Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister is the start of the third series written by Mark Lawrence and I’ll start by saying it’s a great start.

I’ll give a brief overview of the plot.  We make the acquaintance of Nona at the start of the story.  She’s about to be fitted for a hangman’s noose for attempting to murder the son of a rather prominent member of society..  Unsurprisingly, and not a spoiler to say, she never makes her final fitting – that would have been a very short book would it not! Before her execution can be carried out she finds herself rescued, or more succinctly put, stolen away by Abbess Glass of the Sweet Mercy Convent.  Not yet ten years old Nona is different.  The people of her village knew this, and mostly avoided her – until that cruel day on which she was given away to a child collector to be sold in the City.  Abbess Glass recognises this difference and believes that rather than making Nona something to fear it makes her something special. From them on we spend time with Nona as she is initiated into the school and undertakes a number of trials and tribulations, eventually makes friends and puts the word ‘trust’ to the test.

Now, when I summarise the plot like that it seems, even to me, to be on the sparse side and yet that couldn’t be further from the truth.  There is plenty going on here, we have a story that gradually reveals thing from the past, we have the story as it moves forward in the present and we also witness some incredibly intriguing snippets taken from the future and that compulsion to read forward and find out how all these elements come together is strong indeed.

I confess that coming of age novels are something of a weakness for me and put the characters into a training/school setting and I’m probably ready to be bowled over.  Yes, I loved Harry Potter – as did just about everybody I know – but, don’t pick this up thinking you’re picking up anything like HP – or YA for that matter.  This book is dark, it’s bleak, the world is a slowly dying, cold and harsh place to live and the there is bloody violence meted out by cruel and brutal characters.

There are certainly friendships developed, and indeed that particular aspect is one of the main focuses as the story moves forward but, be in no doubt, these girls are learning, more often than not the hard way, how to become cold blooded killers.  Nona.  Yes, she is an amazing character.  Just to be clear, I don’t think she’s amazing simply because of her difference or her abilities, the power that lies beneath the surface, the simmering belief that she’s going to become kickass or the chosen one – no, I really liked her because of her vulnerability.  Her need to be accepted and the desperation she feels that she never will be accepted because of her differences.  She longs for friendship and this need makes her an unreliable narrator which in turn makes the story even more compelling as you strive to get to the truth.  Put simply she doesn’t want people to truly know her because she learnt the hard way that the truth will drive them away – so she tells untruths.

And there are plenty of other great characters.   The Abbess herself, along with a couple of the other nuns made for great reading.  I also really liked the addition of Zole – a really interesting character who I hope we learn more about.  Not exactly a welcome addition to the Convent when she makes her first appearance but she has a lot to offer and I’m very curious about her.  What I find myself particularly drawn to in books at the moment is character development and this story is strongly focused on the characters.  Lawrence paints them in all their diversity with their fears and hopes, jealousies and ambitions.  Nobody is truly good or bad, there are little shades of everything mixed in there.

In terms of the world – I’m not going to go into great depth.   This series is known as the Book of the Ancestors and I think that tells a story by itself.  Four tribes originally existed, all with different abilities.  Strength, speed, magical ability or the ability to walk The Path.  The blood from these tribes has been passed down but weakened over the years but every now and again a child will display a particular affinity for one of the original tribes.  Nona is descended from the Hunska which means she has incredible speed – or does it mean that everything else around her slows down.  Anyway, as the story moves along we find out a lot more about the magic involved such as the ability to walk The Path.  We also learn that the world here is one that is narrowing.  A thin corridor of habitable land surrounded by ice on both sides, perhaps a possible future envisaged right here in which the sun is failing and the Moon is literally falling from the sky.

The icing on the cake of course is the writing.  This book is just beautifully written.  Lawrence twists and turns and takes us all along for the ride.  He gives us the archetypal ‘chosen one’ stereotype and then proceeds to pull it apart.  He delivers some real moments of betrayal and that ending.  Exactly when is the next book due out?

