AncalagonTheBlack

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

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THE UNITED FEDERATION OF CHARLES' REVIEW:
http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/2017/04/red-sister-review.html

"Friendship is, well, it’s caring for somebody more than you do yourself."
"Fool, that’s not friendship, that’s love."

-The Doctor and Zagreus, Zagreus audio drama

    Red Sister is the third series to come out by Mark Lawrence, who holds the position as the third most famous grimdark author alive after George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. Indeed, he might be the second most famous since George R.R. Martin doesn't self-identity as that sort of author.

    His first series, The Broken Empire Trilogy, showed a Lelouch-esque boy genius destined to conquer the world like Alexander and prepared to sacrifice his soul in the process. The second, The Red Queen's War, followed the corrupt lothario Prince Jalan as he struggled to avoid doing the right thing as such always ended up being difficult. Both took place in the Hundred Kingdoms and were delightfully dark fantasy.

    Red Sister, by contrast, takes place in a new world called the Corridor. Much like the previous volumes, it is a Medieval fantasy world but eschews the post-apocalypse elements to take place in what appears to be a planet suffering an ice age. It stars Nona Grey, a young peasant girl who is sold to a slaver who sends her briefly to the fighting pits before she ends up "rescued" from the noose by the region's militant order of nuns.

    In the process, Nona, makes an enemy out of a serial killer pedophile as well as his extraordinarily rich father. As the words "serial killer pedophile" are used in this description, one should note this is not going to be a story with much in the way of moral ambiguity nor is the fact the protagonist a young girl a quality which makes it lighter fiction.

    Some people label this Young Adult fiction due to the protagonists age while others believe this is just dark fantasy which stars children. Honestly, I think it's both and note that as a teenager, I loved reading dark and horrible stuff. It's why the Hunger Games is good and its derivatives aren't. The Hunger Games was awful to its protagonists and that's what made it awesome.

    So is Red Sister any good?

    Oh definitely. I have some complaints but, overall, I think Nona is every bit as enjoyable as Mark Lawrence's other protagonists. She has her faults, not being nearly as smart as Jorg or as funny as Jalan, but she is tirelessly determined. In fact, Nona is aggressively ignorant of the way the world "should" work and refuses to change when people try to teach her otherwise. She just doubles down on her own self-made of honor and stabs anyone who violates it. Nieztsche may have a disciple in this world.

    Much of the book is devoted around the principle of what friendship really means. While this is a topic which seems more appropriate for a Saturday Morning Cartoon, Lawrence adults it up by making it clear this is about what real bonds are made of. Nona is willing to fight, die, and kill for her friends but expects them to hold to the same standard of companionship. It's a Band of Brothers-esque friendship with none of the twee despite the protagonists all being adolescents, with the exception of a few flash forwards to their adult days.

    The book also spends a good deal of time developing the world's magical system, which relies on the subject being from one of the world's four tribes that have occasionally inbred over the past millennium. Describing it is difficult but I'd say it's basically like someone merged Harry Potter's bloodlines with the Dark Side of the Force. Most Sisters use their fighting skills in a state of calm but Nona manages to master her powers by being in a state of perpetual barely contained fury.

    I liked the supporting cast as well with each of the young girls and their teachers having a strong well-defined personality. You could argue that some are "the rich one", "the royal one", and "the pious one." Also, I could spot which one of the sisters was going to turn traitor a mile away by their backstory but that didn't hurt things. I understood why Nona bonded so strongly to all the people she met and why they cared for her in return. Indeed, one of my favorite scenes is when I believed the otherwise corrupt clergy was willing to go to bat for her against a rich patron--just because she exposed how a person should be treated and briefly reminded them of their duties (as well as how much of a jackass their prosecutor was).

    I give credit for some really stellar action sequences. Mark Lawrence proves himself a master of sword-fighting, gore, and emotional content in the Bruce Lee sense. The Red Sisters really do master the titular words Sword and Sorcery. There's almost a dozen battles, both serious and otherwise, in the book and all of them are awesomely described.

    Are there flaws? A few.

    Despite being a nunnery devoted to teaching women how to be a cross between Red Sonja and Warhammer 40K's Sisters of Battle, the Convent of Sweet Mercy doesn't actually feel that different from a lot of Hogwarts-influenced fiction. It functions more as a boarding school for those who have the talent of magic versus a place of genuine silent contemplation for the glory of the local deity (The Ancestor). Indeed, Nona isn't devout in the slightest and gets away with heresy and blasphemy that would have gotten me a good beating in modern day Catholic school let alone ancient times.

