Red Sister
Grade : B

With all the hype over Rebecca Yarros’ Fourth Wing, I decided it was high time to explore the world of romantic fantasy. But given the bad taste left in my mouth after actually reading Fourth Wing, I figured maybe I should step back and go with straight fantasy. This led me to pick up Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, a book released over five years ago and probably as far away from romantic fantasy as you can get. If you need love in your story, read no further because this is not the book or the review for you.

Nona Grey is a young girl living in a desperate world. Abetha’s dying sun can no longer supply enough warmth to keep the planet from becoming entirely covered in ice. The people have managed to create an artificial moon that projects enough heat to create a fifty-mile wide inhabitable strip around the globe, but life is very grim. Nona has known nothing but poverty, cold and hunger and has no prospects to expect anything more.

Her life goes from miserable to worse when, after a brutal massacre involving Nona’s mysterious abilities, she’s given to a child seller. She’s sold to the proprietor of a fight-club-like establishment, where she’ll be expected to fight and win, or be sold into an even more disgusting life. When the son of a nobleman attacks Nona’s friend, she defends the girl and finds herself standing in front of a hangman’s noose for murder.

At the last minute, Nona is saved by Abbess Glass, who has come to take her to the Convent of Sweet Mercy. There, Nona will be trained in the ways of an assassin and to access her innate powers, learning to channel them in ways that will make her the perfect weapon.

Red Sister has what has to be one of the best opening lines of any book I’ve read in ages.

“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.”

The concept of a convent that trains killer nuns hooked me from the start. Nuns that require two hundred men to kill? I’m sold!

I did find this world’s magic system to be a bit confusing. People have inherent abilities based on their bloodlines, coming from one or more of four tribes each with unique skills. However, magical power is derived from energy given by the Path, and how the energy is accessed seemed somewhat arbitrary. A lot of word count is given to nuns waxing on about the Path, and that did get kind of tedious at times. Too, there are a couple of McGuffins thrown in that need further explanation.

Nona is an intriguing character. She suffers much but never exudes any sense of self-pity, accepting her lot in life as a matter of course. Her absolute loyalty to those she calls friends is truly admirable, although it does make her a bit naive. I especially appreciated her tenacity and bravery.

The book ends rather abruptly and is open-ended; however both subsequent titles in the trilogy are readily available. I’ll be moving on to the next book, Grey Sister, for sure.

I must give a trigger warning in that there’s a scene involving animal abuse and cruelty that I found very hard to stomach. Also, there’s a lot of violence perpetrated against children, although this is just a part of the semi-dystopian world Lawrence has created.

If you are looking for a fantasy set in a wholly created world (rather than a wallpaper fantasy like Fourth Wing) with a protagonist you can really root for, Red Sister is fantastic. But if you absolutely must have romance, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Reviewed by Jenna Harper
Grade : B
Book Type: Fantasy

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : December 21, 2023

Publication Date: 04/2017

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Jenna Harper

I'm a city-fied suburban hockey mom who owns more books than I will probably ever manage to read in my lifetime, but I'm determined to try.
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