Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

“It is important when killing a nun to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.”

If an opening line like that doesn’t reel you in, then I don’t know what will. That is how Red Sister, book one of the Book of the Ancestor series by Mark Lawrence begins.

From this stirring opening, we flash back to the main narrative which takes place at Sweet Mercy convent. Nona is saved from the end of a hangman’s noose by Abbess Glass. But Nona has made rich, powerful enemies and even if they dare not breach the walls of the convent, the danger they represent is always present. The Convent teaches girls to be deadly. Along with learning history and the religion of their world, the girls are taught hand-to-hand and weapon skills. They are taught how to make and hopefully how not to die from poisons. Some of the girls possess rare gifts, which also must be honed and trained.

Nona fears that her secrets are too terrible and that their discovery will cost her her friends. Friends have been rare enough in her life that she puts great stock in them and holds them precious, even as trust is harder to find. As Nona’s training progresses, she begins to have a better understanding of the world and an idea of her place in it. With her innate skills and the training she has received, the world is about to become even deadlier.

Mark Lawrence has written some of the best epic fantasy of the past decade. With Red Sister he embarks on a new series in a new world and he has topped himself once again. The characters are strong and vivid and his descriptions of scenes and events is both brutal and beautiful. The plot moves along briskly from beginning to end. Nona and the young novices of the convent are front and center, but the nuns who teach them are every bit as strongly written. I would read a whole book just about Abbess Glass. Lawrence brilliantly describes events, or portions of events, from Nona’s perspective. He returns to these events, viewing them from a different vantage point or offering more information that changes your interpretation of them until you are gasping with amazement.

The audio version of Red Sister is narrated by Heather O’Neill who does an amazing job with it. Her accents, intonation and pace perfectly complement the story. When a great narrator is paired with outstanding material as it is here, the experience is transcendent. This is an outstanding story and I can’t think of a better way to encounter it than through this audio version. This book is going to wind up on a lot of “best of” lists at the end of this year. The next book can’t come fast enough. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this audiobook from the publisher.

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