So, all that said, I admit I really struggled to start this review because having read the Broken Empire and the Red Queen’s War my first instinct was to start by making comparisons.  It’s natural to do so really and yet at the same time it was, to put it bluntly, simply doing my head in comparing them.  At the end of the day they’re all intrinsically similar, the writing style and the bleakness of the world and yet, in frustratingly Golum like fashion, they’re also fundamentally different.  So, is this Lawrence’s best work?  Is Nona my favourite of his character creations.  I don’t think I could answer that – it’s like when somebody asks you ‘what’s your favourite book’  What? How many favourites can I have?? Surely not just one.  You might just as well ask me which is my favourite child.  They’re all individual and I love them all.

A young girl with potential, a nunnery that trains it’s novices in the art of assassination and uses magic to help fulfil their aims.  Smooth prose, bleak overtones and intriguing twists.  Obviously I loved this.

I received a copy of Red Sister for review – for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

 

Cover Compare

Posted On 12 February 2017

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Here it is – I wondered when this little beauty would make it’s appearance – the UK cover for Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister:

rs2

I love this.  It has a beautiful crisp feel doesn’t it  And, here are both covers together:

So, which is your favourite.  I admit that I’ve always been rather partial to the US covers and I do love the US cover here – but, in this case, the UK cover is my favourite.  I just really like the font style and colour, the way it’s so startling against the cold background – the darkness beyond the ice.  Yep.  The UK cover is my favourite this time around.

Stop on over to Mr Lawrence’s blog where there are a couple of other alternative covers and choose your favourite.

And, in case you missed it, here is the description:

“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…

Not long to wait for this one people: April 4th/6th 2017

The best of the best of the best 2016

As is my tradition I’m breaking in the New Year with a little look back at my favourite books from 2016.  Another good reading year with plenty to choose from and I admit that I struggled narrowing this down to 10, in fact I singled out at least 25 in my initial search.  I really did read some most excellent books this year in fact I was lucky enough to get through 120 books.  My list for the year is here.  Without further ado my favourites for 2016 with links to the reviews.

  1. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
  2. City of Blades by Robert J Bennett
  3. The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky
  4. The Silver Tide by Jen William
  5. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  6. Company Town by Madeline Ashby
  7. Fix by Ferrett Steinmetz
  8. The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
  9. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  10. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

I feel like I should also make honorary mentions for Monstrous Little Voices by Jonathan Barnes, Emma Newman, Kate Heartfield, Fox Meadows, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards, 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough, The Hike by Drew Magary, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and The Facefaker’s Game by Chandler J Birch

 

 

 

 

Final Batch of books: My first book #SPFBO

FullSizeRender-10November 1st saw the start of the second stage of the SPFBO – the Self Published Fantasy Blog off organised by Mark Lawrence.  All the details can be found here.

There can be only one – could be the catchphrase for this competition.  We started off with 300 books and 10 bloggers.  Each blogger was assigned 30 books and chose one to take forward into the next round.  For the final stage each blogger will now read and rate the books selected by the other 9 bloggers and when the ratings are jotted up hopefully we will have an outright winner.

I am really looking forward to this stage – there are some great looking books put forward into this round and I’m excited to pick them up.  As with round one, my book order has been chosen at random (basically numbers drawn from a hat – I’m not kidding) and as for the first stage I’m going to spotlight each book before I read it followed by my review upon completion.

So, the first book out of the hat was:

The Shadow Soul (A Dance of Dragons #1) by Kaitlyn Davis – synopsis from Goodreads copied below.  This certainly sounds intriguing ‘an age of myth that is about to be reborn’ – not to mention ‘perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Kristin Cashore, and Tamora Pierce!’ Strong praise indeed.  The story is told in alternating male/female POVs – I’m keen to see how that works out and basically with the above comparisons – I can’t wait to dive in.

Described as ‘a solid YA fantasy’ this entry was put forward by Fantasy Literature:

shadowsoulFrom bestselling author Kaitlyn Davis comes a fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Kristin Cashore, and Tamora Pierce! Told in alternating male and female perspectives, THE SHADOW SOUL has been hailed as “an amazing start to a new series that is going to have people of all ages wanting so much more.” (Happy Tails & Tales Reviews)

When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.

But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…

Watch this space!

 

#SPFBO Spotlight : the sixth set of books: Update + Winner Announcement

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This is my sixth and final batch of books for the SPFBO and my final update post!  I’ve listed below my links to updates and reviews for the first/second/third/fourth and fifth batch of books with links to the books chosen from each round.

