Nona is about to be hanged as a killer when Abbess Glass intervenes, taking the nine-year-old girl away from prison to the comparative safety of the Convent of Sweet Mercy. As she is trained in the use of her gifts, Nona struggles to adapt to her new way of life, even as others plot to see her dead.

Told almost exclusively through Nona’s eyes, Red Sister takes place in a declining empire. One where the phrase “he who has the gold, makes the rules.” seems to prevail and where ancient bloodlines sometimes come to the fore, giving Nona and several of her new sisters speed, strength or magical abilities.

A lot of time is spent on Nona’s varying lessons, ranging from unarmed combat to spiritual enlightenment, and the way she gradually comes to befriend and open up to some of her classmates. A lot of this may seem familiar but it’s very well done, especially the gradual reveal, as Nona tells two different versions before finally confessing the truth of her past.

Despite the fact that the plot rarely leaves the convent, we still learn a surprising amount about the world outside it. Never in any great detail but there enough hints to keep us wanting more. There are mentions of demons, a world where the available land has shrunk between huge ice fields, buried starships; certainly more than enough to have me wanting to read the next instalment.

There’s plenty of blood and violence in this book so someone picking it up with the impression that since the main character is as young as she is, it must be for younger kids, would no doubt be in for a shock.

But fortunately the opening sentence, probably the best I’ve read this year, should make things clear pretty quickly.

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