Book Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Title: Red Sister

Author:  Mark Lawrence

Publisher: Ace

Publication Date:  April 4, 2017

Genres: Grimdark Fantasy

Shelves: Female-fronted

Wow, but this was dark. Dark, gritty, and oh-so-very grim. There's a reason the name Mark Lawrence is synonymous with the grimdark genre, and Red Sister once again grabs us by the throat, slaps us around, and reminds us why that is.

If I had to pick themes, I would say that this is a book - obviously - about female power and female empowerment, but also one about faith, family, and friendship. Yeah, that's a lot of 'F' words, and that's probably owing more to my fetish for alliteration than anything Mark Lawrence intended, but follow me here.

Nona Grey is the protagonist here, a young woman of both power and secrets, for whom friendship means more than faith or family. She does not make friends lightly, and she does not discard them, at all, even when she has been beaten betrayed. She is a chilling young woman, serious, dedicated, and possessed of a singular focus. While the book has been accused of being an extended training montage, that is selling it short. Yes, we watch as Nona is trained and tested over the years, but the friendships she builds, the relationships she nurtures, the grudges she pursues, the secrets she uncovers, and the mysteries she solves are the real appeal. Nona needs to be trained, and that training is an integral part of how she grows.

Training alongside Nona is a wide cast of young women, with the key characters being Ara (who challenges Nona for Chosen One status), Clera (who challenges Nona's commitment to friendship), Hessa (a pivotal friend with magical ties to Nona), and Zole (who adds a new questions of friendship and Chosen One status). We don't know who to trust, but we learn who to like, and sometimes that makes things even more devastating when the betrayals come.

The world-building here is simple, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi origin behind a world being swallowed by ice, and what little mythology there is appears to be nothing more than stories. The magic, however, the skills of the four legendary Abeth tribes, is fascinating to watch in action with fight scenes that are fast-paced and brutal, but slowed down through Nona's perception.

Fantasies like this so often seem to fall short in the finale, but Red Sister layers twist upon betrayal and climaxes upon climaxes until you genuinely wonder whether any of the girls will survive the book. The most perplexing aspect of the story, however, is the prologue/epilogue chapters, advancing the story to somewhere in the future, teasing greater conflicts and bigger betrayals, and leaving us to wonder when and how it is all destined to take place.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀


  1. I might be the last person who hasn't read this series🤣 One of these days...

  2. I freely admit, I was waiting for the mass-market paperback editions to come out. Fortunately, that means I grabbed Red Sister & Grey Sister at the same time, 2 for $15. :)


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