The book choices were all randomly picked. I aimed to read about 20% of each book or five chapters although in quite a few cases I read considerably more.  Basically, if one of the books stood out above the other four then that became the clear choice from that batch.

My final set of five books are below.  I’ve added underneath each a synopsis (taken from Goodreads) and also linked up the titles so they’re easy to check out. These are only very quick thoughts, given that I’ve not read the full book in most cases it’s not possible to give a full review.

fallen-shep1. The Fallen Shepherd Saga by Peter Ravlich

The dark ones never forget a hunter. For Antonio, newly-former priest, that’s not a great thing. It gets worse when he’s confronted by two bodies and the unmistakable trail of a succubus. Why the Hell did it have to be a succubus?

He might have lost his title, lost his identity, lost his backup; but he still has his blade, and this hunt might offer a chance at redemption, a chance that Antonio desperately needs.

The Fallen Shepherd Saga was originally published as a three-part serial story. This volume is an expanded omnibus edition.

The Fallen Shepherd is an urban fantasy type story in which The Fallen Shepherd of the title is Antonio.  Previously a priest Antonio is, at the start of the story, on the trail of a succubus who has just murdered a police officer.  I didn’t get too much further into the plot with my 20%.  The writing was quite engaging and I enjoyed the chapters I read.  I did feel that there was a certain element of telling rather than showing.  So, for example, Antonio, he makes lots of noises about being an expert hunter and yet he walks right into a fairly obvious trap early on and in spite of saying that you can’t afford to make mistakes in his line of work. That being said I did enjoy the chapters I read – not sure if it brings anything new to the UF genre but could be an interesting read nonetheless.

vengeful2. The Vengeful Half by Jaclyn Dolamore

This novel contains interior comics and art by the author.

Olivia might look human, but she’s grown up with a heavy secret: her mother is a potion-maker who fled her home in a parallel world, the Hidden Lands.

Alfred is the blind, charismatic young heir to the illegal potions trade. When Olivia’s mother is kidnapped by the magic dealers with whom she once made a bad bargain, she has no choice but to trust Alfred’s offer of help. They travel to a strange new world of bootlegged American pop culture, lifelike doll people, and reincarnation. Alfred finds himself putting his position on the line to defend Olivia against his family’s conniving plans. Maybe he has morals…or maybe he’s just falling in love.

When Olivia escapes from an attack by a curiously familiar sorceress, she learns that potion dealers weren’t the only thing Mom was hiding from. Dark secrets lurk in Olivia’s past, and now Olivia must kill or be killed by the girl with whom she once shared everything…

I quite enjoyed the writing for the Vengeful Half the author has come up with some good ideas for her Hidden Lands although I confess that I was surprised when we actually travelled there to find that they were basically very similar to our own – which I wasn’t expecting.  Unfortunately I was unable to check out the artwork so I can’t really comment about that or whether it added to the read overall.  Having read the first 20% I don’t really have a good enough grip on the story yet to make an overall judgement about the plot and in terms of the characters, I haven’t at this stage been able to form an attachment to any of them.  Given the chapters I’ve read so far I think this could be an enjoyable YA read.

magic-banquet3. Magic Banquet by A E Marling – this book was a swapped title.  Originally I was due to read Off Leash by Daniel Potter but I exchanged books due to a conflict of interest.

Dragon steaks, ambrosia, and chimera stew. In the Magic Banquet, one guest always dies of joy. Or so they say. The street waif, Aja, just wants a few mouthfuls of the first course, but this is a party not easily left.

The dishes lavished upon Aja do more than entice. They enchant. They endanger. They change her. When she learns that a dragonfruit will make her mature, she eats it all. She is tired of being seen as a child, of being excluded and overlooked by respectable families and that other girl at the banquet, who is the empress in disguise. But Aja ages too fast, too much, and too soon. She is dying. She must replenish her lifeforce by eating a phoenix before she can even think of escaping the mortal banquet.

Guest List:
Aja, a thirteen-year-old girl who stole into the banquet before anyone could tell her she’s too young.
Janny, an old woman hungry for eternal youth.
The Empress Nephrynthian. But she’ll insist on you calling her Ryn.
Her guard, Fos Chandur.
Solin, graceful on his crutches and deadly with his magic.
And a dark lord.

