Written by: Mark Lawrence @Mark_Lawrence
Published by: Harper Voyager @HarperVoyageruk
” 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.”
I’m a creature of habit.
New authors to me are exotic items on the menu. I browse and browse always promising that today I’ll try something different. Then, almost without fail I’ll go ahead and order the same old portion of Stephen King or Terry Pratchett that I always do when I’ve nothing to read. Even though I’ve tried every flavour they have I always go back to what I know. I’ve bought Stephen King’s ‘IT’ maybe five times now.
Sometimes though, a new offering comes along that I find the ‘nads to try.
In the digital age I’m sad to admit it’s often a decision led by special offers. I’m annoyed by Ebook prices in a way I never was with physical books. Listen an author deserves every penny of my money but I often feel that when I buy an Ebook it isn’t the author that ends up with the fair share of that £10.99. With physical books I have a feeling that the thing in my hand costs a fair old amount to produce. So when an Ebook doesn’t have that production cost for paper etc, I feel rightly or wrongly that the removal of that cost should be reflected in the price.
Audio books are the opposite – I feel again rightly or wrongly that they cost a bucket load more to produce than an Ebook so I’m happy to subscribe to audible in a way I’m not happy to pay for say Kindle Unlimited. I feel that for £7.99 a month I’m getting value for money, but I very rarely spend more than that a month.
Then I got an email from Audible ( that I very rarely even glance at ) telling me that Red Sister by Mark Lawrence was only £2.99
I’m ashamed to say I’d never even heard or seen the name Mark Lawrence before. Book of the Ancestor meant nothing to me and to be honest it had been a while since a fantasy book had caught my eye.
I’d just finished Finders Keepers by Stephen King that morning ( for the 3rd time in a third format ) so I decided what the hell, for less than a coffee I’d give it a whirl and see what happened.
What happened was I found an author and a series that grabbed me by the aforementioned ‘nads and hasn’t let go.
I’m aching to give you a plot run down here. I’ve already assaulted three of my friends with every nuance of the story that I could without revealing spoilers but I’m not going to do that here.
The reason I’m not going to is that Mark Lawrence writes in a way that he doesn’t spoon feed you a plot, a setting, or even characters all at once. He writes in such an organic way in Red Sister that you find out things at exactly the same time Nona Grey the main character does. This makes you feel like you are actually there, witnessing events as they unfold and I want you to experience that in the same joyous manner I did. For big portions of the book at the beginning I didn’t have a clue what was going on who anyone was, or why things were happening. Bit by bit though, without realising you just start to absorb the knowledge you need to understand in such a subtle way you barely realise you are doing it. It’s such a stroke of genius on Lawrence’s part. Words like Gerant, Hunska , Quantal, Marjal the original four tribes of men will mean nothing to you – next thing you know you’ll be recognising properties and attributes as if they are terms you’ve known all your life.
The world building in Red Sister is outstanding and is doled out in the same manner – bit by bit, as Nona learns as the story progresses you learn about Abeth and it’s history, geography and politics. It never feels like work as learning some fantasy settings can do.
There are a lot of confusing characters to begin with in Red Sister, a lot of Nuns with a lot of names. I honestly never thought I’d get my Sister Kettle straight from my Sister Tallow but again this knowledge isn’t brow beaten into you and it just comes in the most natural way.
The greatest trick any writer can pull is making you care about characters. Making you take an intake of breath when a little jumble of words on a page is in danger, or make you cheer out loud when that same little jumble of words wins a fight.
Mark Lawrence made me fall in love with his writing with a donkey. The plight of Four-Foot will stay with me for a very long time. By the end of that section of the book Lawrence had me hooked.
Lawrence makes you care about Nona by making her face every possible injustice. Every time the Bitel Bell in Sweet Mercy Convent rings you just know poor Nona is going to get the shitty end of some stick again. Every pain or loss inflicted on her makes you cheer for her that little bit harder. Makes you care for her that little bit more.
Even the smallest of characters in Red Sister are so well written and fleshed out you want them to win, or want to see them get their just deserts. It’s just great writing.
The fight scenes in Red Sister are so cinematic. From the smallest seemingly inconsequential training bout in Blade Class to the final apocalyptic battle – which is one of the best I’ve ever read, combat is choreographed on the page so well you can see it clearly in your mind. Lawrence does this thing with fights, where other authors I’ve read try to speed up the action, the pace, the beats of the scene – he doesn’t. He does the opposite, he slows it down. This has the strange counter intuitive effect of making them seem more kinetic and more impactful.
The second I finished listening to Red Sister, I instantly bought the second in the series “Grey Sister” – I just couldn’t wait even a minute. Mark Lawrence has gone from exotic fare on the menu to a writer whose work I can’t wait to devour. Worth every penny – special offers be damned. Nona Grey has become one of my all time favourite literary characters and I can’t wait to see what else the world of Sweet Mercy Convent has in store for her and her fellow Sisters.
A special mention for the Audio Version of Red Sister. Helen Duff who narrates the book does a phenomenal job of the reading here. There are a lot of characters – in particular a lot of Nuns and Novices. She and her performance gives individuality and a voice to each and every one of them. If you don’t usually listen to audio books this is one I would wholeheartedly recommend.
If you like your Fantasy to be rich and vibrant. With characters to love and hate in equal measure. With lore up the Ying-Yang and fight scenes that would make John Woo sit up and take notice Red Sister is the book for you.
Red Sister is available on Audio Book HERE
The Kindle version of Red Sister is available HERE
Mark Lawrence’s Amazon writer page is HERE