Monday, November 5, 2018

Review: RED SISTER by Mark Lawrence

Rating: 2/5 stars

This book sounded awesome: it’s all about assassin nuns. I’d heard so many people raving about how amazing it was, and if you look at other reviews you will notice that almost everyone loves this book. Naturally, I had no doubt I would enjoy it too.

I was so very wrong.

I really, really wanted to like this book, and I honestly thought I would, but I just could not become interested in the story. I probably should have given the book one star for how bored and disappointed I was the entire time, but I didn’t because I do still like the idea behind the story, and I think this is an in-depth world that Lawrence probably spent a lot of time crafting. I didn’t hate the book, but it just did not deliver for me.

Everyone mentions in their reviews how the opening sentence/scene hooks you with epic action and the journey is only uphill from there, and even though the beginning was action-packed, I wasn’t pulled into the story yet. I kept reading. We follow Nona as a little girl when she was about to be hanged for a crime, and a nun comes to save her and take her to the Convent of Sweet Mercy. The first eighty or so pages were just Nona telling us her backstory—her entire life story in excruciating detail—and I was honestly so bored. The time jumps back and forth really disrupted the flow of the narrative. I could not keep all the characters straight, and Nona’s point of view felt very distant; I couldn’t connect with her, and in fact, I think she’s a very unrelatable character. Plus I didn’t care about her childhood drama at all.

Finally, Nona arrives at the convent, so I thought the plot would pick up and start to be interesting because I would be learning about this magical world and the different classes of Sisters and what they do. But the story still dragged for me. I couldn’t keep straight the Red Sister vs. the Holy Sister vs. the Holy Witch, etc. or what they all do, or which bloodlines produce which traits, and it just made me confused and uncaring. I do not think this aspect is explained well. Luckily for me, there was a glossary in the beginning will all this information because I had to keep referencing it.

Nona meets different girls at the Convent, some who tell her about the classes of Sisters in an unfortunately info-dumpy way that was difficult to keep straight, and she begins training. Much of this training is Nona sitting in a classroom learning different lessons. Long, slow lessons about the Path or something related to the Ancestor. Or she’s sparring with another sister in an uninteresting way. I just wanted something to happen! And we never learned what the whole point of the training was—what do these girls do after the convent? Who are they being trained to fight against? So much of this world felt left open and undeveloped, and I think Lawrence failed at telling what had the potential to be a great story.

Instead of Red Sister being about magical assassin nuns like I thought it would be, it was instead about little girls who are told by nuns about “magic” (I use this term lightly) but never actually get to use it, and they hardly ever assassinate anybody. We are told that Nona killed someone in her past, but there was none of that during the actual story until the very end. Where was all this killing I was promised?

The nuns are taught the Path, and they are supposed to one day touch the Path and walk the Path, but I honestly can’t even tell you what the Path is. Is it an intangible idea, the way of the Ancestor (who is only an idea but never fleshed out as an actual person; was the Ancestor even a real person?), or is it an obstacle course in the Convent? I actually have no clue what the Path is. And what does it mean to walk the Path? Why is this important? And what exactly is their religion? The whole concept of the story was cool, but it was entirely lost on me because nothing was explained well. For a story that takes place in a convent, there was very little explanation about the religion, which I found to be disappointing. I should not be asking these basic questions after reading 475 pages in this world.

The writing style is also very distant. I don’t know what specifically makes it that way, but I could not connect with any of the characters. They all blended together and I couldn’t tell one Sister from another, nor one girl from another. Everyone had basically the same personality. I also didn’t particularly like the prose because it was very dry. After reading this book, I don’t want to read any more books by Mark Lawrence if this is how he normally writes.

I honestly felt like my eyes were glazing over while I read. I could not even be made to care about any part of this book. At one point I reread an entire chapter and didn’t even realize it until the last page.

Even during action scenes, it felt like there was no action and no suspense. I don’t even know what was happening because all of the sudden the scene would be over and I just felt let down.

The whole story was so slow. I would sit down to read for an hour and realize I had read only ten pages. In an hour. I kept waiting and waiting for some excitement to occur, anything engaging to happen. But no matter how long I kept reading, this book never enraptured me like I had hoped so badly it would. I thought I would mark it as unfinished after fifty pages, but then I gave it until 100 pages, and then I gave it until 200 pages, and then eventually I struggled to the last page. I kept wanting to put it down but I also wanted so badly for it to get better, so I kept reading. But unfortunately, the story never did get any better.

Here are a few things I liked, at least: there was very little swearing in the book, which I appreciated; there’s also no romance in the book, which was nice for a change; there’s a strong focus on female friendships and what it really means to be someone’s friend; and Nona is not a chosen one, thank goodness, or I might have enjoyed the book even less.

I think my expectations were way too high because I ended up being extremely disappointed with Red Sister. I think it has the chance to be a good book for the right person, seeing as it has so many rave reviews, but I couldn’t tell you who the “right person” is because it was not for me. I never wanted to give up on the story so I kept pushing through, hoping it would get better, but it took me ages to finish. I kind of want to know what happens next, and I had planned on reading the whole trilogy, but I think I’m going to stop after this book because I don’t want to endure that much boredom for two more tomes. But if there’s ever a movie, I will definitely watch it because it would be loads more interesting and developed than the book is.
“Be warned, young Nona: a book is as dangerous as any journey you might take. The person who closes the back cover may not be the same one that opened the front one.”

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