Cover Image: The First Sister

The First Sister

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i'd been wanting to read this for ages! i can't wait to get the paperback of this gorgeous book for my bookshelves. i'm glad so many people have been picking it up and enjoying it!
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this e-copy of The First Sister. I was not able to finish this book simply because I couldn't get into the story. I was not a fan of the writing but there is nothing actually wrong with the writing. I would still recommend this book because of the sci-fi elements and the LGBTQIA representation. I wish I could have enjoyed this, but it was just not what I had expected.
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“The First Sister” is compelling from the first page, always brimming with the intensity of a scream that has been bottled up for lifetimes and is on the verge of rushing forth. The novel follows two primary characters, who are situated on opposite sides of a never-ending war, each tied up as pawns in political machinations and subterfuge far beyond their design. We are quickly introduced to an expansive world and history that is rich and detailed, the world-building done with a grace that makes it never feel rushed or overly expository. The primary characters are complicated and interesting, and the same can be said for the orbit of secondary characters, too. I never felt like a character was a mere archetype, even when they were fulfilling that role in the story. 

The story itself a full-throated criticism of state violence and its intersections with poverty and class, while simultaneously forcing us to examine ideas of identity, bodily-autonomy, and the many costs of dedication to a cause. All of this wrapped in a smart space opera, which set a number of creative limitations on itself that offer space for further exploration. For instance, although everything is shot through with political machinations we get very little experience into the workings of the political scene, focusing on characters much farther down the pecking order. Similarly, while the story is confined mostly to one ship and two-ish planets, we know that in the narrative there are plot reasons that don’t allow any of the characters to go beyond the inner planets of Mercury – Mars, but it is a plot device not build on lack of technology or ambition but unseen historical antagonists that are mentioned in passing. While the story may never come from the point of view of an active politician and may never burn through the asteroid belt barrier before Jupiter, the story creates a world that still feels bursting with potential, and by keeping it confined for this first novel in this way the story was able to be more contained and intimate while still hinting at far greater possibilities. And, equally important, this story was a joy to read. Its structure and style never felt forced or cheap, but rather lush and personal. We shared space within the hearts of our main protagonists and the ways their observations and experiences were presented really pulled me into the story and its world without ever feeling hackneyed, but instead the work of a skilled story-teller. The story had a few large plot developments that I was able to guess about pretty early on, but they were married with other plot developments that I didn’t see coming. In either case, nothing felt unearned, and every twist, turn, and character choice was born from seeds that had been quietly planted as the story progressed. 

Lastly, I think its important to talk about just how queer this book is. It has a queer meta-political ideology, insofar as it distrusts established authority and seeks to topple systems of oppression enshrined in manufactured ideas of the status quo. More importantly, though, it has unabashedly queer characters, in terms of not only sexual identity, but also gender identity and gender presentation, and, what is most revolutionary, none of these things serve as major sources of harm or trauma for the characters. The sexual fluidity is never dismissed as sinful or shameful, and no one ever misgenders the nonbinary character, neither accidentally nor maliciously. In other stories such a character might be accepted, but we would still have an antagonist intentionally misgender them, or question them, as a way to undermine their sense of self and create tension. That never happens here. There are questions, and hints as possible past traumas, regarding gender expression, but it is never used as a weapon, not even by the cruelest of the antagonists. It is hard to say how refreshing it is to read a queer novel that is explicitly queer in its outlook and its characters, and even its plot, but that queerness is just accepted as given and doesn’t serve as plot point. Especially in the space-opera/militaristic sci-fi realm, while definitely getting better, it is still uncommon for unapologetic queer identities to be central to the characters and story and yet not be driving force of those characters’ emotional arcs, nor a source of plot-enhancing trauma. 

