Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1)
Published: April 4, 2017 (Ace)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: UK copy provided by UK publisher, Harper Voyager, in exchange for an honest review
Reviewed by: Jo
Rating (out of 5): 4 stars
With the Sun slowly dying, the world has been reduced to a single, fifty-mile-wide corridor between the Ice Walls with every inch being fought over by different empires. Magic from ancient tribes runs through the veins of some, ruling the structure of society and the destiny of many.
Nona has been through a lot before she even walks through the doors of the Convent of Sweet Mercy. At eight years old she has been ostracized by her village, sold into slavery, accused of murder and almost hanged. Nona becomes a novice of the convent, with little choice or fanfare, and is set on a path to enter one of its four holy orders.
It take more than ten years to be fully trained and take one of the four orders, but from the very beginning Nona sets her sights on becoming a Martial, or Red, Sister, a warrior highly trained in combat. But her past is not so easily left behind, and there are enemies staking the gates of the Convent. Nona soon finds herself, and another novice, at the center of an ancient prophecy. She will need every ounce of the ancient magic in her blood to survive.
I’m a relative newbie when it comes to high fantasy, and can still find their length and the sheer scale of worldbuilding pretty intimidating. But with a page count of 432 (US hardcover), Red Sister seemed a bit less so, and come on, warrior nuns?! Sign me up! The worldbuilding is complex but all the pieces began to slot together and started to reveal a world that is utterly fascinating. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, part dystopian, the layers just kept on coming, and I’m a little bit obsessed now.
I have to admit, from the cover and the blurb, I was expecting something slightly different from Red Sister. Or, to be more specific, I was expecting what will most likely be in later books in the trilogy. When it first starts with Nona as a child, I thought we would see a few chapters of her starting her training at the convent and then the story would jump forward. It does, but not by much, and the majority of Red Sister sees Nona between the ages of 8 and 13(ish). There were tantalizing glimpses of where the story is going in the form of a prologue, interlude and epilogue, that take place in the future (and it looks BADASS), but once I reconciled myself to the fact that that wasn’t where we were going in this book I enjoyed it much more.
This certainly isn’t a children’s book however. Bloody, brutal, gory at times, and altogether pretty vicious, Red Sister follows Nona as she struggles to simply survive in a world where children have little in the way of home or safety. Spending so much time with her at the beginning of this journey, seeing every betrayal, every cruelty, every friendship formed, and achievement hard won, gave such a solid foundation to Nona as a character, something I think will absolutely pay off in the next two books. I loved how much focus was put on friendship, especially as Nona struggles to initially connect with others. Friendship almost becomes her religion, never hesitating to put herself in danger for those she shares that bond with. I can already tell that any loss or betrayal in later books in going to hurt so much more to read because of the time taken to flesh out these characters and relationships.
There was also plenty of action, between Nona’s training with various forms of magic and combat, and the consequences of her actions before going the convent. The prophecy I previously mentioned plays a large part in driving the plot forward, but I like the fact it was pretty vague throughout, and constantly kept me guessing.
Red Sister is the beginning of Nona’s journey, laying a rich and solid foundation for where this story is going. This is a dark fantasy world, with a complicated protagonist, and a fascinating world history. I’m itching to see what happens next.
Sexual content: references to child physical and sexual abuse
Warning: graphic animal cruelty