Very obvious spoilers ahead!
My fellow adventurer Kosara and I have finished the second part of Red Sister – and boy, do we have some thoughts! Read along as we try to make sense of the second half of this riveting fantasy novel.
K: So, since last time we started with a brief discussion of main character Nona, let’s do this once again – did you notice any change in her, any development that particularly impressed you, that you would like (us) to emphasize on?
F: There’s so much I liked about Nona in this second part of the novel. The final, true telling of her ‘origin’ story, if you will–how she came to be sold to the childtaker–was chilling. More chilling still was the certainty we see in Nona when she thinks back on this, the certainty that those she grew up among, her mother included, saw her as a monster. How quickly that certainty shattered in a few words from members of her new-found family.
The butchery of Tacsis men was pretty nice, too! How about you, what were your favourite Nona moments in “Grey Class”?
K: To me – something that she expresses throughout the whole first book – this is the complete certainty which she has in her friends, the absolute lack of doubt, the naivete if you will. At first, Nona never notices the way people might be treating her wrong; she almost misses the betrayal of one of her “closest” friends, Clera – and I love that about her, simply because it is extremely childlike to have friendship put on a pedestal, to trust like that without thinking twice. After all, she is just a kid, an angsty and furious one – but also extremely well written.
F: I agree, she is a kid – and yet I know you’ll agree that the loyalty she shows shouldn’t be dismissed as childish naivete but rather as deeply rooted belief, even personal ideology. By the end of the epilogue, not only does this drive towards placing friendship as the highest value impress the reader with its sincerity but it’s also very well argued:
“We have a whole church built on ancestors.” [Nona] waved an arm at the dome. “Family. Dead family.” She took Ara’s hand in hers. “You choose your friends. If you’re going to worship dead people you didn’t choose, then perhaps the bonds of friendship shouldn’t be so easily broken. No?”
It’s no accident that these words are aimed at Clera, whose actions are the antithesis of what Nona treats as the most sacred of bonds. Did you see her betrayal coming from early on?
K: Of course, Nona has her principles and her opinion on everything, and she follows it through and through – her hatred for Tacsis, for instance, never fails to shine, is never diminished; the girl is stubborn, every thought she has reads on her face even when she (on rare occasions, to be fair) does not speak it. As for Clera – I never liked her, as I may have told you before when we chatted about it, but I didn’t think her capable of selling her friends for money – Judas in the flesh.
I was, however, even more surprised by the sudden twist in “The chosen one” situation – we had this very antipathic character, Zole, appear from nowhere it seemed like; turns out she might be the most important of them all, not just a stuck-up girl that I would have to patiently tolerate but rather a hero in progress! How did you feel about that?
F: Zole was a surprise, though I am not nearly as shocked to find her developing on a path very different from the initial impression she gives out–after all, something similar happened with Ara. Mark Lawrence is phenomenal at setting up antagonistic characters who blossom into complex, three-dimensional figures. I’m all too eager to see how Hessa’s death at the hand of her bodyguard will affect Zole, if at all. She was close with her bodyguard, wasn’t she? Both of them are connected by their outside status as originating from an ice tribe rather than from the many peoples of the Corridor.
The Chosen One trope continues to be subverted, and I love that; but the world of Abeth is so much richer than just this (faux?) prophecy! What were your favourite aspects of it, what roused your imagination the most?
K: You are right. The world is so vivid as it realistically intertwines the layers of politics, magic — religion even – in a way that leaves you with the dense feeling of immersion so deep, at times it was tough for me to break away.
My favourite aspects – again, the elegant play on The Chosen One trope (all my hypotheses were destroyed!); the touch on the impact this world has on a person. Everything involves that which surrounds you, there is no escapism, no way to disregard it.
We can see from the very beginning how vital it is for Nona to find out whether she is a two-blood, a three-blood, or whatever – exactly because her whole life has been structured this way and has revolved around a certain purpose that she must find. Not somewhere else, not for somebody else, no, she must find it within herself.
“Cage. The word scratched against her concentration. Nona tried to make the voice her own. I’m in a cage – the same cage that’s held me my whole life. I was in a cage before Giljohn took me and I’ve never left it. A cage made of my own bones.”
I am not sure if I would even survive in a world like this, given how impatient and easily breakable I am – in a way these girls and women could never be. What about you, what would you say about Nona’s cage situation?
F: It’s a terrible world that makes of someone like Nona a prisoner–but beautiful, also, for the ways and people that offer her freedom. The bond our protagonist shared with Hessa, for example, signified just such a freedom to me. To have that taken away at the end was agonising–but at the end of that bloody battle against Tacsis’s men, I think Nona has at least learned that she is not alone in the cage; all the Corridor is a cage, and at least she has her fellow initiates and Sisters to help each other survive.
Now tell me…What lingering mysteries are you most excited to uncover in the following books?
K: Exactly these things you mention. How will Nona cope with her new-found powers, (and old ones as well), the knowledge that betrayal among friends exists? I am very excited to see the way friends and rivals evolve and form ties; very curious as to what impact Yisht’s behaviour and Sherzal’s intentions will have onwards and I can’t wait to see that explored in the next books.
F: In that case, I think you know what I’m going to say…Time to read Grey Sister!