In short, I liked all the component parts as well as what they came together to create. While it does occupy a genre space that not everyone appreciates, the novel does a whole lot in that space and definitely looks to see what boundaries it can push. Anyone who is a fan of the genre will definitely find it both comforting but also refreshing and offering something new. Anyone who doesn’t identify as a fan of the genre should still give it a try, because it offers intimate character portraits that defy genre tropes. I look forward to continuing the series and seeing where else they will take us.
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The First Sister is an engrossing sci-fi story of forbidden love and strength. The story centers on the (potentially not so distant) future when Earth has become uninhabitable. The two major societies at the center of the narrative are the Geans and the Icarii with the Asters taking a featured role as well. The Geans are an uber-religious society comprised of former Earth residents that colonized Mercury. The Icarii are a society that is super technologically advanced and they are comprised of people that colonized Venus and Mars. In the middle of the Gean-Icarii conflict are the Asters, a people that are genetic combinations of the Geans and the Icarii, a people deemed unacceptable by both societies. 

The story centers around a few central characters. The First Sister is a Gean priestess, who (despite her voicelessness) serves the Gean soldiers aboard one of their most prestigious warships. She consistently dreams of who and what she could be outside of the Sisterhood until she meets Saito Ren, the ship's new captain. Saito makes First Sister question everything she thought she wanted and was willing to give up. Lito val Lucius is an Icarii duelist who loses his other half (Hiro) when they betrayed him to the Gean army. Lito must come to terms with killing the person who meant everything to him unless Lito can figure out why Hiro's betrayal happened.

Lewis took their time with this world-building, and I am so thankful they did. The world of The First Sister is completely enthralling, and I found myself swept away time and time again. Furthermore, the sheer amount of LGBTQIA+ representation in this novel made my heart sing. First Sister is bisexual and has to understand her identity outside of her responsibilities and roles in the Sisterhood. Lito has to understand the devotion he feels for his commander, and what that means for him. Hiro is non-binary, which I have not seen in many novels, and as someone who recently came out as NB, it was so nice to have someone as badass as Hiro representing an identity that means so much to me.

This story is full of resiliency and grit, identity formation, and the power of a team. While science fiction isn't always my cup of tea, I absolutely loved this book. I can't wait to see how the story evolves over the next two books, and definitely am going to be recommending this book to everyone I know.

Overall rating: 3.5/5 (rounded to 4)

The First Sister is available for purchase now. Be sure to add it to your Goodreads shelf and see where it's available for purchase. Also, be sure to check out Linden A. Lewis's website!
I was lucky enough to be able to read this Advanced Reader's Copy through my partnership with NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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This book is told from two, technically three, perspectives. 
The First Sister, a priestess with no name and no voice. 
An elite soldier of Venus. 
A non-binary hero out to save the solar system. 

This world is built wonderfully, although at first it feels a bit overwhelming. I quickly caught on and caught up with the story. Told from two first person perspectives and a third transmitted perceptive. 
I loved  the evolution of each character as the story progresses. 

My one complaint is I did find myself a little confused at times with the different beings. Which could be a total me thing. 

If you’re looking for a outer space war torn handmaids taleish story, this ones for you.
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Thank you NetGalley for giving me access to this book! 

This is a dual POV novel following the Gean First Sister on the ship, Juno, and Icarii Lito val Lucius. Both are on opposing sides of a long war (Earth and Mars vs Mercury and Venus), and both offer a unique perspective into how war is affecting them. 

I've always loved science fiction, but I was worried this book would be too convoluted for my liking. But the cover and the premise drew me in, and I'm glad to say I was immediately hooked. 
For once, I was happy with dual POV. I loved being able to see differences in Gean and Icarii lives, especially in their culture, technology, and the ways propaganda has influenced their way of thinking. 

There were two major twists in the book for me, and both took me by surprise. The writing was simple, yet descriptive where it needed to be. It was a little long at times, but that didn't stop it from being enjoyable.

