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 went into Red Sister expecting to love it unconditionally. I’ve read countless reviews from people with similar tastes as my own praising every aspect of Red Sister. So, when I got about halfway through and didn’t love it like everyone else I was surprised and confused.
There are so many great things Red Sister has going for it: an incredible main character, a complex magic system, and an interesting world. Unfortunately, these aspects do not work in tandem to create a cohesive reading experience.
Nona is easily the best aspect of the novel. She’s fierce, pure, and badass. Nona struggles with who she is and how she fits in the world for most of the novel. She believes herself to be tainted and thus a monster, which contrasts with how she interacts with those around her.
I loved the more mundane moments of the novel. Nona at the nunnery/assassin school living her day-to-day life, making friends, and learning about herself and the world she lives in, is where Red Sister shines. However, when important plot points and world building moments happen I felt like I was missing some key piece of information to understand the importance of what was happening. I felt lost and confused, so I wasn’t able to fully connect with the story.
Lawrence’s writing is beautiful, flowery, and poetic. Each scene flows seamlessly from one scene to the next. His ability to make readers visualize vividly what’s happening is incredible. Even so, his writing at times is overly flowery which, I think, contributed to my inability to fully connect and understand the story.
Correspondingly, the magic system featured in Red Sister is intense and complex. There is no info dump moment or a clear layout of what readers can expect from the magic system. Instead, readers learn in tandem with Nona as she learns about the world and its intricacies through her experiences. I usually complain about info dumps in fantasy novels, but the way Lawrence lays out his magic system and world left me grasping for something solid to build a foundation for my understanding of what he was trying to accomplish.
Overall, Red Sister is a fantasy novel that you shouldn’t pass up despite my more negative review. The more I think about Red Sister the more I like it. For this reason, I gave Red Sister four stars instead of three. I will definitely be continuing the series after I read/watch spoiler reviews to supplement my understanding of its intricacies.