After Epic Fantasy Fanatics featured reviews of Red Knight and Red Seas, I figured we could finish the trifecta with a review of Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister. Book 1 in his newest series, it doesn’t fit comfortably into one specific subgenre: it has elements of Epic, Grimdark, Dying World, and Sci-Fantasy.

It features one of the most compelling opening lines I have ever seen:

“It is important when killing a nun to bring an army of sufficient size.”

The premise of the story is fascinating: future humans have made a frozen planet habitable with a satellite in an equatorial orbit, which magnifies the heat from the sun to melt the glaciers. Known as the Focus Moon, it has been losing altitude, thereby narrowing the area where people can live to 50 miles wide, and tens of thousands of miles long. Sadly, the author did not include a map, or even create one, but the bottom line is that it is a land of poverty and scarcity, where the majority of inhabitants eek out a living.

So removed are the people from their extraterrestrial roots that they now describe rare remaining future tech in fantasy terms.  They, themselves come from four tribes, each with different gifts—speed, strength, magic, etc, and they’ve intermingled so much, those abilities manifest in different ways and intensities.

The story revolved around Nona, who may or may not be a Chosen One figure with the gift of speed. Taken into a convent for training martial nuns, she’s driven by the need to be liked, and she is utterly loyal to those she perceives as friends.

However, not everyone in the Convent of Sweet Mercy is her friend. The cast of memorable characters includes tricky poison teachers, crotchety old nuns, and all the friendships, drama, and backstabbing of a dozen girls who are trying to find their place in the world.

Where Red Sister stands out is its luscious wordsmithing. Mark Lawrence’s prose is elegant and beautiful in telling a gritty story.  If there is any shortcoming, it is that the central conflict and larger stakes do not take shape until much later in the book.

With the fascinating world building, beautiful prose, and interesting characters, I rate Red Sister a 4.5 out of 5.

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JC Kang is the bestselling author of The Dragon Songs Saga.