Book Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Alright, we admit it – Jody and I are generally pretty sexist when it comes to books. We’re not sure why but we tend to lean towards female writers, probably because they more often have female lead characters who are easier to relate to. They’re just more familiar, more comforting. But recently, we both made an exception. We read about a book coming out by Mark Lawrence. His name was familiar to us because of his popular Broken Empire series. We’ve both often picked up the first book of that series, but never committed.

When we read about his latest book Red Sister though, the blurb sounded right up our alley. Jody found it first on iBooks and downloaded the sample. Then we we spotted it on a new release trolley in one of our local bookshops, waiting to be put on display. Never fear, where there’s a book we must read, there’s a way. We snuck up to that trolley and furtively slipped two copies off the stack. We were pretty impressed with our book-ninja moment. I’m sure they would have given them to us if we’d asked, but this was much more entertaining.

Red Sister is the story of Nona Grey, who’s accused of murder at eight years old but saved from the gallows by a sister from the Convent of Sweet Mercy. Nona soon discovers the girls who live at the convent come from various walks of life and are trained and tested to find their fit in one of four disciplines, the most infamous of which is Red. The girls who demonstrate their suitability for the Red discipline become trained assassins, skilled in armed and unarmed combat, feared and revered across the land. Nona must catch up quickly if she has any hope of surviving the rigorous training and education regime at the hands of the sisters, some of whom are downright merciless. Along the way she does manage to find moments of kindness and friendship, small lights in the grim, dark tunnel of her short life so far.

Nona is a likeable character right from the start. She’ll draw you into the book, then help you through some of the overwhelmingly violent scenes at the beginning. You’re immediately on her side, and her strength and courage keep you turning the pages. She’s a fighter who goes through a lot in the short time before her internment at the convent, and even more from then on.

The book incorporates flash-forwards every now and then which really make you wonder what’s going to happen to get the characters to that point. It’s a technique we’ve usually seen in suspense novels but it works here too. It can be a little confusing, but at the same time, completely engaging.

What really hooks you in though is Mark Lawrence’s incredibly descriptive writing. He’s built this world with so much rich detail and so much thought that it feels entirely credible. Combine that with a thoroughly well-planned story, and we can only hope it will be continued as a series.

Jody says “this book has now restored my faith in fantasy” and she’s right. It’s so much more than those flash-and-burn fantasy-romance books around at the moment. It’s like the difference between sitting down for a six-course degustation meal compared to a quick fast-food drive through.

If you like Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan, or even Patrick Rothfuss – those long-form, epic fantasies – you’ll love this one. We sure did.

Jody & Amanda

On our most anticipated fiction reads of 2016 (so far)

It’s pretty obvious Jody and I are a tad book-obsessed. When we’re not reading them, we’re reading about them, writing about them, or listening to podcasts about them. We even keep notes in our calendars for the upcoming releases we’re excited about. With that in mind, we thought we’d let you know about the fiction books we’re ridiculously eager to read in the second half of this year.

Amanda

The Muse by Jessie Burton: Burton’s The Miniaturist was hugely popular in 2014 and her next book sounds like it could be equally so. History, art and a little suspense combined! Released June 28.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Okay. So to be honest I don’t have high hopes for this play/book about Harry Potter’s life as an adult, but I’m still hanging out to read it in the hope that I’m wrong! Released July 31.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty: Liane’s writing is full of wit and wisdom and we can’t wait to get our hands on her next book, especially after Jody just reread a whole bunch of her previous titles. Released July 26.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition: I know, I know, I’m showing my true colours here, but the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was beautiful so I will definitely be adding this one to my collection. Released October 1.

The Good People by Hannah Kent: like so many other readers, I thought Burial Rites- the story of the last woman hanged in Iceland – was an incredible book. So deeply moving. Hannah’s new book is based on another true story, this time set in a remote Irish valley. Released October 11.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. Author of Room and apparently with the same level of psychological tension. Enough said? Released September 20.

Jody

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi: I have been seeing this title everywhere over Twitter and even  read the sample. I can’t wait to read it! In fact I think it was released this week; so my wait is over.

Conrad & Eleanor by Jane Rogers: Sounds like an interesting and complex family story. Released June 2.

Heartland by Lucy Hounsom: The second book of the Worldmaker series. I read the first one (Starborn) last year and it was one of my books of the year. A great new fantasy series! Released June 30.

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine: This one picked purely because I like the cover, then after reading the blurb I thought yes I really want to read this. Released July 1.

The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson: book number three of the Remnant Chronicles, a young adult series I have really enjoyed. I can’t wait. Released August 2.

What have we missed? Is there anything you’re waiting for this year?

Amanda & Jody