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.

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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!

Guest Post by Brandon Draga: Why YA?

– “Why YA? Why Not?”

*Grabs a cup of coffee*
*Sits down*
*Sips*
Hi everyone, my name’s Brandon, and I write Young Adult Fantasy.
Hoo, okay, that felt good to get off my chest.
I guess you could say it started innocently enough, with my sister urging me to write something en vogue, something with a young female protagonist set in a dystopian society. Naturally, my inclination was to figure out how to do this in a fantasy setting.

Also, to make sure that I wasn’t writing a YA novel.
Denial was a huge part of a number of the creative decisions I made with The Summerlark Elf. I made Enna twenty years old solely so she wouldn’t be a teenager. I left out any trace of a romance subplot, never mind even broaching the idea of a love triangle. I kept the female protagonist and the dystopian setting though (sort of).

After the book was released, I was steadfast in my belief that it was decidedly not a YA book. I made sure to tell everyone who asked that it was meant for an adult audience, though I made sure to add the caveat that it could be read and enjoyed by someone as young as twelve.
Definitely not YA, though. Not at all, thank you kindly.
“But why not?” my girlfriend and cover artist asked on more than one occasion. “What’s wrong with YA?”
“I want to be taken seriously as a fantasy author.” I would reply, with a surprising lack of irony. “I want my books to appeal to a wide range of people!”

And they have, I’m proud to say. I’ve spoken to teens for their library book club, received fan mail from people well into their senior years (of life, not school), been read by the most hardcore genre fans and people who have never read a fantasy book in their life. But then, the same can be said of a lot of people who write books billed as YA, especially genre YA.
J.K. Rowling?
Suzanne Collins?
Veronica Roth?

Hell, look at people like Terry Brooks, David Eddings, or Raymond Feist. You cannot tell me that, had their respective series’ been released today, they would not be pushed as YA titles. Let’s take it further and admit that most post-Tolkien fantasy up until the mid-90s or so fits the most basic tenant of Young Adult fiction, in that the protagonist is a young adult.

Which, if the media is correct (I know), is anyone between 18 and 25. Not unlike Enna Summerlark.

So, that being said, what was my issue, and what changed my mind?
I think we can chalk a lot of it up to me, frankly, being an elitist jerk, and assuming that most fantasy readers are the same.
You see, a funny thing happened when I released The Summerlark Elf. For the first time since I started reading fantasy way back in the before times, I was interacting with other fantasy readers, readers who put my credentials to shame. Readers who, by and large, were perfectly happy to read a YA book, provided it was good. Not just that, but the more people read the book, the more they would tell me it felt like a YA book, and not derisively.

Moreover, something else happened this past year. For a tenure of about eight months, my books were being published by the ultimately ill-fated Realmwalker Publishing Group, and damned if they weren’t selling better that I had hoped. A large part of that, upon careful examination, was the fact that RPG had opted to start billing Summerlark, and its follow-up The Missing Thane’s War as Young Adult Fantasy! Apparently, the best way to broaden my readership was ultimately to narrow my work’s genre classification – who knew?!

It took me longer than I care to admit, but it doesn’t matter who I think my writing is supposed to appeal to, but rather who it does appeal to. Calling my books Young Adult doesn’t change the story in any real way; I’m still writing the books I want to write. And really, YA is a ridiculously large market with a really ridiculously large fan base. If my books sell as Young Adult books, then who am I to say no?
Still not crazy about love triangles, though.
I’m looking at you, Wil Ohmsford…

Author Bio

Brandon Draga was born in 1986, just outside Toronto, Ontario. His love of all things fantasy began at an early age with games like The Legend of Zelda, Heroquest, and Dungeons and Dragons. This affinity for the arcane and archaic led to his studying history at York University from 2005 to 2011. In late 2012, he began writing a D&D campaign setting that would lay the groundwork for the world of Olhean, the setting for his “Four Kingdoms Saga” novel series, compared by critics to the works of Terry Brooks, Michael J. Sullivan, and R.A. Salvatore. Brandon has also proven that SF/F can be made accessible at any age, writing the lauded picture book “Dragon in the Doghouse”. Brandon still lives just outside Toronto, and when he is not writing enjoys skateboarding, playing guitar, and playing tabletop games.

You can learn more about Brandon’s work on his web site: http://www.brandondraga.com/

Utilizing Google Plus To Promote Your Books and Blogs

Today I am going to share one of my book promo tricks: The Google Plus communities allowing blatant self promotion. I have compiled the following list a few months ago. Those allow promoting your own books and blog links. For authors, it works best if you have a discount deal going on. I have seen significant rank boosts on self pub titles after promoting in those groups. This will not only benefit the indies but tradpub authors, bloggers and reviewers too.

