Red Sister: The Book That Got Me Back Into Fantasy

For the longest time, fantasy (epic, dark, whatever) hasn’t spun me up. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if it’s me or them, right? If you’re going on a lot of dates but not connecting with anyone, it’s probably not the people you’re seeing. It’s you! You’re the selfish troll with halitosis.

Then I found Red Sister. Before we get too far, I need to say two things:

  1. Fantasy genre: all is forgiven!
  2. It really is them, not me. I’m validated by my one successful genre date.

Red Sister is set in the Convent of Sweet Mercy. Wait! Don’t go. This isn’t the convent where women are trained to be nicer nuns. Sweet Mercy trains women to be sorceresses and murderers. It’s like a ninja academy with better uniforms. The story revolves around Nona, a girl who’s been sold into servitude by her mother. It’s set on the world of Abeth, in the throes of an epic-level ice age. Hints of ancient technology set a scene of a crumbled people. Satellites and starship reactors are golden-age relics, but things have been bad for so long, no one knows how they work. The giant orbital mirror keeping the world from freezing solid has a decaying orbit.

Imagine if Earth had all its population squeezed into a narrow frozen strip around the equator, and you’ll get an idea of the world Nona’s born into. It’s ready to die, but Nona’s not the lying down type. She grins when she fights, with all the feral majesty her upbringing bestows on her. Red Sister’s reminiscent of Hugh Cook’s Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series; magic and adventure abounds, with ancient technology rotting in the fringes. It’s a land desperate for heroes, and when they don’t answer the call, Nona steps into the hollow silence.

Lawrence’s world building is some of the best I’ve read. He doesn’t spend a lot of time building a layer cake. No reams of description, but at the end you’ll feel cold after snow- and ice-filled scenes. You’ll despise the rulers of the shit pile Abeth’s become. The writing style is immediate and pervasive; so much so I had to put it aside at a scene involving one of the rulers and a helpless animal. Lawrence wastes no words, but the impact is real, pervasive, and stays with you.

The story doesn’t trample the old tropes. Magic won’t fix everything. There’s no army of golden warriors. The gods have forgotten Abeth. It’s just people, gritting their teeth until the end takes them. All that remains is Sweet Mercy, and the littlest killer ever.

It’d be easy for Red Sister to leave you with an enduring sense of misery, but the story’s the opposite – the ending has huge payoff, but not without consequence. Nona’s friends don’t all survive, and her wary trust is misplaced. For all that, her spirit remains strong. I immediately ordered and gobbled the sequel Grey Sister, and am now in the hellish darkness that is waiting for the finale, Holy Sister.

If you want fresh fantasy, you need to read Nona’s story. An easy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. This is a series worthy of your time.


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