I received an advanced copy of Red Sister from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. And I apologize for the delay to NetGalley, Mark Lawrence, and Ace for the delay in my review. As you will see, it was not due to any dislike for the book. It’s just that becoming a dad has slowed down my whole reviewing process.
And while I’m making disclaimers, let me say up front that I am a big Mark Lawrence fan. This is the seventh book of his that I have read, and he has yet to let me down. I’ll try to minimize the fanboying, but you should probably know all of this before we begin.
So, with all that being said, yes, I loved Red Sister. This is a different direction for Lawrence, but a lot of the details that made me a fan of his (the dark edge, the black humor, the capable protagonist discovering just what he or she is capable of) are still here. Red Sister works both for fans of Lawrence and for those who have never read his previous two trilogies. Red Sister hooked me from the very first line, and I can’t wait to read the rest of this new trilogy.
This is the story of Nona, a very young girl accused of murder taken from the gallows by a nun to a convent. There, Nona learns magic, weapons, poisons, and the extent of her abilities. While training to become a killer, Nona makes friends, and her enemies gather, eager to exact revenge over her bloody past.
With Prince of Thorns, Lawrence began the telling of a terrific trilogy. With Prince of Fools, he took a tangent approach to that tale, and spun it out into another trilogy. But what happens when Lawrence decides to take a new path? After all, there was no witty, self-centered, or violent young man at the heart of this book. Instead, our hero is a girl. There is no broken empire, only a new, cold, and dying world. Nona doesn’t travel all over the known world. Instead, she (mostly) travels within a few buildings on the campus of the convent. Lawrence also changes to third-person POV.
But despite all the changes, Lawrence stands at the helm of Red Sister. It’s like seeing a band evolve across albums. It’s still the same band, but their sound evolves. They’re trying new tricks, exploring new ideas. Sure, it’s risky, but deep down, if they didn’t evolve, you’d grow tired of them.
While Lawrence does play with a few tropes here–stern teachers, Nona’s new friends and bullies, a chosen one–he does something interesting to keep readers hooked and to avoid boredom. He plays with the timelines, hooking readers with a glimpse of the future in the very first line:
“It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.”
If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will. Yes, it does mean there is a sort of double-prologue here, but c’mon, aren’t you curious about the kind of women it takes 200 men to kill? Besides, Lawrence handles the slow reveal of Nona’s past and her abilities in a skillful manner, and the book has a solid and dramatic ending.
The Bottom Line
Red Sister is exactly what you want in the first book of a trilogy. It sets up the world, the players, the conflict. It points them all in a direction and creates a sense of momentum–like a boulder that has just been pushed over the mountain’s edge.
I enjoyed watching Nona grow over the course of the story, and I want to see the woman she becomes. Similarly, I can’t wait to see how Lawrence grows and evolves in his writing. I can’t wait for the other two novels in the Book of the Ancestor trilogy and the books that come after.