My advice is don’t just copy paste the link and blurb, but write up a short summary info to draw the interest of potential readers, make it sincere and add the link in the end. They will read the official blurb in the preview and when they click the link.

Some of the groups have specific sections for the type of posts (book links, blogs, author infos etc) on the left menu list, make sure to read & respect their rules and post in the appropriate section.

I hope this will help some struggling authors and bloggers out there.

Writers, Authors, Bloggers 35,089 members

Google Plus Book Club 37,003 members

Kindle & eBook Writers And Reviewers 6,895 members

Authors – Blatant Promo 4 Writers, Blogs! 6,829 members

Support-a-Writer 6,085 members

Readers Meet Authors And Bloggers 6,740 members

Promote Your Book! 9,999 members

Love 2 Read 1,542 members

Kindle Ebook Promoter 2,568 members

Indie Authors & Readers 7,233 members

Indie Readers & Writers 10,335 members

Self promotion for Authors 4,457 members

Book Bloggers, Book Worms and Book Reviewers 3,623 members

Books, Blogs & Give-Aways 4,495 members

Writers’ Corner 32,226 members

Books – The Passion for Reading 6,010 members

Book Reviews 10,500 members

Book Club 19,951 members

Book Publicity 3,329 members

Writers of Google+ 7,348 members

Book Reviewers 13,274 members

NOTE: Removed one of the groups since I am informed it no longer allows book promotions and intended for discussions only.

Author Interview with Chad Ballard

Sentinel-final_front
Author Chad Ballard has released a very promising fantasy debut titled Sentinel which got a huge positive response on reddit /r/fantasy and became the top thread of the day. Here is an interview giving some insights about this exciting epic fantasy book and the author.

1. What genre are your books?

Sentinel, and the rest of The Ashen Court Series, are Fantasy. So is mostly everything else that I write. Every once in a while I’ll throw in some Sci-Fi or Steampunk when I write, but Fantasy has always been my go-to.

2. What draws you to this genre?

I think it’s the sense of wonder that you can get out of a Fantasy story. The whole genre throws the rules of reality out the window and lets a writer start with something completely fresh. You want a character that can throw fireballs and fly? You’ve got it. You want a character that swings around an impossibly large hammer like it’s a toy? Go for it. You want a race of people that have feet where their eyes should be and six hands on their arms? That’s just fine.

Another major part is the creation. I love to build worlds and characters and think through how a society acts around certain aspects of the world I’ve created. When I read, it’s the same way. I like to get into an author’s head and see what they’ve built.

3. What project are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m working on the sequel to Sentinel. I’ve got a few working titles for it right now, but nothing is set in stone. I like one-word titles, though. I’m all finished outlining it and I’ve started writing. I’m a few chapters in, but the hard part for me is done.

4. Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is special?

I have two. Callan starts off the story as an entitled rich boy, ready to inherit the world from his parents. He’s book smart and a quick learner, but he’s useless when it comes to keeping himself alive. The thing that makes him most special is his innate ability to lead others. He doesn’t know he’s got it, mostly because he has no interest in a leadership position…but the ability is there and it comes out when it needs to.
Pyra is the daughter of one of the most feared Lords in the kingdom. Her father isn’t cruel or overly aggressive like his reputation would suggest…he’s just intimidating. Pyra is doing her damndest to get some respect in her position, and it seems like her father is the only one willing to give it to her. She’s stubborn, capable, and working quietly to become a powerful mage.

5. Which writers inspire you?

A lot of them, and for a lot of different reason. J.K. Rowling, because I grew up with Harry Potter and fell in love with her work. I read the first book with my mom and never looked back. Brandon Sanderson for the sheer creativity of his books. He’s got the most unique ideas I’ve ever read. Jim Butcher for his ability to simply tell an engaging story. He might not have the most unique pretense for his novels, but damn are they good. Charlie Holmberg for teaching me that becoming an author isn’t some fantasy that won’t ever come true.

6. When did you decide to become a writer? Why do you write?

I don’t think I ever consciously made that decision. I’ve been writing since I was old enough to know what I was doing. I’ve always loved telling stories and it seemed to be a good fit from the beginning.

I write because I love it, it’s that simple. I enjoy it, it takes stress out of my life. I have these ideas and characters in my head that I need to get out on paper. So I write.

7. Do you work on an outline or do you prefer to see where the idea takes you?

I have a loose outline. I keep note cards for every chapter with bullet points for every plot point that I’d like to happen in that chapter. I fill in the stuff in the middle as I go.

