Intriguing book. An author I just discover with this one. I enjoy the writing and the story. Something interesting might be worth your time.
*shoves face into pillow*
I gotta take a minute because whew that was... Amazing. Draining, because fuuuuUUUCK, but amazing.
Content warnings include: violence, death and graphic injury, amputation, PTSD, denial of bodily autonomy in various ways (prostitution, plastic surgery, neural implants, experimentation), blackmail, execution, untreated mental illness; mentions of child abuse.
The First Sister was gripping, chilling and immediately engaging from the very start.
All three protagonists have their own exciting plotlines that are entirely different in mood and character arc, yet all equally compelling. I loved them individually, but slowly realizing how their plots converge, seeing threads that seemed entirely separate merge and combine was amazing. It was masterfully done and a pleasure to read.
The titular First Sister is the first of the three protagonists. Despite not having a voice, she is not at all passive or forgettable. Her plot and personal character arc isn't centered around her having no autonomy to speak of due to the religious position she was sold into as a child, though it obviously affects her position and how she is viewed. Instead it focusses on what she can do despite it all, and her hopes and dreams and what it means for her to have the chance to articulate and follow them after she meets Saito Ren, the new captain of the ship she serves on.
Lito sol Lucius is the second protagonist, an elite soldier punished for a failure he had no part in.
His punishment is a mission that turned his former parter Hiro a traitor, as well as finding Hiro and killing them. Lito's path is litered with impossible decisions, fast-paced action and stomach twisting discoveries.
The third protagonist is Hiro val Akira, former elite soldier turned traitor and child of one of the most powerful men in the universe. Their chapters are told as recordings they sent to Lito, and they are a lot more personal and introspective, focussing on their shared past with Lito, their dysfunctional family and a lot of reflection on their mission for peace.
I loved the world-building and setting as much as I loved the protagonists. It creates a future after humanity expanded beyond earth, and after multiple wars has split into the religious Geans, inhabiting Earth and Mars, and the technologically advanced Icarii who live on Mercury and Venus. There are also the Synthetics, AIs who rebelled against their creators and vanished into the depth of space, and the Aster, an oppressed people that after genetic manipulation have become a human subspecies. Plot wise it's centered on Icarii and Gean conflict around a dwarf planet, as well as several major key players in the fight around it, but it ends up extending so much farther and in a very different direction than expected in the end.
It's definitely not for the faint of heart. Even aside the violence of war, pretty much every single character lacks autonomy about their own life, particularly their own body, be it they be forced into prostitution, muted, given unconsensual plastic surgery or invasive neural implants to make them controllable. There's toxic hierachic dynamics, human experimentation and oppression, and untreated mental illness.
The latter is my only complain about the book. Neural degradation, something that can occur as side effect of the neural implant and is mentioned as serious and something that must be treated immediately, yet is pretty much brushed off in multiple instances without really being addressed.
I liked the nonbinary representation through Hiro. They were an amazing character. However, I was extremely uncomfortable by some of the things Hiro was made to do, though that ties in with them being denied agency over their own body - which is something that all protagonists struggle with. They were not singled out due to their gender, and I wouldn't say that it's a story of queer suffering. Not when all characters (most of whom are queer, actually) are suffering.
Speaking of representation, I liked that it was not a western-centric view of human future. The most spoken languages in the galaxy are Chinese, English and Spanish. While First Sister is a white orphan, Lito has Italian and Spanish ancestors, Hiro and Saito Ren have Japanese ones, and they frequently speak the languages they were raised talking.
While the official blurb mentions falling in love The First Sister very much is not a romance. Please don't go in expecting one - you will be disappointed. Relationships are very much important to the plot, but romantic love and a couple's HEA are not a focus whatsoever. The relationships I liked best were Hiro and Liro's as a partnered soldier pair and close friends, and First Sister and Ringer, who is her only friend who she can turn to for comfort (though, hooo boyyyy, let me tell you, their dynamic did NOT go in the direction I thought it would.) Found family as such is a theme too, though the plot is more in the foreground.
The ending is satisfactory, but leaves a lot of space for a sequel, and I for one will be crossing my fingers very energetically for one!
Thank you for an advanced reading copy! I’m a tough rater so a 2 really means it was ok, and if I’m not interested in a book I have no qualms and not finishing. I did finish this but probably won’t continue - too many wonderful books. I just couldn’t get engrossed., found it a big predictable and the characters lacked depth. Lots of tell whereas I prefer show.
