Mount Readmore Book Review, 2018 56/200
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Finished on 4/7/2018
I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.
But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.
Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Political Fantasy, Adult, Science Fantasy
Hogwarts for Battle Nuns
I really loved this. The characterization, prose, setting and pacing was excellent.
‘Red Sister’ is a high fantasy novel and the first book in a series. Nona must go to battle nun school, and her entire time in school takes place over the course of this book. I must admit that the author had me misdirected with various red herrings he threw about, making me suspect the wrong characters.
The plot is a mixture of ‘little girl goes to magic school’ and ‘woman is being hunted down for past misdeeds.’ It’s not something super unique, but the author pulled it off. It was fun and I enjoyed it throughout. Honestly, for me at least the plot was the least compelling part of the entire novel. It contained nothing I haven’t seen before, and everything else in the novel left me with higher expectations.
The short version of the plot is this: in the past Nona was a slave and slit the throat of the heir of the richest family on the planet. Now that family wants revenge, no matter the fact that a slave is so far beneath their notice. Honestly I never really liked nobility vs. underclass plotlines, so I did not find this very compelling.
The setting is a fascinating ice age-locked world, where a solar mirror is keeping the ice away from a strip of land on the surface of the planet. Civilization exists only on that strip, with only barbaric hunter-gatherers existing in the frozen parts. Humanity came and colonized this planet on several thousand magic-powered spaceships several hundred or thousand years prior to the events of this novel and created that solar mirror, but have since lost the tech/magic needed for spaceflight or even for maintaining the mirror. As a result the mirror is slowly losing focus and less and less land is kept thawed year round. With more and more people inhabiting less and less thawed lands, conflict is the result.
The characters are well drawn emotionally and habitually. Clara is both worried for her family and actively doing whatever it takes to save them. She also has very real habits such as nervously twiddling objects and doing whatever it takes to turn a penny into a dollar. Nona, having been raised as an Other in her village, she doesn’t really know how to have friends. After being exiled from her village, she lies to her new friends at nun school in order to not scare them for fear of them abandoning her too- a realistic reaction for a little girl. A lot of the side characters have equal development.
Through the use of repeated flashbacks/foreshadowings of the future, the author is able to spice up slow moments and slow down fast moments, keeping the plot occurring at a steady rate. The prose was in that delightful area of being in-between stained glass prose (aka beautiful prose) and crystal clear prose (aka functional prose).
But nothing is perfect, this book included. The book’s plot, while it kept me entertained enough that I read all 470 pages in a breathtaking two days, was derivative. I wanted more intrigue and politicking and less nobility vs. underclass. Again, I don’t find that kind of plot to be compelling.
To put it simply, the villains have a bad case of the Idiot Ball. In this case they should have not done the stupid thing of attacking battle nun wizard school repeatedly. If the bad guys could just forgive (or at least ignore) Nona, the book’s entire purpose for existing would fall apart. Idiot Ball plots kinda suck in general, because it makes the holder of the Idiot Ball, in this case the villain, seem weak and ineffective. And you don’t want the villain to seem weak and ineffective, because it makes your heroes not have to struggle as much to succeed, and therefore not seem to earn their rewards.
Highly Recommended. I’m going to read Grey Sister sometime in the next six months. You’ll see the review coming soonish.
I am a huge fan of The Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War series by Mark Lawrence, Red Sister was completely different in every day but I loved it also. I’m now some 80 pages into Grey Sister and found it awesome so far. Bummer you didn’t like the plot and the nobility vs underclass thing (which I kinda like, LOL) but glad to hear you liked everything else! I’m super curious about the ice tribes and their culture, I hope Grey Sister will show some of that.
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I’m hoping too! I have the audiobook on my phone already.