When I read his debut novel, Prince of Thorns, I knew Mark Lawrence would be one of the new voices to read every year.
I was not wrong. I’ve loved all of his books. His readership has grown with every year’s release, his particular style of storytelling unique and his turn of phrase one that keeps a person reading long into the night.
But this year was the true test. While his first six books are roughly set in the same world with some characters that cross over, Red Sister is the first book in a brand-new series unrelated to anything he’s written before. And I’m happy to say, it’s great, probably the best thing Lawrence has written. Red Sister features Nona, one of the most interesting and complex main characters I’ve recently read, a young girl forced from her home and finding a home in a convent. It is all set within a world of religion, dangerous machinations, and political conflict. George R. R. Martin and Kvothe fans would do well to pick up Red Sister.
Upon finishing it, I decided to send Lawrence some questions about the book and the future of the series. After all, the first book is only the tip of the iceberg, with a much larger world abroad. The interview is below.
Unbound Worlds: Red Sister is now published. Tell Unbound Worlds about this first book in the “Book of the Ancestor” series?
Mark Lawrence: My elevator pitch consists of staring at the buttons and studiously ignoring anyone else in there with me. This is my seventh book and I still can’t bring myself to do the hard sell.
It’s an entirely new story, new world, and the characters are almost all female, the most important ones children in the 9 to 13 range. Also, there’s plenty of killing.
UW: Nona is a wonderfully complex character, a young girl who enters and grows within a very different life. Did you draw on strong women in your own life as inspiration?
ML: I don’t know. Generally I can either identify concrete inspiration such as “A Clockwork Orange” for my first main character, Jorg, and Flashman for my second, Jalan. Or I have no clue. Here I have no clue. Obviously I’m influenced by all my inputs, but I can’t untangle them. Mind you … what you said sounds like a great answer. So that.
UW: The book is quite unlike anything you’ve written before. How did you go about constructing the Convent of Sweet Mercy and the surrounding structures of power? Did it require research into the monastic or did you make it up as you went along?
ML: I always invent as I go. My only research was to Google for a nice map of an abbey and take inspiration from the labels, such as “cloister”, “scriptorium”, “refectory” etc.
UW: The worldbuilding here is very subtle but I loved it, especially the frozen world that is unfrozen periodically. Technology always seems to creep into your work. Why?
ML: I guess that’s my science background poking in. For me it adds another dimension of mystery. And to my mind magic and science are interchangeable. If magic exists then. . . the study of magic is science and magic is just a part of the world, subject to laws just as gravity is. Technology is simply the production of useful stuff using science (magic). Many secondary worlds have long histories but are technologically static, which always strikes me as odd. I think George RR Martin’s world in A Song of Ice and Fire has records for the ice wall going back ten thousand years. And in all that time they have had the bow and sword but not moved beyond. This seems odd given human ingenuity.
UW: How is work going on the sequel to Red Sister? Got a title in mind?
ML: The trilogy was finished 8 months before Red Sister’s publication. Grey Sister is next, then Holy Sister. And by finished I really do mean finished. Grey Sister has even been edited by the publisher and is practically ready to print.
UW: Your output is tremendous! Do you and Brandon Sanderson use the same ghost writer chained somewhere?
ML: That would be a ghostwriter worth keeping hold of! But my books are relatively short. A GRRM volume is well over twice as long. I think my main asset is that I write things once. I don’t have the draft draft draft disease that some suffer from. I’ve never deleted a page and rewritten it, some authors rewrite whole chapters or remove or add characters. That’s going to make it a lengthy process.
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence is available now!
The journey awaits!