I absolutely loved this book. The characters quickly grabbed me and forced me to hear their story. The story kept me spellbound. Can’t wait until the next book comes out so I can find out more.
A Difficult Book To Understand
Three Distinct characters, each telling their version of the story in first person, made it difficult for me to ‘get into’ the flow of this book. I would read a chapter from the viewpoint of The First Sister, then begin the next chapter without realizing it was now Lito’s or someone else’s story being told. Thoroughly confused after reading a bit, I had to return to the beginning of the chapter to get into the mind of a different character. The entire book is written this way, and I found it unsatisfying. There was just no flow to the story, just a bunch of disassociated chapters. I normally enjoy first-person narratives, but without anything to suggest the identity of the character until well into the chapter it was just a jumble of disassociated thoughts.
I imagine those with a more practiced literary mind may well enjoy this novel, I do not recommend it for the casual reader.
Thank you NetGalley, Gallery Books, and Skybound Books for a free advanced copy of The First Sister in return for an honest review.
Such an interesting and captivating story. Loved all the elements that brought this story together. Not for the faint of heart or the impatient. A story so complicate, yet well woven together on the surface, that it manages to capture the reader, bring them into it's world from start to finish and "wow " you.
A thrilling SFF ride that has a little bit for everyone. compared to Pierce Brown's Red Rising series and Atwoods Handmaids Tale, this is going to go down as a classic and i am a fan
My copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to the the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review it.
This book is awesome. From the stunning cover, that reaches out and grabs you, to an intriguing cast of characters, who are so well written that even as they are unfolding you feel like you already know them, to a world that has evolved from ours into one that is very different but still has so many similarities, this is truly an epic story. With lightening fast pacing and twists you will never see coming, this is a book you cannot put down. I can’t wait to read more of this exciting story.
This book has a lot going for it including interesting characters and great world building. The storyline is slow moving and a bit confusing at the beginning of this book, but I got caught up in the story pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I found some of the dialogue to be stilted and unbelievable. I also had difficulty liking some of the main characters because they never seemed real to me. It is certainly possible that these issues will be corrected in the next books in this trilogy, I liked a lot about this first book.
I want to call this a space opera, but I feel like moniker belittles this books. As if it makes light of The First Sister. But this is a book in space and I don't know if I would call this sci-fi. I feel like this is Space literary fiction. But that's just me.
Human wreck Earth, big surprise there, and then we almost manage to do the same to Mars. Will humans ever learn? We try to bully the rest of the universe and this sparks away that we sometimes are winning and sometimes are losing. Basically in the future we keep being us and keep not living up to the ideals of humanity that we set up ourselves.
In comes the sisterhood. Priestesses who hear confesses and then sleep with the crew whenever the crew is feeling randy. I'm still trying to figure out how that works and who it makes sense. I'm still confused about that. The sisters are rendered speechless, something that gives me an icky feeling even after all the triumphs First Sister manages to have. I don't like the voices of women being silenced, even if its a plot device. That's just too close to the girl in the fridge for me.
But I digress.
Following a trend that I'm liking this book is a dual protagonists novel, even though this books is supposed to be about the First Sister. Even reading 1st person novels sometimes I get distracted by side characters and want to know what's going on with them and with this book I get to see that and I enjoyed the ride.
Even though this book is about a woman finding her agency and taking back control over herself and her destiny there is a lot of action. Not the cheesy 80s action and not the huge explosions 'lets tear up New York MCU action. It was just nice flowing action that kept you turning the pages and wanting more. And the story flowed. There was a few boring bits at the beginning, but then it picked up the pace and stayed moving forward.
This book wasn't by far predictable in the usually manner and that was possibly the most enjoyable aspect for me. I devour the written word like air and sometimes I read the same plot over and over again and it starts to become a choir, but at ever turn when I thought I had a handle on what was happening and just knew what was going to happen when I turned the page I was pleasantly surprised.
Representation matters and this book puts it in you face and does not apologize nor shrink from that. Gender fluidity and sexuality were there and they were part of the story and it was done with a deft hand. It wasn't heavy handed and screaming "I'm transgender!" It just was and it was nice.
I love this book and can't wait to see more in this universe.