I look forward to the next book!
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A feat in world-building with complex characters and a plot that gives the reader enough answers to keep them content and able to follow the story while still leaving just enough questions unanswered to keep them curious, The First Sister is a superb work that kept even my non-sci-fi-inclined self deeply invested. This book is packed with everything you could ask for in a sci-fi novel, and with a world that is so richly described and a complex set of politics detailed vividly, it's hard to believe that this book is a mere 300 or so pages. The plot twist absolutely caught me off guard in the best way, and the cliffhanger has left me in eager anticipation of the second novel in this series. For seasoned sci-fi fans and newcomers alike, The First Sister is a must-read.
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DNF. I would not say that this book was bad, more that it didn't suit my taste and didn't meet my expectations. Not meeting my expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, sometimes I have low expectations and I get proven wrong. Let's start with what I liked: Good representation and the concept and idea were great, but for me not intriguing enough to finish it. For me to finish a book it needs to have at least one thing that makes me want to continue the book. I somehow expected more exploration of space.and the world. Additionally, I don't know if it is just me, but I don't really like romance in books, or when a book is specifically romance heavy. I felt like this was the case in this book, too much romance I couldn't get behind. I am not sure though if I just picked up on this and focused too much on this aspect because it bothered me so much. If someone isn't bothered by this, they would probably enjoy the book more than I did, I did not finish this book because I have been reading it for a while now and don't really feel like picking it up again and I don't want to force myself to finish it because I have way too much to do with uni assignments and exams.
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A dystopian sci-fi told from two opposites sides of a war. 

The first sister is voiceless and exists only to serve the Gean soldiers fighting the Ikarii. Lito is a Ikarii soldier missing their partner after they were sent away due to a failed mission.

The two major characters alternate chapters, with Hiro (Lito’s partner) having chapters in between explaining what lead to their current situation.

The author had a well thought out plot line for this story, and I can’t wait to see how things continue in the sequel. I also appreciated the large amount of LGBTQ+ representation in this novel! Hiro (one of the main characters) goes by they/them pronouns and the first sister discusses how she has no preference when it comes to gender. 

I think the author explained a lot of the backstory for a plot that was very complex, allowing the reader to understand what was going on, but also allowed further backstory to be explained in the sequels, allowing for a richer experience over time.
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The First Sister seemed like the perfect book club pick for Pride month, and it didn't disappoint.

The premise is difficult to explain succinctly; broadly, humanity has escaped our planet for outer space, but after seeing the extreme damage caused to both Earth and Mars, a small group of settlers set sail (or the space ship equivalent, at least) for Mercury and Venus. Now Earth and Mars (the 'Gaens') are at constant war with the 'Icarii' (settlers of Mercury and Venus). Dropped into this conflict are a Gaen religious acolyte, an Icarii soldier, and said soldier's former duelling partner.

It sounds like a lot, but the world building is a real strength of The First Sister. There is no info-dumping or awkward tangents to explain the history of this world; the details are well-integrated into the story. There isn't always enough to be fully satisfying - the one thing missing from this book for me was more detail about the First Sister's religion and how it came to be, and what it means for those outside the inner circle - but the details we do get are fascinating.

This is much less flashy than I was expecting from a space opera; there are battles and swordfights, but this is mostly a quiet, slowly unfolding fantasy about people questioning their values and finding their voice... at least until you learn how all the POVs fit together, at which point my jaw dropped.

The characters are excellent, and all feel well-realised as they work through the various moral challenges they face. Hiro - the nonbinary hero believed to have betrayed their former partner, Lito - stands out the most in terms of having a distinctive voice, and I found their story more interesting than the First Sister's, but none of the POVs are a chore to return to. I did struggle a little with the romance between the First Sister and Saito Ren, partly because the power differential made me uncomfortable, and partly because I didn't believe in the instalove of it, but it does play an important part in setting up the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book; every time I put it down I was wondering about what would happen next. A highly recommended read and I'm looking forward to the sequel.
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This book is intense. 

