Book Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister
Genre: Fantasy/YA Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Book of the Ancestor
Author info:http://www.marklawrence.buzz/

Release date: April 4th 2017

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Red Sister from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Warning: This book is going to leave you with severe withdrawal symptoms, but good news is Mark Lawrence is a prolific author and delivers the next books in the series like clockwork, judging from his established track record.

Red Sister completely blew my mind, bringing back the magic school environment I missed from Harry Potter and Kingkiller so much, with a kick and some serious action. It’s not only the magic but the teachers with all kinds of different personalities, friendships, bullies, assassination plots, mysteries, friends sneaking out and cooking up mischief, the whole package. But it’s dark, much darker than any book with magic schools.

Now, I’m a big fan of Mark Lawrence and I’ve read all of his books, but this one is quite different. It’s very much Mark’s style, but written in third person and I think that’s one major element making it different from the others which were all in first person. There is the amazing prose of Mark Lawrence, if you are not familiar with his previous work, let me give you an example from Red Sister:

She left nothing but an echo of her lantern light, soon consumed by a night so ancient that it never truly left such places.

And another:

I have been too young to know, and I have been too old to care. It’s in that oh so narrow slice between that memories are made. So enjoy it.

And my favorite of them all:

A long blade, thin, carrying a slight curve, its edge cruel enough to cut silence and make it scream.

Now if those won’t make you hit that buy button, I don’t know what will! For those who are not familiar, this is the typical Mark Lawrence prose. So beautiful, poetic and magical.

The story is heavily character driven, as Mark Lawrence’s other books, but with an awesome magic system to boot.

The main character, Nona, is the best female lead I have read in the fantasy genre along with Mara from the Empire trilogy. If you love Arya Stark, you will definitely love Nona. Even if you are no fan of Arya Stark, you will still love Nona, cause she is a no-nonsense girl, the kind of character everyone can root for.

Another thing worth mentioning is the friendships between the girls, something that was missing in the Harry Potter books and pretty much every fantasy book I have read except for the Wheel of Time. Friendships, loyalty and betrayal in Red Sister is so realistic, it took me back to the middle school and high school years.

Nona starts off as the bullied outcast but she turns out to be a serious badass who doesn’t take BS from anyone. She had no friends but one until she got sold to a child trader by her mother and village folk, and she values friendship a great deal. I found her reflections on friendship, and her relationship with her closest friends Clera and Hessa quite touching.

Hessa is disabled, left with a withered leg after an infectious disease. She is such a sweetheart and a smart cookie, also incredibly heroic, which made her one of my favorite supporting characters.

One thing I loved about Red Sister was how even the minor characters were fleshed out so well. The teachers all have their distinct personalities, and some of them reminded me of teachers I had in school back in the days of my youth. The classes were great fun to read, but my favorite was the martial training parts.

The magic system is quite original and intriguing as I mentioned. The migrants who populated this world had four tribes with different kinds of traits, and those of them with magic could wield the different sorts of magic powers depending on their bloodline. The tribes had to intermarry and mix their blood to survive the harsh conditions of this alien world. Children showing the traits of more than one bloodline are highly prized by the people who train them as fighters, assassins, battle nuns and what have you.

Another thing I loved was how Nona’s mysterious backstory slowly unfolded along with the mysteries of the strange world Abeth. The curiosity kept me turning the pages well into the wee hours. Last few chapters of the book are outstanding with superb action and plot twists.

Abeth is an alien world, but the characters being so realistic makes you forget that at times. It has its own rules, strange laws of nature, a dying sun and a falling moon, and is covered with glaciers except for the fifty mile corridor at its equator. There are mysterious remnants of an older and seemingly extinct civilization, I suspect we might find out more about it in the next book.

The fight scenes are quite original, though I can’t say much cause it would be a spoiler, but as someone who is easily bored of typical fighting scenes, I loved these since they are from a completely different perspective. Kind of like the special effects in movies, but the book version, which is something very difficult to do in writing. I think that was one of the things where you realize what a master wordsmith Mark Lawrence is.

Another thing I absolutely love about Red Sister is the lack of irritating love triangle cliches and the forced romance plots you see in the overwhelming majority of YA books and coming of age storylines. No sir, no romance here, and no love triangles. These girls literally kick arse left and right and have serious things to worry about, and Red Sister gets the big bonus points from me for the awesome political intrigue with the female villains having motivations stemming from political ambitions not involving shallow romance drama.

