Red Sister by Mark Lawrence blew my mind.
There, that’s my review. Good enough? What? It’s not wordy enough?
Okay, I’ll write some more.
First the blurb:
“It’s not until you’re broken that you find your sharpest edge.
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…”
This author gets better with every book he writes, which is, I know, the ideal of every writer.
Nona is a child, sold into slavery, sentenced to death for loyalty, for fighting to save a friend. Stolen from the hangman, she is taken to a convent where girls are trained to become assassins. As she learns about poisons, fighting styles, survival tactics, how to make friends and enemies, we learn about her. Layer by layer, the truth of Nona’s past is revealed to the reader – and then, with a little twist at the end, to her. Mark Lawrence is a master of the slow reveal, he dances the dance of the seven veils with his writing and, damn, is he good. Every wiggle, every flash of flesh, every knowing wink, every dropped diaphanous veil, deepens our knowledge of this character’s past and her psyche, until Nona becomes a person you know, you root for, you love – massive flaws and all.
The world around Nona is populated by well-rounded, multi-faceted characters, the Sisters who teach, the students who learn, entitled royalty and nobles, pragmatic masters, desperate slaves, relentless fighters, enigmatic hunters, worn farmers. Wry, sarcastic, funny, sadistic, honest, fearful, loving, cold… they display the whole gamut of human emotions along with their all too human needs and wants. But who can Nona trust? Who must she fear? Who will betray her? For they will, this she knows for certain. She cannot even trust herself. She fears herself. She will betray herself. For she will, this she knows for certain. Yet, she does trust, she forgets to fear… and she is betrayed.
The world! Nona’s world is very alien to ours, ice bound but for a strip of habitable land like a belt around its equator, its poor resources fought over. The ice holds frozen in its vastness animals and artifacts that ice-hunters mine, a secretive, separatist clan. Religion holds the laws and rules the peoples – it is dogmatic, flawed, and corrupt, as most monoliths are. Hints of ancient technology, myth-bound through ages of retelling, slowly fail their eons long watch over the world. Magic lies in the blood of a few lucky, or perhaps not so lucky, inheritors. Prophecies are vague and misunderstood. Treachery is rampant and understood too well, but often too late.
I read books to ‘feel’. Anger, sorrow, fear, hate, love – if emotions are invoked in me while carried by the characters’ stories, I consider a book has done its job. Red Sister does its job bloody well. Read this book and enter a world that absorbs your mind.
Bleed and feel with Nona.
All the best
R B Watkinson