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Review: Book of the Ancestor 01: Red Sister

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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…

Goodreads, Synopsis


Red Sister is the first instalment in Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy. It’s also the first Mark Lawrence book I’ve read. I’d heard great things about his books and after asking bloggers which of his trilogies to try first, Book of the Ancestor came out the winner—though I’m told they are all well worth reading.

The main protagonist is Nona Grey, a girl who at nine years of age was given to Giljohn (buys children from the poor, if they possess certain traits, and sells them to various places) after an incident in her village. She travels in Giljohn’s cage for a few months while he searches for, and purchases, other children, before she is eventually sold to Partnis Reeve, the owner of the Caltess: an entertainment venue where fighters are trained and pitted against each other.

After several events take place, Nona, now an enemy of a powerful and extremely rich family, ends up at the Sweet Mercy convent: a monastery of the Church of the Ancestor where nuns study academia, spirit, blade, shade, and path a 10-year journey to become a Sister. A student’s talents and traits determine the type of Sister they’ll be upon completion of training; all can be deadly.

“Trust is the most insidious of poisons. Trust sidesteps all of your precautions.”

Sister Apple

It is at the convent where most of the story takes place, as Nona and her classmates going through their training, first in Red class and later Grey class—students advance classes as they age and their skills meet a certain standard in all classes. There are also ventures out of the convent as the students a pitted against fighters from the Caltess and students from the Academy in various trails and challenged to survive in the outdoors, alone.

The characters are great. Nona is compelling and very relatable. She has a dark secret to hide and is fiercely protective of her friends; extremely loyal. Each of the girls in her group of friends has their own unique personalities and traits, much like any group of schoolmates. Their interactions with each other and the Sisters are a joy to read as each one’s personality develops, and bonds grow and fray.

“They expect her to run. They know she will run. And she does. But at them.”

There are several scenes which are action-packed. Such scenes are well-written, vivid and easy to imagine. They add grit and pace to the book at the right times before pulling back again. The world Lawrence has created is beautiful. It’s post-apocalyptic.

The world is covered in ice a mile thick, except for the Corridor: a 50-mile wide band wrapped around the world. The Corridor is created and maintained by the Moon, which focusses light and heat into this small area. I won’t go into any further detail as I’ll have to discuss prophecy, the Path and other things which could lead to spoilers.

Overall this is an excellent read. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequels, Grey Sister and Holy Sister, and seeing how Nona’s story continues. If you enjoy a coming-of-age fantasy story this is a book you should read.

“I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.”