by Mark Lawrence
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…
This book is about assassin nuns. I should love it. So I’m sure you can imagine how heartbroken I am that I didn’t.
I’ve tried to read Red Sister a few times and after recommendations from a few fellow readers, I decided to give the audiobook a try. Honestly? I wouldn’t have finished this book if it weren’t for the audiobook, which was narrated by Helen Duff who did a brilliant job.
Red Sister follows Nona, a young girl who is due to be hanged for attempted murder when the abbess of the Convent of Sweet Mercy rescues her from the gallows and initiates her as a novice. The catch? Sweet Mercy is a convent that teaches assassins.
Why? No idea. And that’s my problem with this novel.
I don’t mind having questions when I finish a book, especially if it’s the first in a series, but it does bother me if none of my questions from when I started have been answered and I have even more questions on top of that. I’ve seen quite a few reviewers say they love the world-building, but unfortunately I never quite understood what was going on or why any of this book was important.
On the one hand I love how Lawrence subverts the idea of the ‘chosen one’ and how those stories don’t necessarily mean anything, but I could never quite grasp what the plot of this novel was. For me it was jumbled and confused and I wasn’t a fan of Lawrence’s writing style; when I was reading rather than listening, I often found myself having to re-read whole pages because nothing had gone in.
I loved the idea behind this book. I find nunneries fascinating in historical and fantasy fiction; I love that they’re safe, entirely female spaces, and the quieter scenes between Nona and the friends she made were some of my favourites. I especially loved her relationship with Arabella and how Lawrence turned the trope of the bitchy popular girl on its head.
There was a moment about a third of the way in when I was starting to feel like Red Sister was going to be a 4 star read, and then it lost itself for me again. There were so many training montages and fight scenes, too many for my taste which meant I quickly grew bored (although I do appreciate that none of the violence in this book was sexual violence), and more than anything I just couldn’t figure out why I was supposed to care about any of it?
The focus of this novel was never clear to me and that meant I could never fully enjoy it because I could never understand why the important things were important. I was hoping to love this one – sadly, it just wasn’t for me!