Verdict: Holy cliffhanger
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published by HarperVoyager UK, 2017
I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.
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…
There are many things to love about this book, most of all: assassin nuns. Like, how was I supposed to not read a book about assassin nuns? Especially one that starts with one of the best first sentences ever: “It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.” Mark Lawrence unapologetically delivers on the premise of kickass nuns. The book is filled to the brim with wonderful strong, flawed, real women and made my heart soar.
This book follows Nona, who has been sold (or rather given away for free) to a man whose job it is to pick up children with special abilities and who delivers her into the care of a man managing a fighting club. We meet Nona when she is about to be hanged for (nearly) killing a noble son and is thankfully rescued by one of the aforementioned assassin nuns and taken into the convent.
While the first 100 pages and the last 100 pages were absolutely brilliant, I found the middle for long stretches to be too long. I am not the biggest fan of plotpoints that could have been resolved by just talking to one of the responsible adults – and the nuns have never given Nona any reason to distrust them. I also never could keep the nuns straight in my head which made some of the more emotional points a bit flat. I usually do not have to keep referring back to the glossar and the dramatis personae but I had to do that here which did take some of the enjoyment out of the book for me.
But one thing is for certain – I cannot wait to see where the story goes next because the foreshadowed events are epic without end. I am a big fan of over-powered fantasy protagonists (especially if they are women) and this series delivers on that front.