Author: Linden A. Lewis
Release date: August 4, 2020
Publisher: Skybound Books (US), Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.
Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.
I’m not going to lie, I completely missed the part where this book was pitched as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Red Rising. I came in expecting badass, yet religiously devout nuns in space but what I got into was something else – something that immediately gripped my soul and spurred me on to finish reading it in one go. The First Sister is a space opera epic I never knew I needed.
The Intersection Where Theocracy and Military Dictatorship Meet (Spoiler: It’s bad news all around)
We open with an introduction to a galactic crew in which a group of sisters are integrated in the hierarchy of the ship. We soon learn that this Sisterhood, without name nor voice, are expected to serve the crew in many ways – mostly as an outlet, be it emotional or sexual. Ranking higher up in the Sisterhood means more privileges, but it is clear that despite the privileges the sisters are still robbed of their identity and their voice. Coupled with a theocratic basis, it is not hard to be reminded of The Handmaid’s Tale and its theocratic dictatorship that is Gilead. In the planet colonies, we learn that the Sisterhood is part of a military dictatorship comprised of a futuristic Earth and Mars colony (dubbed the Geans) at war with the humans of Mercury and Venus (dubbed the Icarii). Caught between both sides of the war, looked down upon and exploited are the Asters, humans who live in the asteroid belt and are adapted to life in deep space.
The book follows two main protagonists at both sides of the war: one the First Sister of the ship Juno, desperate to retain her position and keep herself safe from the soldiers’ free use. The other an Icarii veteran, Lito val Lucius, called amidst his recovery from physical and mental trauma sustained from the Gean’s conquest of Ceres to hunt for his missing partner who had been branded a traitor to the Icarii war effort. As the plot progresses and the protagonists are increasingly caught up in their respective faction’s machinations, both First Sister and Lito are forced to confront the abhorrent crimes rampant after spending a lot of time being in a “privileged,” ingroup position. First Sister begins to question the Sisterhood as she is forced to confront her inner demons stemming from both stress being caught up in the age old dilemma between love or duty; and trauma from lifelong abuse. Lito is forced to confront the atrocities done to the Asters by both the Geans and the Icarii as the warfare between the two further escalate. Aggravated by multiple revelations across the war, both these arcs converge in one breathtaking climax, unfolding a beautiful chaos.
This Book is a Total Win for me. Here’s why:
The epic space action of Red Rising, the commentary of The Handmaid’s Tale with a lot of scandalous exploits peppered in and dramatic plot twists – combined with Lewis’s gripping prose, it’s an all-around winning combination. The world-building felt very vivid: different races, cities, tendencies, and attitudes were portrayed so masterfully it felt real. The growing cast in The First Sister is a fascinating, diverse one with each POV not one to miss. There was evident, inevitable tension between members of each faction clustered together by a series of events, yet their chemistry was electric as each main protagonist’s arc coincide to reveal the larger picture of the story.
Something I’d Wanted More
If anything, my only gripe with this book is how I found The Sisterhood’s purpose and theocratic foundations to be slightly under-developed in this book but I suppose it will be a point for more exploration as the sequel takes a deeper dive to the intrigue of the world that has been established here.
Linden A. Lewis’s The First Sister is a sharp, biting critique of military dictatorship, oppressive theocracy, and prejudices that pave way to enabling the oppression and exploitation of minorities – gone unnoticed for long. Both Lito and First Sister’s arcs force us to confront how far are we willing to overlook the suffering of others’ when we benefit from it. Whether we even care about doing what’s right, or whether we only care about it when we risk losing something (e.g. privileges, loved ones). How are are we willing to go avoiding getting hurt? How many must suffer, and how severe must the “evidence” be before we say enough is enough?
The First Sister isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions, which makes it not an easy book – yet it soars exactly because of it. It’s a diverse, ferociously confrontational space epic you would not want to miss.
Despite the bleak reality in the world Lewis has constructed, The First Sister also presents a glimmer of hope that maybe this time, with the right people, a better world with peace is possible.
The First Sister was provided as an e-ARC by NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton in exchange for an honest review.