets that could change the shape of civilization. And there are people and factions who suspect what those secrets might and will stop at nothing to increase their own power.
I love love love love love this book. Nona is a special child, but she also has secrets, and she lies. She doesn’t want people to know the extent of her powers, because she’s just a kid and in her short life she’s seen a lot of shit that’s scared her. And since she isn’t entirely a reliable narrator, we have to wait until late in the book to get a real picture of how she got from her village where she lived with her mother to being sold as a pit fighter to almost murdering someone. And since Nona has had such a messed up childhood, we get to see her learn hard lessons about friendship and trust and betrayal–all against the backdrop of life in a harsh and dying world.