There is another kickass thing here which I can’t mention cause it would be a spoiler, but it should suffice to say I enjoyed reading -with a huge grin in my face- how Mark Lawrence upended some of the most annoying coming-of-age cliches and showed the real girl power here.

My other favorite supporting character was Abbess Glass, who is a snarky and sharp-witted middle aged female character. This sort of character is so rare in fantasy -at least the books I’ve read so far. She reminded me of Olenna Tyrell from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones and queen Alica Kendeth from Red Queen’s War, she’s awesome like them. I have a feeling she will do serious damage in the next book.

And the ending… Gods above, what an ending that was! I really, really hope this series becomes a mainstream hit and they make movies or TV series of it, cause this story with its superb action scenes would be so great to see on the screen.

I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a superb fantasy novel featuring amazing characters -especially female characters!- an awesome magic system, great plot twists, killer action, political intrigue, sans the annoying love triangles and tired cliches. Such a great book with a fresh new perspective and impressive depth.

I really don’t have time to re-read books with my rather massive TBR, but I put this in my re-read list cause it’s the special kind of great. I have to thank Mark Lawrence for bringing back my youth with such a mind-blowing magnificent story.

Luckily I have such a massive TBR, or else it would be painful to wait for the next book, which I know will be even better judging from Mark’s established track record.

Waiting on Wednesday: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

new-wow
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Breaking the Spine.
I am waiting for Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, to be released on April 4, 2017.

Red Sister

Here is the blurb:

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…

I’m looking forward to this one because:

I’m a huge fan of Mark Lawrence and I’m reading the e-ARC at the moment. It’s totally different from the other books he has written and it’s truly glorious. Even though I have the e-ARC, it would be real nice to have the hardcover copy on my shelf.

What new release are you looking forward to? Share your post in the comments below!

Late 2016 Wrap-Up and Best of 2016

I’m a bit late to the party since I should have done this on December, but life and chronic illness got in the way. I made a Goodreads challenge for reading 25 books, but fell a bit short. Most books I read last year are old school fantasy classics I’ve made a personal goal to catch up with, and only a couple new releases. Btw this is why you shouldn’t ask me to review new releases. Unfortunately I am not one of those people who read 150-200 books a year, my own writing takes a lot of my free time. Here goes my 2016 top ten list:

1. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

The Wheel of Osheim I had been anxiously waiting for this book, since I’m a huge fan of Mark Lawrence, and his was hands down the best book I have read in 2016. See my review.

2. The Mirror’s Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

The Mirror's Truth I had been looking forward to sequel to Beyond Redemption, and it turned out to be more glorious than I expected. Superb characters, excellent prose and a superb grimdark setting, this was definitely the best grimdark I have read in 2016.See my review.

3. Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends I picked this one up after it made it to the SPFBO semifinals and Mark Lawrence recommended it. I normally read fantasy in pre-modern settings, but I have been curious about steampunk and Senlin Ascends turned out to be quite an excellent choice. It’s very different from the usual genre fiction, leaning more towards literary fiction/magical realism, but steampunk to the core. I can’t recommend it enough. See my review.

4. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Eye of The World I have been wanting to get into the Wheel of Time and finally managed in 2016. Never too late to read the Eye of the World! I loved it so much I am planning to re-read already after I finish the whole series. See my review.

5. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

The Farseer Trilogy

I will cheat and put the whole trilogy here. I loved these books to death, though it is quite a heavy read and you need to read something funny afterwards to get out of the intense melancholy it gives you. See my reviews for book #1, book #2 and book #3.

6. The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt The Eye of the World got me hooked and this book got me addicted to the Wheel of Time. The way Jordan unfolds the world and the characters is truly stellar. The length of the series may be intimidating, but it’s such a great joy to slowly explore the eormous diverse world, you gotta read it to see how awesome it is! See my review here.

7. The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

The Dragon Reborn Book #3 of the Wheel of Time distinguished itself with the non-Rand POV’s and the impressive character development while showing the plethora of diverse cultures and lands. Matt’s slow character development reaches the level of awesomeness I have a hard time describing with words and the Aes Sedai world has the supreme dose of magic all epic/high fantasy fans will love. Character development and depth in general is some of the best I have read in fantasy to date. See my review here.

