Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Rate: 5/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers):

Several months ago I started working my way through Lawrence’s Book of Ice trilogy, but as I finished The Girl and the Mountain I was given the advice to backtrack and read the Book of Ancestors trilogy before completing The Girl and the Moon. This advice has proven pertinent as the two trilogies overlap in their concluding installments. Plus with both stories taking place in Abeth, but in wildly different locations this literary world really open up, especially when viewed through the eyes of the various perspectives. Below you can see a picture depiction Lawrence shared on his social media highlighting how the timelines of the two trilogies overlap within the larger scheme.

In typical Lawrence fashion, Red Sister wastes no time in setting the stage with the young protagonist, Nona finding herself facing imminent death. Very quickly her precarious situation takes an unexpected turn and Nona finds herself enrolled in a school for the magically gifted. Guarding her secrets aggressively, she often takes the truth and weaves lies throughout to protect her past, though these layered fabrications only come to light after significant time has passed. This makes Nona rather unreliable as a narrator, but also heightens the reader’s curiosity as the mystery around her past remains obscured, only to be teased out in measured doses throughout all of Red Sister

With the majority of Red Sister taking place in the magical school, Convent of Sweet Mercy, one can’t help but draw parallels to Harry Potter. These connections are more from a nostalgia standpoint, especially as Nona gathers a group of friends who have their own secrets and motivations. Also, I couldn’t help but link the more likable Mistress Shade to Professor Snape, though her lessons prove to be rather detrimental for her students’ short-term wellbeing. Those connections aside, Red Sister utilizes all of the latent potential of a magical school setting to maximize the worldbuilding and mystery, while never straying to the young adult genre. While there are larger machinations at play, the balance between school and these political players is well calibrated as Nona is never far from any one stressful predicament, though the wide-ranging stakes serve to keep the reader from growing numb to the fast and ever evolving story.

One aspect of Red Sister that resulted in confusion (at least for me) is that some of the teachers have overlapping names based on their responsibilities. For example, Sister Apple is sometimes Mistress Shade, and the prickly Mistress Spirt is also Sister Wheel. Even though I was relatively confident I had the names appropriately linked, upon looking it up post read I was rather chagrined to find out I had two of the teachers totally tangled. So now, going into Grey Sister, I’m positive (hopefully) that I have the names aligned correctly. That said, this is likely an issue that takes root in my particular learning style and the medium with which I was reading Red Sister. As I learn most efficiently by seeing/writing, by listening in the audiobook format, the confusion pertaining to overlapping of characters would be exacerbated. in my situation. Regardless, I want to know more about these teachers, their past, and motivations.

I love when a story snares you, allowing the reader to become mindlessly caught up in the literary world and the adventure as a whole. Red Sister easily achieves this story telling zen, as I found myself surprised upon finding myself at the end long before I was ready. Overall, while most of the Red Sister takes place within the walls of the Convent of Sweet Mercy, this setting proved to be ample fodder for detailing the narrow, but complex evolving political situation in The Corridor around Abeth. With the ingredients of prophecy brewing, will Nona and her friends survive long enough to fulfill their foretold roles?

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • Why was Nona sold to Partnis Reeve and not brought to the convent like Hessa?
  • Is her friend Saida actually dead? She never actually saw the body.
  • Why is Yisht loyal to Sherzal? Why did the shipheart not drive Yisht crazy? Why does Sherzal want control of The Corridor? To rule over everyone? Was the shipheart worth it to give over Zole to the Convent? How did Sherzal find Zole? How long did she know about Zole? What does this mean for Arabella that she is now a shield and not the prophesied one? Does Sherzal still want Arabella?
  • What will the reaction be once everyone returns to the school about Nona’s record time at the Blade-Path? Can she replicate it? 
  • What other plots does Abbess Glass have in motion? What could she have done if Nona could have warned her about Yisht?
  • I enjoy how Lawrence reuses established events in his book and explores them from a new perspective to gain novel insights. Such as learning that Nona’s mother and community only sold her into the slave trade to protect her from the soldiers searching her. Will she ever go home? How did the soldiers find her?
  • Clera’s betrayal was unforgivable, and we get flashes from the future that her betrayal only continues. Can she be saved?
  • Having read The Girl and the Moon first, Raymel Tacsis and his demons were easier to understand, though it seems like he had more control over his parasites. The four powers were also easier to understand, along with their limitations. 
  • Poor Hessa! Her death was so very sad, though the choreography of switching between Nona’s real life battle and Hessa’s was excellently laid out. 
  • Will Nona be able to find her shadow again? Will her eyes return to their regular color?
  • Will Nona see Markus, Chara, and Willum again from the Academy?


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