Another book that caught my attention quite early on and showed some promise.  However, for me personally this feels like a quite young read, probably early teens – and I’m not just basing that on the age of Aja, the main protagonist, but more the feel of the read up to the point I read.  From the portion I did read I felt that this had a coming of age type of feel and I think that a younger audience would enjoy Aja as she progresses through this banquet.

ninth-wind4. Ninth Wind by Moses Siregar III

“In THE NINTH WIND, Moses Siregar takes readers to a fascinating new world where politics, magic, and adventure mingle in exciting and profound ways. If you like fantasy, you’ll love this!” –NYT Bestseller David Farland

THE NINTH WIND SPEAKS FOR THE DEAD …

The Ancestors whisper of rebellion, their breath a cold blue wind in the forests and hills of Andars. The Rezzian occupation lingers, dragging the folk of the hills through bitterness and despair.

Three siblings stand ready to challenge the Kingdom of Rezzia. Their fates have long been seen by the primordial Orns: one by Angst, one by Fidelity, one by Wrath.

Idonea searches the dark wood to master the magic of the three sacred trees. Skye pursues omens to lead his shield-brothers to victory over Rezzia’s legions. As armies battle for control of the Andaran hills, Dag calls out so that he may become as impenetrable as Altrea, allowing nothing to bend him, or turn him, or break him, so that he may stand and defend his kin. The ten gods of Rezzia and their lions stand in his way.

The Ninth Wind is the long-awaited return to Moses Siregar III’s award-winning epic fantasy series, Splendor and Ruin. Drawing on Norse, Greek, and Indian mythologies, the Ninth Wind is a tale of betrayal and retribution, of gods and sages and witches, of fearless journeys and magical awakenings.

It is a tale of honor, devotion, and valor. An adult tale of the children of wind and wood.

As soon as I started The Ninth Wind I thought it showed a lot of promise.  This is my favourite from this batch of books and my review will follow.

the-fall5. The Fall by Michael DeAngelo

Icarus must intervene before a wicked ritual is completed, or humanity will be banished from the world of Tellest forevermore. But his people, the elves, have determined that humans are too dangerous to share the realm. How can he protect the friends that he has made without betraying his race?

Samael is a man scorned, whose only desire is to enact vengeance on those who have wronged him. However, his involvement is the deciding factor in the call to banish humanity. For the sake of all the races of Tellest, he must work with Icarus to put a halt to the foul dealings.

The Fall was actually quite an intriguing read that got off to a good start and I read further than the 20% I’ve allocated for each book.  The writing was easy to get on with and the world quite well imagined, but, I had the overall feeling that I was missing something, or that The Fall was only a small piece in a larger puzzle.  I could of course be wrong with that as I haven’t read the full book at this point. 

In conclusion, I’ve chosen The Ninth Wind as my favourite of this particular batch of books and my review will follow shortly.

SPFBO Posts:

  1. Cover Lover
  2. 1st Batch of books + update + book review
  3. 2nd batch of books + update + book review
  4. 3rd batch of books update + book review
  5. 4th batch of book + update + book review
  6. 5th batch of books + update + book review
  7. 6th batch of books + update + book review

Overall winner:

At this point (although I haven’t yet reviewed the sixth book) given that I have chosen a book from each round I feel that I am now in a position to choose the book I’d like to take forward.   The final six were:

  1. Rebel’s Honor by Gwynn White
  2. Unwilling Souls by Gregory D Little
  3. As the Crow Flies by Robin Lythgoe
  4. The Amber Isle (Book of Never #1) by Ashley Capes
  5. Outpost (The Fylking #1) by F T McKinstry
  6. The Ninth Wind by Moses Siregar III

And, the book I will take forward to the next round will be:

Outpost by F T McKinstry

with

Unwilling Souls by Gregory D Little a close second.

I would like to thank all the authors who submitted their work to the SPFBO – I’ve enjoyed taking part and making my way through all the entries.

I’ve tried to give overviews for all the books and give full reviews for the ones I’ve read completely.  My final post will be my review of The Ninth Wind which will follow shortly.

 

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