8. Road Brothers – Tales From The Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence

Road Brothers : Tales from the Broken Empire This indie published collection of short stories from the Broken Empire explores the various side characters in depth and gives a good glimpse to their background stories. I greatly enjoyed this book, it was like meeting old friends again. See my review here.

9. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings I am a huge fan of the First Law Trilogy and this book made a superb ending with fireworks and lots of twists. See my review here.

10.The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tombs of Atuan I am glad to read the first two books of the Earthsea Cycle, and liked this book more than A Wizard of Earthsea. Perhaps it was the gritty, melancholy atmosphere, or the awesome female protag, but Earthsea is definitely a must read for all fantasy fans. See my review here.

Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

The Wheel of Osheim

Genre: Dark Fantasy
Series: Red Queen’s War
Author info: http://www.marklawrence.buzz/

This book picks up the adventure where The Liar’s Key left it, with a bang -quite literally! This book is one of the best conclusions of a series I have ever read to date and it answers all of the questions in the most brilliant way with mind blowing twists and reveals. No question was left unanswered for me and the climax was brilliant.

And, if you are a Jorg fan, you will get a stunning scene featuring Jorg and Jalan’s dialogue with Jorg is one of my favorite parts in this book. Jalan’s desert scenes were splendid, but his journey through Hell with Snorri was even more so. Snorri is one of the best fantasy side characters ever and the emotional depth in Snorri’s character arc is incredible.

I am not a fan of battle scenes featuring the zombie/undead enemy armies, those bore me to death but the battle scene in The Wheel of Osheim was an awesome read with ingenious twists and turns. The prose is amazing and the flow of the story is smooth as usual. Jalan’s change and the way he gradually leaves his old life behind along with old Jalan is one of the best parts of the entire series. So is his relationship with Snorri, it’s something only a master wordsmith could write so beautifully.

Red Queen, Silent Sister and Garyus are superb minor characters, I enjoyed their scenes in The Liar’s Key and they get their awesomeness show in this book. The other great thing about this book is the way the answers to all of the questions raised in Prince of Fools and The Liar’s Key are revealed one by one, sometimes with a bang. The major reveals are the sort no one will see coming.

This book, like the previous two, is peppered with hilarious moments and clever quotes, the dialogues are damn good as usual and the action doesn’t let up. One thing I love about Mark Lawrence’s books is that there is always the great philosophy and the reflections of the characters which make you stop reading and think, without letting up the action and the thrill one bit. That is one hell of a feat few authors can accomplish.

If you are a fan of journeys you will love this book and series, there are quite a number of different journey arcs, some featuring just Jalan, some with Jalan and Snorri and some featuring the whole gang (Jalan, Snorri, Kara, Hennan) in different lands, with all kinds of crazy stuff happening along the way.

There are so many things I could say but I can’t say any more for the sake of keeping my review spoiler free. I can’t recommend this book enough, in fact I can’t recommend Mark Lawrence enough.

Book Review: Road Brothers – Tales From The Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence

Road Brothers : Tales from the Broken Empire

Genre: Dark Fantasy/Grimdark
Author info: http://www.marklawrence.buzz/

Disclaimer: I have received a review copy from the author.This is an indie book by Mark Lawrence, a collection of short stories set in The Broken Empire world, each one featuring one of Jorg’s infamous band of Road Brothers. If you haven’t read The Broken Empire, I must say the stories and the footnotes contain spoilers for all three books, so this book is best suited for those who have read and enjoyed The Broken Empire trilogy.

I must admit I’m not quite over The Broken Empire hangover yet, even though Red Queen’s War books are awesome and set in the same world, I missed Jorg and his brothers a great deal. These stories give a great insight to the characters’ backgrounds, let them shine on their own without Jorg’s majestic presence and show you how they ended up there. I would categorize these stories not as just grimdark fantasy but also as literary fiction. The way they depict the human condition and how the choices people make shape their whole life remind me of the rather grim short stories from the grand masters of literary fiction I’ve read in my younger days.