    The next bit is difficult as I don't want to sound perverted but the book also is weirdly sexless. I'm aware the teenage young women are in a convent/fortress but it does seem a bit strange the subject of sexuality or attraction never comes up. When Harry Potter and company hit fourteen, they thought about it constantly because that was realistic. Nona never seems attracted to anyone nor do any of her fellow novices, which is conspicuous by its absence as they're surrounded by men (or women as a couple of characters' tastes may range). This brought me out of the story just a bit.

    The book also sometimes devotes a little too much to the training montages of Nona and her schooling. While that's arguably the point, the fantasy genre is so littered with magical schools and the students thereof, that it felt a little longer than they should have been. Patrick Rothfuss, at least, put blonde ninjas in his schooling of Kvothe to liven things up. I would have preferred a couple of more field trips into the Emperor's court or gladiator pits than classes where the professors try to poison you.

    Despite this, Red Sister is a great book and one I recommend for Mark Lawrence, grimdark, and YA fans alike. Some folk will dislike the book's central theme (friendship and what it means to have people you can trust) but I think it worked well. Nona is an excellent character and I'm interested in how she's going to develop in future books of the Ancestor series.

9/10

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9 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

THE UNITED FEDERATION OF CHARLES' REVIEW:
http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/2017/04/red-sister-review.html

"Friendship is, well, it’s caring for somebody more than you do yourself."
"Fool, that’s not friendship, that’s love."

-The Doctor and Zagreus, Zagreus audio drama

    Red Sister is the third series to come out by Mark Lawrence, who holds the position as the third most famous grimdark author alive after George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. Indeed, he might be the second most famous since George R.R. Martin doesn't self-identity as that sort of author.

    His first series, The Broken Empire Trilogy, showed a Lelouch-esque boy genius destined to conquer the world like Alexander and prepared to sacrifice his soul in the process. The second, The Red Queen's War, followed the corrupt lothario Prince Jalan as he struggled to avoid doing the right thing as such always ended up being difficult. Both took place in the Hundred Kingdoms and were delightfully dark fantasy.

    Red Sister, by contrast, takes place in a new world called the Corridor. Much like the previous volumes, it is a Medieval fantasy world but eschews the post-apocalypse elements to take place in what appears to be a planet suffering an ice age. It stars Nona Grey, a young peasant girl who is sold to a slaver who sends her briefly to the fighting pits before she ends up "rescued" from the noose by the region's militant order of nuns.

    In the process, Nona, makes an enemy out of a serial killer pedophile as well as his extraordinarily rich father. As the words "serial killer pedophile" are used in this description, one should note this is not going to be a story with much in the way of moral ambiguity nor is the fact the protagonist a young girl a quality which makes it lighter fiction.

    Some people label this Young Adult fiction due to the protagonists age while others believe this is just dark fantasy which stars children. Honestly, I think it's both and note that as a teenager, I loved reading dark and horrible stuff. It's why the Hunger Games is good and its derivatives aren't. The Hunger Games was awful to its protagonists and that's what made it awesome.

    So is Red Sister any good?

    Oh definitely. I have some complaints but, overall, I think Nona is every bit as enjoyable as Mark Lawrence's other protagonists. She has her faults, not being nearly as smart as Jorg or as funny as Jalan, but she is tirelessly determined. In fact, Nona is aggressively ignorant of the way the world "should" work and refuses to change when people try to teach her otherwise. She just doubles down on her own self-made of honor and stabs anyone who violates it. Nieztsche may have a disciple in this world.

    Much of the book is devoted around the principle of what friendship really means. While this is a topic which seems more appropriate for a Saturday Morning Cartoon, Lawrence adults it up by making it clear this is about what real bonds are made of. Nona is willing to fight, die, and kill for her friends but expects them to hold to the same standard of companionship. It's a Band of Brothers-esque friendship with none of the twee despite the protagonists all being adolescents, with the exception of a few flash forwards to their adult days.

    The book also spends a good deal of time developing the world's magical system, which relies on the subject being from one of the world's four tribes that have occasionally inbred over the past millennium. Describing it is difficult but I'd say it's basically like someone merged Harry Potter's bloodlines with the Dark Side of the Force. Most Sisters use their fighting skills in a state of calm but Nona manages to master her powers by being in a state of perpetual barely contained fury.

    I liked the supporting cast as well with each of the young girls and their teachers having a strong well-defined personality. You could argue that some are "the rich one", "the royal one", and "the pious one." Also, I could spot which one of the sisters was going to turn traitor a mile away by their backstory but that didn't hurt things. I understood why Nona bonded so strongly to all the people she met and why they cared for her in return. Indeed, one of my favorite scenes is when I believed the otherwise corrupt clergy was willing to go to bat for her against a rich patron--just because she exposed how a person should be treated and briefly reminded them of their duties (as well as how much of a jackass their prosecutor was).

