What a book! Red Sister introduces me to the wonderful world of Mark Lawrence. Countless voracious fantasy lovers who have suggested he is a terrific writer are absolutely right. The man can write. He has created the world so bleak and characters so full of darkness that anybody who appreciates the eternal struggle between black and white in a human mind will find his work a perfect fix for the addiction to grimdark.
Want to know what is grimdark? Adrian Collins talks about the grimdark genre in his anthology Evil is a Matter of Perspective. I suggest this book for anybody who enjoys grimdark or wants to get a taste of the same and are looking for some fine examples. The short stories are based on novel worlds created by the contributing authors and offer some superb choice of the menu if you are looking for full-length novels in the sub-genre.
Okay, back to Red Sister.
As you will find a humongous number of reviews on this book (I am probably one of the last ones who has read the ARC, dreadfully late I must admit), I am not summarizing the story for you. This is my take.
Nona is a mysterious little girl with a head full of secrets, a belly full of anger, and a lousy fate. A tragic childhood, a difficult adolescence, Nona has a way grimmer a life compared to Harry Potter, the young hero of the series she is often compared to. But they do share similarities like powerful allies, training sessions that become the tools necessary in the tests of life they face later. Yes, she goes to Sweet Mercy convent where her life changes and she finds people who appreciate her, teach her things that can be expected to become very useful in her later life, give her a true sense of family for the first time in her young life.
Nona knows love and loss quite early. A parent, a juggler, a friend, early losses in such young a life, she knows love too, in form of friends and sisters in spirit. She gets a taste of betrayal, survives a serious threat to her life and freedom, finds protectors and loyal allies in the nuns, novices, teachers, the charismatic woman, Abess Glass (a strange name for such a strong woman) who rescues her from potential execution with trickery and daring not commonly expected from a nun and brings her to the convent to train as a holy warrior. Thus ends her life as a peasant-turned-pit-bull-fighter and she becomes a nun-in-training in the monastery.
Nona’s fate brings her from the prison and a pending execution for a crime she committed as an act of defense and vengeance against a powerful enemy to the Sweet Mercy Convent. She finds people who appreciate her, teach her things that can be expected to become very useful in her later life, give her a true sense of family for the first time in her young life. She explores her own powers while working on adjusting into a comparatively quiet life for a while after living like an animal in a gladiator den.
Nona’s relationships with the other girls (in her past life in the village, the fight house, or the convent) remain a highlighted feature throughout the book. She shows remarkable loyalty very early in her life but finds it difficult to measure it in others. Hat’s off to Mark Lawrence for showing an extraordinary young female character as normal as is possible by weaving her day to day experiences into elaborate and complex training sessions. Minute details like menstrual cramps, fight over baths, sexual exploration among the girls, make the story of Nona more realistic. She becomes a memorable person in flesh and blood.
Magic is an integral part of the book. The genetics of four types of ‘blood’ sought in the potential pit-warriors/nun-candidates) described here is very interesting, a determining factor in the people’s (read girls, finally a book about girls) fate. Mark Lawrence builds up the tension and intrigue before he indulges in a detailed description of each concept, keeping the reader’s attention to each chapter before one realizes the whole book is over. Same with the world building. It’s economical, grim, breathtaking, and so well-described, that you won’t even need a map. Though I love maps, I don’t find it a necessity. Just saying. Oh, go read this cheeky little post on maps. You don’t really need it and why 🙂 .
A memorable character, Nona Grey’s POV runs back and forth past, present, and future. Around midway, I had started thinking I wasn’t going to enjoy the transitions. That changed when I hit ‘The End.’ The book, once complete, is an amazing journey, an adventure. The narration is quotably memorable. The tragedy of a little girl’s hard life, the thrill of not knowing what’s going to happen next when we know it would be something bad (the author has given us hints on the next phases throughout the book hence keeping our interest), the fascinating magic system, oh, I am so glad I picked up Red Sister from Netgalley. I have highlighted the kindle copy like school textbooks and not ashamed of it. 🙂
Don’t raise your brows me when I tell you that I thought of Enid Blyton as I read about the lives of girls in the convent dormitory. Many reviewers have drawn parallels with other fantasy classics about young orphans getting an opportunity to change their lives and their school experiences. Red Sister feels so much more adult in theme and atmosphere. I have decided not to compare but simply sit back and enjoy what I remember while Mr. Lawrence quickly finishes the next book. Or I might be courageous enough to go read Prince of Thorns (bought it 🙂 after reading Red Sister).
Thank you Netgalley and the publishers for briefly making this book available to all.
Genre: Fantasy, grimdark
Source: NetGalley, Kindle Edition, 472 pages
Published: April 4th, 6th, 2017 by HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, Harper Voyager
Available on your country’s Amazon site and books stores.
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