Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence

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ARC provided by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.

“A book is as dangerous as any journey you might take. The person who closes the back cover may not be the same one that opened the front one.”

This story surrounds a young girl, given away by her mother and village after a frightful night. Yet, even being given away, our young protagonist, Nona, proves that there will always be room in your heart to love. The children that are given away to be sold are worth as much as what is in their blood. There are four tribes in this world, and the purer the blood you have, or the more tribes you have in your blood, makes your worth incredibly more valuable.

“What good is holy if it watches my friend die –not because she did something wrong but because her blood wasn’t good enough?”

Four Tribes that the people in this world can descend from:
Gerant – Great size and strength.
Hunska – Quick speed.
Marjal – The ability to tap into lesser magic.
Quantal – The ability to walk the Path and work greater magic.

Nona is sold and has a lot of potential because of her blood, but after Nona is found guilty of a very violent crime, she is sentenced to death. That is, until she is stolen and taken to Sweet Mercy’s Convent for young girls, because her blood and potential should not be wasted. Unfortunately, Nona is harboring secrets that are constantly making her question her worth, no matter what’s in her blood.

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

Four Classes in the Convent for the novices to learn as a group:
Red Class – Ages 9-12 typically.
Grey Class – Ages 13-14 typically.
Mystic Class – Ages 15-16 typically.
Holy Class – Ages 17-19 typically.

In ten years, Nona will be educated and taught everything she needs to know in the ways of blade and fist while becoming a Red Sister, but there are going to be many hurdles in her way. This book spans only three of those years, but we already get to see the political, power, and religious problems that will not be ignored or easily fought.

Four Paths for the novices to take once they become nuns:
Bride of the Ancestor, Holy Sister – Honors the Ancestors and keeps the faith.
Martial Sister, Red Sister – Warriors skilled in armed and unarmed combat.
Sister of Discretion, Grey Sister – Masters of stealth and potions with shadow work.
Mystic Sister, Holy Witch – Walks the Path and manipulates threads.

“The hardest lesson I ever learned was that every bad thing you see a friend do to someone else they will someday do to you.”

This story puts such a heavy emphasis on friendship and the importance of believing in others even when you’ve been hurt in the past. Friendship truly is the constant theme of this story, and how beautiful and cruel it can be. Trust is something we should never give willingly, but it can reap so many beautiful things if you choose to put your trust in the right person.

“Truth is an ax. Without judgment it’s swung in great circles, wounding everybody”

Four girls whose paths cross regardless of what they wanted:
Nona – Our sweet cinnamon roll protagonist.
Arabella – From royal blood.
Clera – Father/family in great financial trouble.
Zole – From the Ice Tribes and the ward of a very powerful woman.

No one is truly all good; everyone comes with failures and faults. Good people can do terrible things just as easily as bad people can perform righteous miracles. Believing in someone else can be a great treasure or a horrible curse, but believing the bad or the good of yourself can be catastrophic.

And the writing, oh the writing. This writing is slow and meticulous and meaningful. It’s different and unique and reflective on things going on in today’s world. It’s mesmerizing and lyrical and completely unforgettable. I honestly feel like I could have highlighted this whole book! I will definitely be rereading some of these quotes for the rest of my life.

For me, this story has seeped its way into my body and embedded itself into my heart. I was unable to put it down, and I still am so invested in Nona’s character. Nona is the best character I’ve read about in years. If there was a way for me to put myself into this story, I would and I would fight by her very side because I believe in her that much.

“A juggler once came to my village. He was my first friend.”

This is a story about a chosen one, but it is done in such a perfect way that you are left constantly questioning what is true and what is false. This isn’t your typical chosen one cliché in the slightest. The prophecy in this book is unlike any other you’ve read, and the battle for the truth is such a treat to read about.

“It says that the Ark will open when the four tribes demand it with one voice.”

And I mean, ultimately this is a story about magical warrior nuns fighting a war from many different sides! How much more do I need to say to sell you?

Okay, let’s talk for a minute about *holds breath and pauses for dramatic effect* SCHOOL SETTINGS! Most people, like me, in their mid to late twenties, grew up with Harry Potter which has bewitched all of us to absolutely love and devour books set in boarding school settings. All the different nuns, with all their different specialties, were so reminiscent of Harry Potter, too, that I couldn’t help but become addicted to reading this. (Side note: Apple/Mistress Shade is everything I wish Snape was in a Potions Master, and she filled my heart with so much happiness.)

This story also beautifully features lesbians. In fact, I do not believe we even see a hetero relationship in this book. There are two nuns in this book, who are teachers and obviously together, which no one ever shames or questions, but treats the relationship how it should be treated: as normal. There is also a good discussion on being young and having feelings that you aren’t sure are “correct” since the feelings are not of the ‘norm” of society. One of the other younger girls in the Convent is discovering she is gay, and the transition of her realization is somewhat painful, but so very important. It is never stated that Nona is gay herself, but I truly feel like she is, and I am so excited for that development that could grow, you have no idea. Let the record state that all I want in my life are lesbians in my high fantasy novels and this portion of the story made me completely biased. Also, thank you Mark Lawrence for making a Convent, for only women and girls, have lesbians, because many other authors would have skipped the obvious and made everyone straight.

“Your death has not been waiting for your arrival at the appointed hour: it has, for all the years of your life, been racing towards you with the fierce velocity of time’s arrow. It cannot be evaded, it cannot be bargained with, deflected or placated.”

Overall and needless to say, I loved this. It was so immersive and so all-encompassing. I never wanted to put this book down, and all I want now is the second book. The characters are on a whole other level, the writing is nothing short of phenomenal, and the story is so very captivating and addicting. This book will easily make my “top books of 2017” list. Please, do yourself a favor and pick up this amazing book on April 4th, 2017.

“There is, in the act of destruction, a beauty which we try to deny, and a joy which we cannot. Children build to knock down, and though we may grow around it, that need runs in us, deeper than our blood.”

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

28 thoughts on “Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence

  1. Awesome review, I loved this book, glad you did too, everyone should as it’s great!

    Ha, Nona: our sweet cinnamon roll protagonist! Bwahahahaha, made me smile!😂

    Totally agree about Nona, it’s not stated that she’s a lesbian but it’s definitely implied, whether she ends up as one or not, we shall see but regardless she’s a great character and as you say, praise to Lawrence for the Nuns and Nona.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Drew! I loved your review so very much! 💗

      Yeah, I keep telling myself NOT to get my hopes up about her being at least bi, but I totally am hoping! Regardless, she’s such an amazing character. I need book two so very badly! 😭

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review Melanie! I think yours is the first I’ve seen that talked about how sexuality is expressed in the story. I really appreciate it when books incorporate marginalized characters, especially into a leading role. I feel like we see that so infrequently, especially in Fantasy. This one is definitely on my to-read list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Bentley! 😘

      Yeah, I was so amazingly surprised with the representation. Made for an even better read, on top of the compelling story! I hope you love it when you decided to pick it up! 💖

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so very welcome! 💛

      This was actually my first Mark Lawrence book, but I do remember a lot of my friends DNFing the start of his other series because of the main character (I think). 🙃

      Liked by 1 person

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