The First Sister – Linden A Lewis

“The new captain arrives in two hours, so I sort my belongings and pack them into a small bag.”

First Sister, a nameless, voiceless priestess of the Goddess, serves aboard an interstellar ship, the Juno. She’s been the captain’s favourite, his interest saving her from the attentions of the rest of the crew. For, the sisterhood’s role is to provide comfort to the soldiers of an interplanetary war – comfort in prayer, confession, and… yeah o.O Thinking the captain’s retirement will be her escape to a better life, she instead finds herself abandoned and caught up in plots that could destroy her, the new captain, or half the solar system.

On the other side of the war, Lito sol Lucius has clawed his way up from the slums to be a lauded duellist – the cream of the fighting crop. His faction embraces advanced technology and genetic manipulation, including neural implants to pair-bond fighters. But after a crushing defeat on Ceres, he and his partner were separated – and now Lito’s redemption lies in a new mission, to kill none other than the ex-partner gone rogue.

As the two stories not only converge but tangle and criss-cross, the fate of humanity may well rest in the hands of a silent sister, a conflicted duellist, a non-binary rebel, and a race that split from humanity centuries before.

After somehow letting this slip through the cracks on publication last year, I finally picked it up ahead of the sequel being published this month (Aug 2021) – and wow, am I glad I did! Usually when you read blurb of the kind, “The Handmaid’s Tale meets Red Rising”, you take it with a pinch of salt – but here, it couldn’t have been more spot on!

To be honest, the Handmaid’s Tale bit, the way the Sisters are used, was uncomfortable to read. I get that it was sort of the point, and does form a large part of the plot, but still: little girls being sold into a ‘priestesshood’ that amounts to little more than forced prostitution isn’t going to sit well with me – so there’s a little bit of a content warning for you.

The other side aren’t much better, and you may be just as or more disturbed by the use of technological advancement to alter the human body – not always willingly. That said, it’s never overly graphic. It’s a dark set up, giving the ‘why’ for characters turning rogue, and helping you root for them even while they might not be 100% likeable.

On top of that are then all the twists and tangles in the plot threads, which kept me guessing pretty much to the end. This book is gripping! I didn’t even mind the switch back and forth between two main characters and two plot threads (sometimes irritating in other books), as both are filled with excitement, danger, and so many tantalising clues as to where the story would go and also what felt like the hugest amount of backstory and world-building. This is a rich, complicated world, and I loved every dark moment of it!

NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 29 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: The First Sister trilogy book 1
Read from 8th-10th August 2021

My rating: 9/10

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