Red Sister by Mark Lawrence – An Adventurous Discussion (1 of 2)

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My fellow adventurer Koki and I have been reading the first installment in the Book of the Ancestor series – and boy, do we have some thoughts! Read along as we try to make sense of the first half of this riveting fantasy novel.


First off, let’s share our impressions of main character Nona! What did you think, K? What did you admire most about her? Was there something in her you disliked, a trait that made you uncomfortable?

K: From what I have seen until now, I love the girl – she is wild, bold and fierce, absolutely restless and never hesitates to speak her mind or do what she thinks is right. Her character is very much the type I enjoy – an organic one, a complexity of nature which I find very easy to relate to.

F: Something like yourself, then! I find the value she places in friendship to be absolutely stunning – she shows loyalty I aspire towards where my own relationships are concerned. She’s also the deadliest tiny badass I’ve seen in fantasy for a long while now! Nona is also quick to let go of a grudge, which shows in her a capacity to approach both people and problems in new and unexpected ways, as this first half of Red Sister shows us.

K: She is undoubtedly a warrior and possesses such qualities and powers which we are often (if not always) used to seeing in the main characters with them later turning out to be the primal force in the story – here, this one breaks my expectations of the genre. What do you think about the whole her-not-being “The Chosen One”?

F: I love that about Lawrence’s work – he tends to undercut these genre expectations long-time fantasy readers might have, and in the most delightful ways. What I adore is that “The Chosen One,” Arabella, is initially presented as this disdainful little princess, her nose stuck so far into the air she might as well be breathing ozone. But by the end of “Red Class,” that perception, too, is shattered. There is a moment when Nona is facing a deadly challenge during her trial, and is in need of a second – and at a current key moment, we just about see this girl, Arabella, prepare to step forward. She doesn’t get the chance, but those two sentences Lawrence writes begin a transformation, of sorts; within a single conversation, our protagonist Nona recognizes Ara for a more layered character by far.

Of course, by that time, we know the whole concept of the prophecy to be a political ploy by the church of the Ancient – did you see that revelation coming? And, for that matter, what is your take on Abbess Glass, the most cunning political operator in the book so far?

K: The political games behind the prophesy simultaneously surprised me and then they didn’t really; I was into the idea about it and did not see all the signs pointing towards this revelation that you are talking about. At the same time, though, I thought about how these Pythian enigmas are way too overused in the genre and hoped to be proven wrong – which I was, and found great delight in it! The notion of people, be they heroes, mortals or whatever, weaving their own destiny even while leaning on some ancient postulates, is something I find much more trustworthy and gladly found it here.

What can I say about Abbess Glass, except that she is a real user of the Path – a calm, brave and cunning player, completely cold-blooded and reliable in her unreliability.

F: Perfectly put, K, especially on account of the good Abbess. She’s a cold one, sure enough! I wonder how her relationship with Nona will continue from this point onwards — towards the close of the first part, we are left with the distinct impression that any faith Nona had in Glass is gone, as is the sense of loyalty our little protagonist felt towards her saviour. Turns out, Glass made the best of a tool she found, to her own purposes – and while I like that in a character, it’s difficult for me to forgive, considering it’s our Nona that was being used. Grrrrrr.

K: Love that.

And now, here are some quotes we loved!

On Nona:

Nona opened her mouth and found that she had run out of words. She had vowed that she would never let a friend down, that she would do anything, anything at all, to protect them. A vow more sacred to her than the Ancestor, more holy than the church from tallest spire to lowest crypt. The idea that someone might count her as a friend without her knowledge or agreement suddenly complicated things.

On Abbess Glass:

Abbess Glass was neither fast, nor strong, she had no obvious wealth, her office held no great sway, and yet with her truth and with her lies she had turned one wheel against another against another and in due course mountains had moved, the mighty had fallen, and the world sang the song she chose for it.

A bit of sententious wisdom:

It’s harder to forgive someone else your own sins than those uniquely theirs. Much harder.

Welp, that’s it from us! If you’d like to see our discussion of “Grey Class” once we wrap up our read-through of Red Sister, do follow the blog! Thanks for reading!

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