    I give credit for some really stellar action sequences. Mark Lawrence proves himself a master of sword-fighting, gore, and emotional content in the Bruce Lee sense. The Red Sisters really do master the titular words Sword and Sorcery. There's almost a dozen battles, both serious and otherwise, in the book and all of them are awesomely described.

    Are there flaws? A few.

    Despite being a nunnery devoted to teaching women how to be a cross between Red Sonja and Warhammer 40K's Sisters of Battle, the Convent of Sweet Mercy doesn't actually feel that different from a lot of Hogwarts-influenced fiction. It functions more as a boarding school for those who have the talent of magic versus a place of genuine silent contemplation for the glory of the local deity (The Ancestor). Indeed, Nona isn't devout in the slightest and gets away with heresy and blasphemy that would have gotten me a good beating in modern day Catholic school let alone ancient times.

    The next bit is difficult as I don't want to sound perverted but the book also is weirdly sexless. I'm aware the teenage young women are in a convent/fortress but it does seem a bit strange the subject of sexuality or attraction never comes up. When Harry Potter and company hit fourteen, they thought about it constantly because that was realistic. Nona never seems attracted to anyone nor do any of her fellow novices, which is conspicuous by its absence as they're surrounded by men (or women as a couple of characters' tastes may range). This brought me out of the story just a bit.

    The book also sometimes devotes a little too much to the training montages of Nona and her schooling. While that's arguably the point, the fantasy genre is so littered with magical schools and the students thereof, that it felt a little longer than they should have been. Patrick Rothfuss, at least, put blonde ninjas in his schooling of Kvothe to liven things up. I would have preferred a couple of more field trips into the Emperor's court or gladiator pits than classes where the professors try to poison you.

    Despite this, Red Sister is a great book and one I recommend for Mark Lawrence, grimdark, and YA fans alike. Some folk will dislike the book's central theme (friendship and what it means to have people you can trust) but I think it worked well. Nona is an excellent character and I'm interested in how she's going to develop in future books of the Ancestor series.

9/10

Thanks for this.  I'll put it on my To Read list.

I share your admiration for The Hunger Games trilogy.  I thought Katniss was a really compelling protagonist, and considered it finished very strongly.  She was like Frodo at the end, completely broken by her experiences (as I think anyone would be in her position).

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18 hours ago, SeanF said:

Thanks for this.  I'll put it on my To Read list.

I share your admiration for The Hunger Games trilogy.  I thought Katniss was a really compelling protagonist, and considered it finished very strongly.  She was like Frodo at the end, completely broken by her experiences (as I think anyone would be in her position).

Oh yeah.

The cost of those books was brutal and it made it better.

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From the Tor.com review:

Quote

Think Harry Potter meets Blood Song..... framing the rest of the story like a much more exciting version of Kote’s narrative in The Kingkiller Chronicle.

Nobody likes change. At least, not at first. I myself—a keen admirer of Mark Lawrence since 2013—felt leery about this new world, these new characters. How, I asked myself, could Nona Grey’s tale possibly match up to those of her predecessors? Jorg Ancrath and Jalan Kendeth both leave behind big, bloody shoes to fill, after all.

Yes, fans of Lawrence’s writing will be accustomed to a very specific kind of protagonist: namely, a witty, self-centred young male. And when readers learned that the stars of Red Sister would be almost exclusively female, apprehension fluttered through a sizable portion of Lawrence’s fan base as they asked themselves: what if this decision to write an all-female cast was no more than a middle finger aimed directly at feminist critics of his other books? What if this new protagonist—this “Nona”– turned out to simply be a gender-flipped version of Jorg or Jalan—a pale imitation, rather than a unique individual?

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.

I believe most of us were reassured, if not by Red Sister’s first line, then certainly by its second. I for one knew I HAD to read more about this woman—a bloody nun, no less—who is apparently so badass that it requires an entire army just to challenge her.

Like I said: nobody likes change. At least, not at first. But in this case, the switch in style, setting and substance from the Broken Empire to the Book of the Ancestor is perhaps the best thing Mark Lawrence has ever done.

 

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Posted (edited)

I'm a little surprised there's actually controversy to begin with.

I've always been fond of Mark Lawrence's female characters.

Katherine develops into a strong POV character
Miana was adorable and horrifying
Chel was an excellent female antagonist

I also love the only woman who can resist Jalan's questionable charms was the woman who'd usually be the love interest.

Yes, quite a bit of terrible stuff happens to them but that's true for the male characters too.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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I haven't read any Mark Lawrence before this, but Red Sister is now on my to-read list for the setting and concept alone. (As for his other books, comparing one of his protagonists to Lelouch from Code Geass is definitely a NOT a way to get me interested. :D )

I, too, love the idea of a badass nun that can face down an entire army. 

