Fantasy Review: ‘Red Sister’ by Mark Lawrence

This torture as training thing that keeps popping up in modern fantasy… is it going to stay a thing? Because frankly it hit its peak in The Long Price Quartet where it lasted all of a short prologue and has just gone down hill from there. A teacher poisoning her student to teach a lesson in being prepared is less edgy than it wants to be; it is no longer even shocking.

Red Sister is the latest outing from Mark Lawrence. It will be popular and win all kinds of fan awards. It is exactly what one would expect if they heard Lawrence was writing a new novel with a young girl as a protagonist. Or if a person suspected the author planned to respond to past criticisms with a giant ‘take that!’ A bloody outing where said girl has a horrible past, something about her that makes her special, and then cuts a bloody path toward a bit of vengeance. The all-girl academy trains near invincible warriors in the aforementioned torturous methods (though to be fair not to the preposterous extremes seen in some other recent releases). Continue reading

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Fantasy Review: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War, #2)Mark Lawrence writes a great conversation. Not necessarily a realistic conversation, which would no doubt include more gaps and pauses and, at least in personal experience, horribly awkward phrasing. But his conversations flow smoothly and while reading them both feel real and entertain; don’t we all remember our interactions as more witty than they probably were at the time? It is a skill that I don’t remember being exhibited as much in the first two books of the Thorns trilogy as a lunatic with a temper isn’t necessarily the best conversationalist. But in The Liar’s Key I saw the best of it in Jalan’s interactions with, well, everyone. Turns out a lying coward with a quick tongue just has more entertaining conversations.

It is probably a good thing that everything Jalan says, either out loud or in his narration, is pure gold from an entertainment standpoint. Because as much as I enjoy his voice The Liar’s Key starts of pretty slow. This pace was forced by the setting; travelogues are always tough and even more so when the cast is constrained in movement by boat travel. But the pages still turned on their own and by the half way point of the book the fireworks really start to fly. Not that the book becomes pure action, though there is plenty of that, but rather everything Jalan does or has happen to him seems to have a purpose.

The Liar’s Key is a middle book through and through. Though it has a very specific goal for the characters to reach, and sufficiently answers the questions as to if the characters reached their goal, it also spent a lot of time providing background and filling in details hinted at in Prince of Fools. This is not a criticism, outside of the early chapters the characters paths never felt like filler while pieces got moved around. In fact it is mostly a good thing that we took the time to learn some background stuff. So many interesting aspects of this broken world were introduced in book one that needed expanding on. Oh sure some may prefer an air of mystery throughout, and at times I enjoy have room for my own thoughts about the little details, but this world has been so well crafted there is always a desire to know more about it.

Some of the horror aspects are lost through these explanations though; specifically the silent sister who went from something of nightmares to a character who is still quite worth reading about but has lost some of the mystery. Tradeoffs are inevitable of course but in this case I wouldn’t be too upset; a little bit of atmosphere in exchange for a good deal of payoff.

One of the more fun aspects of post-apocalyptic works is playing spot the familiar item. I know when I found a reference to CERN I smiled a bit as I am a reader that missed almost everything in Prince of Thorns. I appreciate that the general purpose of items like phones are not a complete mystery in this world even if the actual workings are lost in the years. It stays consistent with the world as shown, that is one where a good deal of knowledge has been passed down. This also leads to one of those little details that are unimportant to the overall story but still add so much life; keep an eye out for an object that presents the ultimate test of faith.

Usually if a person says the best part about a book is that it ends then said person is mocking the title in question. But in this case it is just describing one of the best endings to a book I have ever seen. Sure, it is a bit of a cliffhanger, an always present aspect of middle books. But it is everything that is to be expected from Jalan’s story thus far; show casing every aspect of his personality competing with itself until his luck takes over everything. It took me by surprise twice; leaving me with a smile and an itch to read more.

4 stars.

Copy for review provided by publisher.