This is epic world building at its finest. The sisters have had their ability to speak and their identities taken from them at an early age. They serve onboard ships to take confession and offer physical comfort for the soldiers. There is significant political intrigue. I found myself getting frustrated and actually taking a break because I was so annoyed with way things were going. I felt so sorry for First Sister and wanted her to find happiness. An author has done a compelling job to elicit that much of a response. The reader will need to pay attention because there is a lot going on in this book that leads up and explains the ending. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
This was a dense, fascinating ride, with meaty worldbuilding, a diverse cast of interesting characters, and a twisty, satisfying ending. For fans of Star Wars, Dune, and more recently, The Expanse, you've got sword wielding ninja soldiers battling mech-suits, mysterious spy-priestesses, and fancy gene-tech. It's got a bit of it all. Tons of fun, and just the kind of escape we all need sometimes.
This is the first in a trilogy ("The First Sister"). The thing is that there was nothing on Net Galley to indicate this was part of a trilogy. I would probably have not requested it had I known, because I've had little success with YA trilogies. But you work with what you have, so here goes! It was described as "Combining the social commentary of The Handmaid's Tale with the white-knuckled thrills of Red Rising." I did not like The Handmaid's Tale, and I'm not familiar with Red Rising at all, but the book description interested me, so I went ahead and selected it for review.
Unfortunately, and this is doubtlessly because it's a trilogy, the book took forever to get going and moved at a lethargic pace, while paradoxically doing next to nothing in terms of actually starting in on a story. Combine this with the multiple PoVs, all in first person - a voice I despise - and a tedious audio diary transcription from one of the characters who was unimaginatively named 'Hiro', and it seemed that the characters in this book were conspiring to irritate and bore me.
First person is so two persons ago, and very quickly I lost all interest in Hiro's non-story anyway. I began routinely skipping their sections. Even so, I made it only to 25% of the way through before I was forced to DNF this novel as a cause infâme, which is the opposite of a cause célèbre. Life is too short to spend it on stories that don't inspire, excite and engage. Your mileage may differ. I hope it does. It would be a sad world if we all liked the same things.
My first real problem was that I didn't buy into the scenario where there would be, in the future, a religious order of sacred prostitutes, nor was any help given to the reader as to how this had even come about. Instead we were simply presented with the fait accompli of a going concern. and expected to run with it. For me it was too thin, especially since the author was surprisingly coy about what exactly it was that these women did. Apparently there were three only on this entire troop ship, one of whom was reserved solely for the captain. The other two evidently had their work cut out for them, whatever it was.
The whole point of volume one of a series is that it's a prologue. I don't do prologues and I don't like volume 1's for that very reason, so it was ironic to me that this one told us so little about the world we're in. The comparison to Red Rising may or may not be apt. I can't speak to that, but personally I'd feel insulted were my work to be compared with someone else's like mine is a poor clone rather than something original, but as long as we're making comparisons, for me, a better one is to Star Trek, and it's a negative one, I'm sorry to say, because Star Trek has this same problem. In this story, just like in Star Trek, we have people doing everything, with not a robot in sight.
What happened to all the robots? We have them today in volume and they're getting better and better. So what went wrong? Was there a robot plague and they all died out such that there are none for the military and so human cannon fodder is required as usual? And on that score, why are there no sex dolls in the future such that women are required to serve as something for the men to masturbate in?
Again, we have sex dolls today and they're becoming more and more lifelike, but while they're a long way from being remotely human in any way, this story takes place well into the future. And still: no sex toys? It doesn't work without some sort of explanation as to why there are none and so there have to be actual humans in servitude to men - and on a ship captained by a woman?! Naturally there has to be human interest, but the trick of writing a good human interest story is to set it in a realistic future and still make it work. This future felt artificial and sterile. Humans are still doing all the fighting in person? There are no robots? No drones? No AIs? It didn't work for me.
Why would these women voluntarily have their vocal chords disabled or removed or whatever it was they had done with no explanation as to why, and give up their voice? Isn't a voice part of a good sex life? Obviously these women were not allowed to just say no, so their voice would have been useless for that, but why were they denied any expression of pleasure, whether real or just faking it? Women are fighting right now to have a voice, and yet in the future it's gone? Why? How did it happen? In the portion I read, that question got a Trumpian response: no intelligent answer, just redirection and deflection. Why would adherents of a female-oriented religion, with a goddess at its head, put themselves in physical service to men? We get no answers - not in the 25% I read. I needed more than this novel was apparently willing to provide, and that's one of the reasons why I began writing myself, so maybe it's not a bad thing!