Two of the stories are about Jorg, the rest feature Jorg’s band of brothers. Red Kent didn’t have a huge presence in the trilogy but his story is pretty powerful and as a lover of rustic settings, I found it a delight to read. Brother Sim was one of my favorites from The Broken Empire, his piece is superb and full of almost lyrical dark suspense. The leucrota Gorgoth has a killer show. Father Gomst story has the best cameos and ‘a-ha!’ moments.

We even get to see a cameo of Snorri’s father (for those who haven’t read Prince of Fools, Snorri is one of the main characters there) in the Nuban story. Nuban was one of my favorite brothers and his story is a true masterpiece, showing the tribal culture and spirit in poetic beauty. The book made me want to re-read The Broken Empire so badly, but alas, I have a lot of other grimdark books to read and review. But then again I might cave in and just do it. Then I will re-read The Road Brother tales, too, for these stories are the kind that warrant multiple re-reads.

Amazon link: Road Brothers – Tales From The Broken Empire

Reddit Stabby Awards Are In!

Along with the Goodreads Choice Awards, Reddit /r/fantasy stabby awards is one of the most prestigious awards in my book. I don’t care for the Hugos, Nebulas and other such awards anymore, due to the political drama and clique intrigue stuff. I love reading such things in fantasy books, but seeing them in real life, especially when it comes to genre awards, leaves a sour taste in my mouth and hives on my skin.

Goodreads Choice Awards and Stabby Awards have zero drama, zero politics, no one pushing any agendas. They are both awarded by the people, the actual readers, the ordinary citizen on the street (I ‘m a voter too!)

2015 Stabbies went to great books and authors as usual. Brandon Sanderson killed it as expected, I can’t wait to read his books this year. Second and third places also feature some awesome stuff and I highly recommend checking out the top 5 winners in each category. I read some of them and 100% recommend. I haven’t read any of the winners but planning to.

Congrats to all the winners, keep up the good work!

Here go the top 5 winners in book categories:

Best Fantasy 2015

1. Shadows of Self (Mistborn #5)- Brandon Sanderson
2. The Liar’s Key (Red Queen’s War #2) – Mark Lawrence (my review here)
3. Fool’s Quest (The Fitz and The Fool #2)- Robin Hobb
4. The Autumn Republic (The Powder Mage #3) – Brian McClellan
5. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) – N.K Jemisin

Best Fantasy Debut 2015

1. The Traitor Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson
2. The Grace Of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty #1) – Ken Liu
3. Beyond Redemption – Michael R Fletcher (my review here)
4. The Vagrant – Peter Newman
5. The Library At Mount Char – Scott Hawkins

Best Self-published / Independent Fantasy 2015

1. The Labyrinth of Flame (Shattered Sigil #3) – Courtney Schafer
2. Forging Divinity – Andrew Rowe
3. Fae – The Sins of the Wyrde (The Riven Wyrde Saga #3)- Graham Austin-King (review coming soon, see the reviews of book 1 and book 2)
4. Bloodrush (The Scarlet Star Trilogy #1) – Ben Galley
5. Malus Domestica – S.A Hunt

Winners of other categories:

Best Anthology/Collection/Periodical

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues published by Ragnarok Publications

Best Short Fiction

Perfect State – Brandon Sanderson

WWW Wednesday 25 November 2015

WWW Wednesday weekly blog meme

WWW Wednesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

Beyond Redemption by Michael Fletcher.

It’s a batshit crazy world full of batshit crazy people. The lines between delusions and reality are quite blurred, if they exist at all. It’s dark, gritty and full of horrible, amoral characters. Even the little kid isn’t an innocent little angel, if that tells you something. The concept is very original and the characters are compelling. If you are a fan of grimdark, you will definitely love this book.

Beyond Redemption by Micheal J. Fletcher

Recently finished reading:

The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence.

Great book, a work of genius. The first book of the series is called Prince of Fools and this book continues the story there. See my reviews for Prince of Fools and The Liar’s Key.

The Liar's Key by Mark Lawrence

I’m planning to read next:

Fae: The Sins of the Wyrde by Graham Austin-King.

I read the first two books and they impressed me a good deal. See my reviews here, Fae: The Wild Hunt and Fae: The Realm of The Twilight.

Before they are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie (I read The Blade Itself and totally loved it, see my review here)

Fae: The Sins of the Wyrde by Graham Austin-King Before they are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie