“I was born for killing—the gods made me to ruin.”
What a morbid, engrossing story.
I haven’t read Mark Lawrence before, but after finishing Red Sister, I am absolutely going to check out his other works.
Set in a world where ice slowly encroaches on the last surviving span of land – called the Corridor – Red Sister follows Nona, an orphan who is rescued from the gallows and taken to the Convent of Sweet Mercy, where girls are trained to kill, wield magic, and dedicate themselves to their god. But Nona is pursued by powerful enemies who will go to any lengths to see her dead.
Well, where to begin? Red Sister is exciting from start to finish, filled with drama and bloodshed. The violence borders on excessive, so if fighting and gore isn’t your poison of choice, I would suggest you give this book a pass. If you are looking for vicarious thrills, however, Red Sister is definitely the book for you.
One reason I’m eager to read more of Lawrence’s work is for the writing style. Red Sister is both dramatic and poetic, and particularly pleasing to listen to as an audiobook (with a lovely, lilting narration by Heather O’Neill). The prose does become dense in some parts, but it is so well-written and intriguing as to not be tedious.
Our main protagonist, Nona, is fully entrenched in violence, having been sent to the gallows for the attempted murder of a nobleman. Nona is a fascinating main character, having little in the way of innocence or sympathy for her enemies. Unfortunately, while her black and white morals make for interesting action sequences, she tends to become a little one-dimensional from time to time. I would have liked to get into Nona’s head a little more – to see some of her hatred, rage, and love for her friends.
The other characters are interesting, for the most part. Nona’s close circle of friends each have distinct personalities and rewarding progressions from rivalry, hostility, and outright violence to camaraderie and friendship. That being said, the use of dual names for most of the nuns – from Sister So-and-So to Mistress Such-and-Such – was unnecessarily confusing. This system made it difficult to keep track of characters with indistinct personalities.
My last point of interest is with the setting. I don’t know if Lawrence has addressed this world in other books, but if you go into Red Sister cold, you might become confused. Lawrence does little to explain the mechanics of this world, so readers have to glean the particulars of the Corridor, the red moon, the four lineages, the Path, and ship hearts from paying close attention. This isn’t particularly difficult, but readers with little patience for long, drawn-out world building might struggle to keep track of details in this book – details I suspect will become more relevant in later books.
Despite all that, I really did enjoy Red Sister. I’m excited to see what Lawrence does with the rest of this series. I only hope we get a more in-depth look at the world, more fleshed-out characterization, and, of course, more gratuitous violence.
Seriously, what’s not to love about the idea of murder nuns?