As the book description tells us, "First Sister has no name and no voice." Even without a physical voice, she could still have set herself apart and showed some backbone, but she did not. Perhaps she grows a spine later, but will she also grow integrity? She's lacking that, too. She was so pathetic to me in that first quarter of this novel that I couldn't bear to read any more about her. I've read too many real-life stories about people in her position who have shown their mettle. I'm not interested in a fictional one who doesn't appear to have any, let alone know where to find some and I'm not about to read three novels where one would do in the faint hope she'll get some in the end.
When I open a new novel I'm always hoping to be shown something new; something different; something I've longed for without, perhaps, even realizing it. I've read many novels like that. Sadly though, I've read many more that were not like that at all: ones that took the road most traveled instead of least. It's nice to be surprised, but that didn't happen in this case. While I wish the author all the best in their future endeavors, I can't in good faith commend this particular one as a worthy read based on what I experienced from it.
Have you ever read a book that gives you that feeling? That you're reading something that pulls you to continue reading? That gives you familiar tropes but an incredibly new story?
This is that book. This is the series you need to read. 'The First Sister' by Linden A Lewis will either be a TV show or a movie one day and if it isn't well, I suck at predicting the future.
This book is a story about broken people, in a world ravaged by war, who try to figure out what side they are on. This book focuses on the narratives of three people: The Second Sister now demoted to the First, Hiro - the partner of Lito who tells their story through a recording, and Lito - a warrior who is trapped into a mission that he would rather resist than complete.
I loved the first person narrative and the uniqueness of each of these characters. I have seen/read characters like them before in other books, but never did I get to really play around in their minds privately like the author allowed us to do so here.
There are so many interesting themes in this book: Love, fear, compassion, hatred, justice, identity, sacrifice, and hope. Each of them are important and will remain important through the series.
This is the next epic science-fiction series and I am honored to get the chance to read it before it debuts in August. I hope I don't have to wait long for Book Two!
When I read the description that said for fans of Red Rising and The Handmaid's Tale I knew I would have to read it. These are two of my all time favorite books. The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis did not disappoint! If I could throw a third book that I saw similarities to it would be Dune by Frank Herbert, who was my first love in science fiction.
I really enjoyed everything about this book. The characters were unique, the world building was all encompassing and I truly found the book hard to put down. I need the next book in the series ASAP!
The story is told from two different points of view. The first being that of the First Sister. A woman in the service of the sisterhood who has achieved rank of First Sister on the star ship she has been assigned to. The sisterhood takes girls at a young age, removes their ability to speak, gives them no name and trains them in the ways of the sisterhood. The second point of view is that of Lito val Lucius a boy from the poorest population who worked his way up to being a duelist in an elite military force. He is paired with Hiro, a non-binary character with whom Lito is in love.
The story is immersive and thought provoking and definitely leaves you with a cliff hanger. I highly recommend this book.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
When I started The First Sister, I almost DNF at around four chapters in for reasons I can’t quite articulate, but I am SO glad that I pushed on!
The novel centers around two primary narrators. There is First Sister, a Handmaid’s Tale-esq combination of religious paragon and forced ‘pleasure companion’, serving on an intergalactic space vessel of the Gean empire, and Lito sol Lucius, a duelist representing the Icarri empire, at war with the Geans. The novel is set against the backdrop of our solar system hundreds of thousands of years in the future, after earth has become uninhabitable following an AI uprising and humans have migrated to Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Astroid belt.
I think part of what put me off initially is how strongly First Sister’s initial arc and the concept of the Sisterhood as a whole resembles the structure of the Handmaid’s Tale—Sisters in the order fight for the desirable place of First Sister at the captain’s side, watched over and kept in line by other women known as “Aunts”. However, this storyline quickly evolved beyond its somewhat played out origins into something fascinating as the dynamics between the sisters, as well as between First Sister and her captain are explored. I will say that the relationship between Saito and First Sister while sweet does technically fall into my definition of instalove, but I’ll forgive that as a product of the novel’s pacing.
I was equally interested in Lito’s arc as a Duelist—one of a paired set of fighters, a Dagger and a Rapier, who are trained to fight together since childhood. We received a lot of information about this dynamic but I would have loved to see more of the combat aspect of it, as I personally found it to be fascinating.
