The world Nona Grey lives in is a brutal one. The dying sun has left the whole of the world in ice, save for the Corridor: the mere miles-wide span around the globe where warmth still keeps the glaciers at bay. She was sold by her mother as a child and brought to the city of Verity, where she was bought again by a man named Thuran Tacsis. He buys children with special talents and pits them against each other in the fighting ring. Nona critically wounds his son, Raymel, for hurting her friend Saida. The story opens as Nona is about to hang for her crime. She is rescued by Sister Glass, Abbess of the Sweet Mercy convent, who recognizes Nona’s abilities and seeks to train her as a nun. These are not your typical nuns – sure, some do become Holy Sisters after their training and serve the Ancestor – but others become Red Sisters, bred for killing and combat. Nona has never known anything but cold nights and cages. Adjusting to life in the convent is difficult, and the threat of the Tacsis family seeking revenge is always on her mind. But there are other girls there, children who are different, like she is. She can make friends and survive… right?
The world Mark Lawrence builds here is a fascinating one. I was drawn to the convent setting, where most of the book takes place, but the world without is drawn just as masterfully as the small convent. However, one cannot help but draw parallels to Harry Potter due to the setting and one of the major plot points. The writing is detailed, with a dark, tense tone, but the dialogue is formal and at times has a dry humor to it. It was very difficult to remember that Nona is 9 when the story starts and 12 when it finishes because of the way she and the other children spoke. It also made it easy to forget the violence committed for and by children. This is not a book for the faint of heart! The battle scenes spare no expense, and every last drop of blood is accounted for in detail. The detailed world and complex characters should be more than enough to keep most readers going.