8. What are some of your favorite books/authors?

Besides the ones that I listed above? George R. R. Martin, Django Wexler, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Steven Erikson…the list is pretty huge. I’ll leave it at those for now, for the sake of saving space.

9. I heard your main character is a female with leadership skills. Was it challenging to write such a strong female character as a male author?

Not really. The toughest part was making her seem genuine and not a strong female character for the sake of being a strong female character. I couldn’t ask myself “would a young woman do that?” I had to ask “Would a reasonable person in this situation do that?” It’s all about being genuine.

10. You have those lion people in your book, how did you come up with the idea?

It was mostly an effort to step out of the normal bounds of fantasy. I didn’t want the focus to be on Elves or Dwarves or Halflings or anything like that. I wanted a race of people that was unique to my story. I won’t say much about them specifically, to avoid spoilers, but I think that they’re a lot of fun. As much fun as 9-foot tall were-lion-things can be.

11. How can readers discover more about you and your work?

I try to update my Twitter as often as possible. @chadtastic92. I’m also on Reddit, and I hang around /r/fantasy pretty often. My username there is /u/chadtastic112. I’ll also have a blog up and running shortly. I’ll be sure to get the word out through either of those mediums when it goes live.

YA Fantasy Books With No Love Triangles – Part 7

This is a multi part blog post series featuring the YA Fantasy books without love triangles, where romance is minimal or not central to the plot. I did my best to include the books which would be enjoyable reads for the grown up YA Fantasy lovers and inspiring for the young people, where they could read about heroic adventures, friendship, loyalty, responsibility, survival, consequences of decisions, etc something other than romance and ‘which lover should the protagonist choose’ stuff.

See Part 1 here

See Part 2 here

See Part 3 here

See Part 4 here

See Part 5 here

See Part 6 here

I included the Goodreads links to make things easier so clicking on the image will take you to the Goodreads profiles of the series/books.

Warriors: Power of Three series by Erin Hunter


Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones (Standalone Novel)

There are wizards and magic in this one and it’s by Diana Wynne Jones!

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones (Standalone Novel)


A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones (Standalone Novel)


Magids by Diana Wynne Jones


Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones



The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones


Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull


This concludes Part 7. See you next week in Part 8!
If you have any recommendations, feel free to let me know and I will add them too. The only requirement is non-romance plot and no love triangles.

YA Fantasy Books With No Love Triangles – Part 6

This is a multi part blog post series featuring the YA Fantasy books without love triangles, where romance is minimal or not central to the plot. I did my best to include the books which would be enjoyable reads for the grown up YA Fantasy lovers and inspiring for the young people, where they could read about heroic adventures, friendship, loyalty, responsibility, survival, consequences of decisions, etc something other than romance and ‘which lover should the protagonist choose’ stuff.

See Part 1 here

See Part 2 here

See Part 3 here

See Part 4 here

See Part 5 here

I included the Goodreads links to make things easier so clicking on the image will take you to the Goodreads profiles of the series/books.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

This series is set in alternate Londons, one with no magic, the others with magic and completely different realities. I have seen it on many book blogs and it has received great reviews. There’s plenty of adventure, thieves, cutthroats, conspiracies and interesting characters. I’m quite intrigued by the reviews and planning to read this series soon.


The Twixt series by Dawn Metcalf


The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

This is hyped to death on every book blog featuring YA books and people swear up and down this is an awesome series. It’s set in the far future, so it’s a different kind of fantasy than I read. The main character is a Cyborg Cinderella, which sounded quite interesting and I decided to give it a shot even though I prefer medieval and ancient world kind of fantasy. There is romance but people told me there’s so much more and great worldbuilding, so I’m including it here.


Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Standalone Novel)


Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

This is a scifi-fantasy blend with alternate history, featuring dragons.

Sand and Blood by D. Moonfire (Standalone Novel)

If you are looking for something not set in medieval Europe or the Western world, this may be just the book for you. It’s set in the desert clan culture, features rite of passage and ancestral magic.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This one is high up in my TBR and I’m planning to review it as soon as I can.

Maradaine series by Marshall Ryan Maresca

The first book of this new series came out in February 2015. The blurb got me interested and some book bloggers I highly respect gave it great reviews so I added it to my TBR. Here is the first paragraph blurb:”Veranix Calbert leads a double life. By day, he’s a struggling magic student at the University of Maradaine. At night, he spoils the drug trade of Willem Fenmere, crime boss of Dentonhill and murderer of Veranix’s father. He’s determined to shut Fenmere down.”
I’m sold!

This concludes Part 6. See you next week in Part 7!
If you have any recommendations, feel free to let me know and I will add them too. The only requirement is non-romance plot and no love triangles.