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I actually thought that Katherine was kind of a pointless character. Not to say that Lawrence doesn't write some awesome female characters in his past books, my personal favorite being the Red Queen, but I don't think Katherine was one of them. She just kind of felt superfluous to the plot, and it was never really clear what Lawrence wad trying to with her relationship to Jorg.

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I haven't read the book yet, but the argument that having a female main character is pandering or SJW is fucking baffling to me. Sure, some books can and do go overboard in making a thematic point but the basis of the argument here appears to be that (1) one can or should only relate to a character of their own gender and (2) only boys deserve fantasy books to relate to. Neither of which argument is in any way sensible.

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@C.T. Phipps That review was very helpful, much more so than the preceding "controversy" discussion. 

I think I'll put it on my list, although I haven't yet finished the Jalen series after getting a bit fatigued with Mark's brand of grimdark. 

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7 hours ago, Liver and Onions said:

I haven't read any Mark Lawrence before this, but Red Sister is now on my to-read list for the setting and concept alone. (As for his other books, comparing one of his protagonists to Lelouch from Code Geass is definitely a NOT a way to get me interested. :D )

I, too, love the idea of a badass nun that can face down an entire army. 

Broken Empire opens up with the 14 year old genius protagonist slaughtering a village of innocent people and letting his men engage in war crimes.

He's not what you might call...likable.

Even if you later find out what warped the poor kid into the psychopath he is and whether he can come out of it.

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1 hour ago, Iskaral Pust said:

@C.T. Phipps That review was very helpful, much more so than the preceding "controversy" discussion. 

I think I'll put it on my list, although I haven't yet finished the Jalen series after getting a bit fatigued with Mark's brand of grimdark. 

Thanks, glad I could help.

I enjoyed the book but not quite as much as Red Queen's War or Broken Empire.

Broken Empire's Magnificent Bastardy and Jalan's lovable cowardice really appealed to me.

Nona is a fine character but isn't quite as overthetop as her predecessors.

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I haven't seen peep about this "controversy" anywhere else. I;ve seen some people on Goodreads not like the novel as much as previous ones but nothing along the lines of OMG GIRL CHARACTER LIBERAL COOTIES.

 

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6 hours ago, polishgenius said:

I haven't read the book yet, but the argument that having a female main character is pandering or SJW is fucking baffling to me. Sure, some books can and do go overboard in making a thematic point but the basis of the argument here appears to be that (1) one can or should only relate to a character of their own gender and (2) only boys deserve fantasy books to relate to. Neither of which argument is in any way sensible.

Right? It's like the fucking twilight zone here lately.

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On 4/4/2017 at 10:29 AM, SkynJay said:

Meh.  The Empire's Blades had one too and I disliked it just as much.  Torture as training is already over played. 

I think it was already overplayed when The Emperors Blades came out, but I agree. That book went kind of overboard with it. (OF course I bought the second anyway, but have yet to get with it).

I feel like the torture as training thing has been around forever though, just GrimDark sells so you see it more. Which makes no sense when I type it out. Phooey. Brain no make words work.

ANYWAY starting Red Sister riiiight...now!

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32 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

Right? It's like the fucking twilight zone here lately.

One of my all time favorite characters is Honor Harrington and calling David Weber a SJW is....a curious claim.

:)

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Heh, I actually don't know much about Weber's actual views, but he does write for Baen, so I just assume he's crazy.

Also, There are no Honor Harrington books after, oh, lets say book 7. :/

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Darth Richard II said:

Heh, I actually don't know much about Weber's actual views, but he does write for Baen, so I just assume he's crazy.

Also, There are no Honor Harrington books after, oh, lets say book 7. :/

War of Honor was a great finale to the series.

:)

David actually got less crazy as time went on, oddly enough. Originally, the People's Republic of Haven became a communist dystopia bent on galactic conquest because of the evils of universal wellfare. Things then got a little more nuanced after he became friends with Eric Flint, the communist.

That's the definition of a TV tropes Odd Friendship there.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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Yeah I gave up when large sections of story were copy pasted into multiple books. I think like there were 200ish pages repeated in like three different novels? It made the latter WoT novels seem fast paced.

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Weirdly, it was when it became about people other than Honor.

Yes, she may be Batman in Space in terms of everything she can do but I was there for her character over Nameless Bureaucrat 71#

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22 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Broken Empire opens up with the 14 year old genius protagonist slaughtering a village of innocent people and letting his men engage in war crimes.

He's not what you might call...likable.

Even if you later find out what warped the poor kid into the psychopath he is and whether he can come out of it.

Hah hah, that sounds like Lelouch alright. :) 

I haven't gotten my hands on the book yet, but in your review, you mention that the teen protagonists feel oddly sexless. Do you think this is an effort on the part of the author to avoid a kind of "Catholic school girls," "creepy old man" fetish type of feel for the setting? 

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