Red Sister by Mark Lawrence | Review

Posted December 20, 2018 by Asheley in review / 0 Comments

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence | ReviewRed Sister by Mark Lawrence
Series: Book of the Ancestor #1
Published by Ace on April 4, 2017
Pages: 469
Source: the publisher
Narrator: Heather O'Neill
Length: 19 hours, 21 minutes
Buy from Amazon|Buy from Barnes & Noble|Buy from Book Depository|Buy on Audible

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…

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


When I finished Red Sister, I could barely breathe. I really took my time with it and I think that was a good decision because I feel like I really got to know these characters and what they do at Convent of Sweet Mercy, at least as much as they’d let me get to know them (wink, wink).


It is important, when reading Red Sister, to ensure that you pay attention to the Prologue. There is a wealth of information tucked away in those paragraphs and pages, and if you count them out, you are missing some big badassery and obviously some clues at things to come. I read the Prologue no fewer than three times before starting the book, and I-can’t-tell-you-how-many times during the course of the novel, so by the time some of the phrases and names were repeated, my heart rate was dangerously high and I was not proud of my language. This is fact.

It is important, when reading Red Sister, to ensure that you pay attention to the things that Nona Grey says. Not all of it is true, you see, but it is all important. I KNOW, I KNOW, me telling you this doesn’t really draw you in to her as a character. That is not my intention. Because holy smokes, if you can just hang with her stories and what she is trying to do and pay attention to why she holds back, it is so dang worth it.

“I’m Nona Grey, war is in my veins,
and the screams of my enemies are music to me.”

This story is bloody. People die. I’m telling you right now. There is revenge and there are battles and there is an overall feeling that something big can happen at any time and it probably won’t be good. Nona Grey herself is just a fierce young thing, but not in the same way that I’ve read about so many times before. Oh no. Nona has something going on, something bigger than she understands, something in her blood maybe, and she can barely control it. Maybe “fierce” isn’t the best word for what she is, but I won’t speculate on better words because I dare not spoil things for you. Trust me, you’re in for a treat if you can handle it.

If I lived in the world in this book, I’d really want Nona Grey on my side. For me and not against me.

Without getting into the plot too heavily because, spoilers: Red Sister is fantasy that is somewhere between YA and the darkest grimdark. You want to read this if you love powerful magic, if you aren’t bothered by killing and blood and talk of war and battles. If you need a romance in your story, you may not be satisfied here, because as of this first installment, there is no romance yet-although I cannot speak for the future of the series. So far, these nuns have no time for that kind of love. I will also say that Red Sister expects you to keep up. Red Sister does not apologize. Red Sister will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

I finished this one and ran, ran, to grab the second book off of my shelf. If you know me at all, you know that I rarely (hardly ever) read books in a series back-to-back. Yet here I sit, doing just that.

Good fantasy is where I feel AT HOME. I need to be fully immersed in a world that isn’t like this one, I want to be some place else, even if it is a world that I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in. Truly I’m reading good fantasy right now, folks, and I’m fully immersed in this world. I’m not so sure if this is a world I want to live in-it’s pretty dark and it seems to be coming to an end-but I’m all in. Is it possible to already be dying for the third book in the series when I haven’t even finished the second book yet? Because I’m there. That is what I’m feeling right now.

(Literally, this review has been just a bunch of words of me gushing, but I’m not mad about it.)

If you need a more accurate review: The world-building is great, especially for those that love the boarding school/convent setting. Most of the story actually takes place at or inside of the convent, but once we get outside, buckle up! The cast is large, and I’ll be honest, it took a few chapters to learn everyone. Thank you a thousand times to Mark Lawrence for including a fantastic Author’s Note and Dramatis Personae in the front of the book, which I referenced a million billion times because there is great information there. (I actually kept two bookmarks in the book: one in my place in the story, and one in the Author’s Note because I referenced it so much.) The characters are all great, but they’re not all good people, and they’re certainly not all trustworthy. It takes the length of the book to decide if some of them are worth trusting, and truthfully I went into the second book still deciding on a couple of them. Note, this doesn’t bother me in the slightest bit; it keeps me on my toes. The bad guys are really bad, the bloody scenes are really grim, and the overall tone of the book is dark-like gray, dusky, hazy, cold fogginess. It is really so good. I will FOR SURE have to read this again in the future and I’ll say this again for those in the back: that Prologue is a damn treasure, especially if you listen to it on audiobook.

Also, sidenote: I’ve seen quite a few comparisons to Harry Potter here and there and comparisons make me super uncomfortable; on the one hand, I can see some similarities in that the Convent of Sweet Mercy is basically a boarding school and there is a really neat magic system in here-things like that-but this is not Harry Potter. Ths is not that. I think by making those comparisons, people have unrealistic expectations. It is more accurate to say that there are things in both series that are similar, or that this book reminds me of that book in these ways, and then list them. But comparisons just do injustices to everyone, always. This is fantasy with lots of violence in it that just happens to have young characters. It is not Harry Potter /end

Another sidenote: here is where the author talks about his decision to not make a map for this series. I’ve been crying over not having a map for way longer than I’m willing to admit.

Audiobook Notes:

Audiobook narration was Heather O’Neill, who is one of my top favorites for reading fantasy. She has a beautiful accent, which she used wonderfully for Nona. She also differentiated well between each character. I especially loved the way she gave each of the Sisters their own voice. Everyone had such a distinct personality and I grew so attached to their voice, even if I didn’t know who to trust as characters. That’s such a tricky thing, I think, and Ms. O’Neill pulled it off brilliantly. Well done. 100% totally continuing with this series on audio.

Title: Red Sister
Series: Book of the Ancestor #1
Narrated by: Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Recorded Books
Length: 19 hours, 21 minutes, Unabridged

I should be sure to say that I bought my own copy of my audiobook to listen to while I read my finished copy, which I received from the publisher, Ace Books. Certainly I was not required to do so, nor was I required to say anything positive in my review, but in truth I only have positive things to say about this one. I do enjoy reading and listening at the same time and do this almost exclusively, and I recommend that others try it as well.


About Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence Author Photo

Mark Lawrence was born in Champagne-Urbanan, Illinois, to British parents but moved to the UK at the age of one. He went back to the US after taking a PhD in mathematics at Imperial College to work on a variety of research projects including the ‘Star Wars’ missile defence programme. Returning to the UK, he has worked mainly on image processing and decision/reasoning theory. He says he never had any ambition to be a writer so was very surprised when a half-hearted attempt to find an agent turned into a global publishing deal overnight. His first trilogy, THE BROKEN EMPIRE, has been universally acclaimed as a ground-breaking work of fantasy. Following The Broken Empire comes the bestselling RED QUEEN’S WAR trilogy. The BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR trilogy, in an entirely new setting, commences with RED SISTER in 2017. Mark is married, with four children, and lives in Bristol.


About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


Have a thought? Speak your mind!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.