Red Sister: Assassins, alchemy and anchorites


United By Pop received a free copy of Red Sister in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are our own.

Titles: Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1)

Author: Mark Lawrence

Purchase: Available in the UK and the US

Overall rating: 4/5

Great for: Fans of epic high fantasy series with magical elements

Themes: High fantasy, kingdom fantasy, magic, young adult, coming of age

Review: Meet Nona Grey. She is not yet ten years old and is already awaiting her execution and the man she murdered put her there. As she is poised, ready to face the hangman’s noose, her saviour arrives in the form of Abbess Glass. Her salvation is the Sweet Mercy Convent, which transforms young girls into fierce warriors, who fight in the name of the holy Ancestors. Her choices are to swing or to train.

She chooses to train. She tries to forget about her blood-soaked past, the monster hidden inside herself and all the traitors that have betrayed her. She tries, instead, to focus on the few new friends she manages to make and excelling in all of her subjects. And if she tries hard enough, she may be able to convince herself that she is a normal, young girl just like the others. Almost.

Nona provides the reader with such a strong female protagonist that it wasn’t hard to empathise and align with her plight. But she was far from perfect. She was impetuous and tempestuous, prone to single-minded stubbornness and reckless abandonment of the rules. She was also sincere and guileless, quick to forgive and long to love. In short, she was raw and she was real.

The convent provided a wonderful atmosphere in which to see Nona’s character grow. Partially, this dealt with topics concerning any young girl at school – friendship troubles, schoolwork trials and teacher tribulations. There were also elements unique to this setting and these characters.

The convent was a world of its own; closed off from the rest of humanity and with its own system of hierarchy and morals. The novices must learn and endure in order to succeed and excel. It is an environ that exists to be transformative and to give each and every inhabitant the room to grow and evolve, for the reader and for the purposes of the plot.

The training the inhabitants endured was of a very singular nature; all designed to hone them into ruthless warriors. Part of the training involved aligning themselves with ‘the Path’ of magic. This allowed them to absorb inhuman abilities but was dependant on which of the four legendary Abeth tribes the novices descended from. This magic was complex and multi-faceted, allowing the individual to move what should not be moved and kill what could not be killed.

Nona finds she can access the ‘path’ on occasions of high emotion. She has Hunska blood in her veins that allows her to channel this ability. And these abilities also awaken an ancient prophecy that foretold of Nona’s coming…

Despite this being absorbing in its complexity and bold in its bloodiness, I found myself a little muddled by the structure of the magic system. The ‘why’ was explained, but I struggled to properly formulate the ‘how’. I wanted a little more structure to the formulation of how magic worked and this book would have been faultless.

This book gave me absolutely everything I desire from a great fantastical read – paramount world building, relatable characters, action-packed plot, stimulating narrative and a well thought out, if a little too dense, magical system. This book delivered on every front and my only negative is that I have to wait so long until the next instalment!


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