I found it incredibly fast-paced and the way each chapter alternated POVs and tended to end with some kind of revelation made it compulsively readable. I loved that each POV was on a different side of an interplanetary war and the way each of their stories intertwined. I also loved how unapologetically queer and diverse this book is and I was really intrigued by how the Geans and Icarii evolved into these warring empires.

There are a some reveals in the last 25% or so of the book that could be pretty divisive and I'm still not sure how I personally feel about some of them despite having read this book twice. I think it will depend on how the fallout is handled going forward.

Overall, I really enjoyed this debut and am really looking forward to the rest of the trilogy!
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I have been in the worst reading slump this year, probably because covid, but this book? This book I gobbled up in 2 days. Basically there’s this space war, and the church has “sisters” who are basically prostitutes for spaceships’ staff, and they’ve been surgically altered so they can’t speak. So we follow perspectives from 3ish people on both sides and damn was this good. Like so good. And gay. So very gay
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I enjoyed this one a lot! Reminded me of a mix of Altered Carbon and Red Rising with its own Twist. This first book really set the stage for a great series and I can’t wait for the second book.
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This was pitched as space opera with The Handmaid’s Tale, and that’s not inaccurate though it is aspirational. One main character is a silent Sister (they are silenced so that they can just listen to and support the soldiers who use them for confession and sexual access, which is generally described but not specifically depicted), while another is a fighter on the opposing side, whose own regime turns out to have its share of horrific tortures and injustices. It was a bit too crapsack world for me even though there is clearly some hope at the end.
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I really wanted to like this book but was unfortunately left wanting. The prose was beautiful and I thought Linden A. Lewis handled some tough topics with a lot of grace. 

I just could not get into the story of the First Sister. While I felt a lot of empathy for her, and I certainly wouldn't want to be in her shoes, she just felt a little wishy-washy as a character. 

I loved Lito and Hiro's portion of the story though. How horrible would it be to have to kill someone who meant so much to you at one point in your life? Hiro was also just kind of a badass and I liked that. 

I'm hopeful for the sequel and I do want to see where this story goes.
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Reading this book was intense. So much was going on and the plots tied together well. I don't usually read SFF so I  was a little confused at times but it didn't take away from the overall story. 
The Sisterhood was a little weird with all the sex slave business but the First sister as a character was great. I liked her fire and defiance. I love what the author did with Ringer and makes me excited to see the First Sisters mental state in the next book. Lito had the more action packed chapters but balanced well with is bond with Hiro and his sister Luce. I looked forward to Hiros perspective the most. He was amusing and serious when he needed to be. I really enjoyed all the twist and turns, thinking about who to trust.
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DNF at 40%, I couldn't get invested in the characters or figure out the politics. I might pick it up again in the future, but it was not grabbing me.
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CW// Racism (Fictional Race), PTSD (From Past War), Mentions of Child Abuse, Implied Rape, Non-Consensual Surgery, Death, Gore, Graphic Injuries, Prostitution.

TW// Some Enbyphobia, Misgendering, Mentions of Gender Dysphoria.

QUEER SPACE OPERAS ARE MY NEW FAVOURITE GENRES OF BOOKS. The First Sister is exactly the kind of Sci-Fi I enjoy, and I honestly wish I read it sooner. From the fantastic plot to the intriguing world-building, there is absolutely nothing about this book I didn’t enjoy!  

WORLD-BUILDING
Sometimes Sci-Fi books favour character development over the aspect of the book that’s crucial to the Sci-Fi genre: world-building. But this book blends the two perfectly. The author uses the society they created to influence the characters’ personalities, while simultaneously introducing readers to their world with perfect descriptions describing each new location, allowing such vivid imagery to be imagined by readers, all while we discover more and more about our characters. 

