Mark Lawrence is a new discovery for me, although he has built a reputation with his well-regarded Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War trilogies.
The world-building in his new novel, Red Sister, compels the reader’s attention from the first few paragraphs as we are introduced to a dark and icebound planet with a dying sun, and which is inhabitable only around the equator.
We meet Nona Grey, an undersized, underfed eight year old as she is about to be hanged, having nearly killed a man many times her size. Fortunately for Nona, Abbess Glass negotiates her release and takes her to the Convent of Sweet Mercy where, we learn, girls are trained in martial and magic arts to become Red Sisters, elite warriors and assassins.
Nona keeps her secrets close — and just why Abbess Glass went to such trouble to rescue a seemingly insignificant waif is not immediately apparent. At first Nona is somewhat apart from the other novices, both because they come from mostly wealthy families and because she is not inclined to trust anyone.
As Nona’s training at the convent begins in earnest, we learn that the world was once populated by four races, Gerant, Hunska, Marjal and Quantal. Although the blood is very diluted now, rareley a child will be born who is gifted with the skills and abilities of one, or rarer still, multiple blood lines.
But, as young as she is, Nona has made powerful enemies. Her victim was the son of a wealthy and powerful man, and he is looking for retribution. It soon becomes clear, though, that Nona is caught up in a wider, more dangerous game than she knows.
Red Sister is a fantasy in the grimdark sub-genre, so be prepared for violence and blood. Don’t be put off, though. It is well worth diving into. The characters, plot and world are all exquisitely crafted. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Review by Melanie Ryan,
Program and Communications Manager