Furthermore, The novel tackles issues of identity, gender and otherwise, in a way that is graceful and meaningful. I especially loved and connected with Hiro val Akira, trapped between those they care for and a sense of morality that is core to their very being. The star of the novel was very much the relationships between the characters, with dynamics of friendship, love, romance, and everything in between being explored with a heartwarming, occasionally heart-rending, poignancy. Overall I found The First Sister to be an interesting concept executed better than I anticipated. While the “twist” was quite rapidly predictable for me at least, its revelation still provided a nice amount of catharsis and built to a narrative climax that left me excited to learn more about this world and its characters.
If I’m being honest, there are two reasons I do advance reviews of books. The lesser of the two is that I want to build sufficient reviewer cred so that I can get advanced copies of highly anticipated blockbusters. The greater of the two is being able to be the first one to discover something amazing and tell all you people about it. Nerd bragging rights and all.
If that is my goal, my reviewer career may have peaked fairly early, because it’s hard to imagine me ever being first out of the gate on something as amazing as The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis.
The letter at the front of the ARC from the Skybound books editor (thanks for the ARC, by the way) compares the book to Handmaid’s Tale, Red Rising, and Ancillary Justice. OK, I thought, that’s fine, it’s his job to sell it after all. But that’s a high standard, and that’s with me knowing Ancillary Justice only be reputation. I’m a big fan of both Margaret Atwood and Pierce Brown, and expected that comparison to be hyperbolic. I went into this expecting to be disappointed. I was not.
Spoiler-free synopsis time. The book is set some centuries after humanity wrecked the Earth, and nearly did the same to Mars when Earth leaned too heavily on the new Mars colony for resources. While Earth and Mars were limping along and killing each other, a bunch of scientists said “fuck this shit” and went and built colonies on Mercury and Venus, using Unobtainium to build technological utopias. (Warning: TV Tropes) But since the humans of Mercury and Venus (the Icarii) aren’t interested in sharing their technology with the humans of Earth and Mars (now united as the Gaens), there’s been a long running war. There’s also the Asters, humans who live in the asteroid belt and are adapted to life in deep space, looked down upon and exploited by both sides.
The Gaens are part military dictatorship, part theocracy, and the First Sister is the ranking priestess aboard a Gaen warship. The Sisters have no voice (literally – they’re rendered incapable of speech, though they can sign among themselves) and serve as … let’s call them comfort women to the Gaen military. The Sisters are there to hear the confessions of soldiers and offer forgiveness, so they don’t go into battle with a guilty conscience, and they’re available sexually to any soldier who wants them, so they don’t go into battle horny. The First Sister is an exception, of sorts, being reserved for the personal use of the captain. The captain of the warship Juno is retiring, however, meaning a new captain is coming aboard who will select a new First Sister. Our protagonist is determined to retain her position and not go back to being available for free use.
Lito is part of the Icarii Special Forces, recovering from physical and mental trauma sustained during the Gaens’ recent victory in conquering Ceres. Icarii Special Forces serve with partners, to whom they are empathically bonded through a neural implant. Lito’s partner Hiro has been off on a classified mission for some time, and Lito is really feeling his absence. Then he receives word that Hiro has turned traitor, and Lito is given the chance to prove his loyalty by hunting his partner down.
The book follows our two protagonists (I don’t think there’s really a “primary” protagonist, despite the book being titled “The First Sister”) as each gets caught up in the machinations of their governments. I’m not going to go any deeper into the books than that - everything I’ve laid out here, save some of the ancient history, is laid out in the first few pages. Read and find out.
Are you a fan of the thrilling action of Red Rising? You’ll find that in The First Sister, though not to the exaggerated Michael-Bay-movie levels you sometimes get from Darrow. Are you a fan of the social commentary of The Handmaid’s Tale? You’ll find that in The First Sister, though it’s not nearly so bleak. There’s a strong dash of The Expanse thrown in as well, primarily in the Belters Asters.
The plot kept catching me off guard - Lewis subverted my expectations at every turn. I kept thinking I had a sense of where the book was going, and then suddenly Lewis would give me a literary punch in the stomach and floor me. And then she did it again.
This book is extremely LGBTQ positive. Gender and orientation are both presented as fluid, and physical intercourse isn’t the be all and end all. Lewis herself identifies as queer, making this book good for the #OwnVoices bingo square (though since it’s not supposed to come out until August, I’m not sure that’s going to help anyone but me).
I really can’t rave about this book enough. It's the first in a series (though it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, thankfully - I hate cliffhangers) and I can’t wait for the next one.
Seriously, this is amazing.