Author: Mark Lawrence
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Book of the Ancestor Book One
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Saved moments from being dropped from the gallows, Nona Grey a child of nine, is recruited into the Convent of Sweet Mercy by Sister Glass. At the Convent she is trained in the arts of killing, and will one day be required to serve the church. But her crimes have attracted powerful enemies and even the safety of the Convent may not be enough to protect her.
Red Sister is the first in the Book of the Ancestor Trilogy, by Mark Lawrence. It's also Lawrence's first book that doesn't take place within the Broken Empire world. Being set in a magical school, will inevitably draw comparisons to Harry Potter, and there are some similarities, between the two, but the world, and the subject matter makes them feel different enough.
Nona is a troubled girl, with a troubled past. So troubled that she has a hard time articulating it or speaking about it, and when she does, she usually lies. This of course makes her an unreliable narrator, as the story of where she came from is constantly changing, depending on who she's telling it to. Gradually Nona's actions begin to be explained, and she starts to become a very sympathetic character. At the same time her young age and naivete is handled really well, and from the questions she asks to the judgments she makes, she is successfully portrayed as a believable young girl.
For the first time in her life Nona also begins to make new friends. These include the merchant's daughter Clera, and the wealthy aristocrat Arabella. She of course develops a few rivalries along the way, and manages to get in in trouble with some of the teachers. There is some typical school age drama, but with much more violent consequences, that are imbued everywhere. With all these melodramatic moments, and the coming of age plot, it's hard to ignore that there is a Y.A. flavor that permeates throughout the story. Well I wouldn't call this a Y.A. story, I imagine it could appeal to people who do like Y.A.
The magic in Lawrence's world seems to come from the genetics of its people. In a way it's kind of similar to what Daniel Abraham was doing in The Dagger and Coin series, but Lawrence's four different races gift their descendants with different supernatural abilities. The Hunska are very fast, the Gerant are essentially giants, the Marjal can work with lesser magics, and the Quantal who can work with greater magics and walk the Path.
As you learn the mechanics of the Convent, the politics of the court, and the history that has shaped the world of Abeth, Lawrence has ultimately crafted a story that's a page turner. And page turner isn't usually the word I think of when I think of Mark Lawrence, but this is ultimately what's being presented here.
Red Sister immediately reminded me of Jay Kristoff's Nevernight, which came out last year and is also about an orphan girl who is recruited to an assassin school. Mia Corvere, the main character of Nevernight, I liked to call an Arya Stark, that went to Hogwarts for assassins. Well Nona Grey is what I like to call a Wolverine (or probably even more accurately described as X-23) that is going to Hogwarts for assassins. Suffice it to say if you enjoyed Nevernight, and are looking for a similar setting, this would be worth checking out.