The world that Lewis created was quite complex: Humanity has split themselves into two groups, the Geans (those who live on Earth and Mars) and the Icarii (those who live on Mercury and Venus); there was a great war over the dwarf planet Ceres, and there were new technologies introduced, including all sorts of spaceships and blasters. Included in the technologies was something called a neural implant, which really caught my attention. A person can use it to alter their emotions, among other things. Lewis even included some advertisements on the side effects of a neural implant, making the world seem even more realistic and engaging. There were also some Greek mythological aspects embedded in the history of this society and as a fan of myth, the comparisons between the original myths and their meanings in the book were fun to uncover. 

Despite all the fiction and completely unrealistic aspects of the book, Lewis chose not to stray too far from realistic human behaviour, by which I mean that they included some of the bad parts of humanity (which are crucial to the story). Even in the middle of an intergalactic war, humanity still has the time to be incredibly racist, misogynistic, and sexist. I thought it was particularly interesting to see how the author implemented racism in the story, as so much of the discrimination against Asters (fictional race) mimicked the racism and xenophobia that can be seen in real life.  

PLOT
The plot was well-paced. Lewis took their time establishing the plot, giving readers time to dive into the world they created. Every part of the world mentioned in the book was an essential part of the plot and by the second half of the book, everything came together perfectly and already formed the basis of the sequel. This is definitely one of those books that I can read over and over again without getting bored because the plot is just that good. Also, as someone with a plot twist addiction, I can tell you that you will be very surprised when the realisation hits you! 

CHARACTERS
You know the author’s a good writer when a relationship between two characters is established only in two chapters and you have already fallen in love with them (Lito and Hiro, I’m talking to you!). Lewis effectively personalises our characters from the first glance, and I knew that as that as the book progressed, I would only grow to love them and their relationship even more. Speaking of Hiro, I WOULD SELL MY SOUL FOR THEM. Enough said. I could honestly go on and on about what I loved about each character for days, I might need a part two for this review! 

QUEER SPACE OPERAS FOR THE WIN!
If you like space and space operas and enjoy very Sci-Fi – heavy books, do yourself a favour and buy this book! The sequel is coming out this year and I’m ready and waiting to sit down and read it all in one go, I need to see these characters again! 

Thank you to Skybound Books and NetGalley for providing me with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
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This story had me hooked from the beginning. The multiple POVs/POV switching was annoying at times (when a chapter would end in a cliff hanger!) but also kept me reading well past my bedtime. I could not put this book down. 

I was not prepared for the plot twist/reveal towards the end, so big kudos to the author for that awesome surprise. I didn't find this to have much info dumping at all, in fact I would have liked to learn more about the society and technology, but at the same time really appreciated the time taken to develop the characters. I truly cared about the MCs and wanted them to succeed. I will definitely continue this series!
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Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for an ARC copy of this book (despite it being published last year).

Look, I'm going to be straight with you: I loved this book. I loved the world it created, the characters it gave you (some more than others, but ain't that always the way?), the ethical and moral issues it presented, and the plot twists. Most of which I didn't see coming, by the by, which is always lovely.

I enjoyed the way the book is structured, how you skip POVs, and I really enjoyed the transcript parts of the story! I could almost feel (view spoiler)'s voice in my head as they revealed their side of the story bit by bit. It created an addictive narrative, that twined the three of them together just enough to keep you interested in a. their individual stories and b. exactly how those stories connected and what would happen.

I enjoyed the climax, where everything came together, revelations were made (and had) and plot twists were revealed. At the same time decisions had to be made about the future, so a part of me was left curious about what would happen next.

I enjoyed the political intrigue, the world building and how you learn in increments exactly what's going on. Worldbuilding is often a tricky part, because it's a fine balance between giant infodump (which isn't very engaging because: show, not tell) and limited information which leaves you unable to really connect to the world. Linden A. Lewis walked that balance marvellously.

And most especially, I enjoyed the characters. All of them had distinct personalities, depth and character growth, down to the people on the sidelines of the actual story.

Altogether these things created a story and a world that are rich and deep, with characters you can relate to, issues you can understand and a story that keeps you captivated. A+, would (and probably will) read again.
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