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Spoiler-Free Review: The First Sister

Cover of The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis

Genre: Science fiction
Audience: Adult
Series?: The First Sister trilogy

Rating: Loved it!

For fans of: R. F. Kuang, Margaret Atwood, This is How You Lose the Time War, Red Rising, A Memory Called Empire, Ancillary Justice, Dune, Sansa Stark’s character arc, queer platonic intimacy, Suffering but no one gets raped

The First Sister has been pitched as part of the wave of feminist dystopias we’ve seen since 2016/the Handmaid’s Tale Hulu adaptation, but I think it’s more accurately described as Dune with the queer themes made explicit and the Bene Gesserit made into fully realized characters.

(I’m sticking to my resolution not to read GoodReads reviews for books I like, so it’s possible this has already been said a thousand times. Let’s agree to pretend I’m a wholly original genius for this insight. I’m having a hard week.)

We have galaxy-spanning wars and political intrigue. We have assassinations and assassination attempts. We have a matriarchal religious order that ties itself to military/political power through the beauty and “servility” of its acolytes. We have a duelist named Lito, who fights with a blade even though he’s part of a spacefaring society with all the high-level technology that entails. We have … okay, I don’t know how Hiro, the rebellious scion of space!Bezos fits into this analogy, but Dune would be a much better book if it had a Hiro character.

Told in alternating perspectives, The First Sister is the story of Hiro, Lito, and First Sister (a mute, nameless acolyte of the aforementioned religious order) journeying from very different beginnings to a single moment of conflict that will change the solar system and all four societies that call it home. Although this book is a sci-fi epic in scope, this drive to a single inevitable crisis gives it a momentum that makes it hard to put down.

Except that I was very invested in these characters and their brave, reckless decisions, so I did keep having to pause for breath when I got too worried for them.

Lito is a poor boy whose rose to become the perfect elite soldier through hard work, self-abnegation, and his partnership with Hiro. Hiro once played the chaotic neutral rogue to Lito’s lawful good fighter, but we’re introduced to them through a series of recordings they sent Lito to confess and explain their treason.

First Sister serves the soldiers serving aboard an elite military spaceship so they can go into battle with clear hearts. As the highest ranking sister aboard her vessel, she is only required to hear confessions from everyone but the captain, but she lives in fear of having her rank stripped from her and, with it, her protection from the other soldiers’ sexual advances.

Their stories unfurl in layers. At first, it seems like the primary conflict is going to be between the Icarii (Hiro and Lito), who embrace technology and view religion primarily as a series of cultural artifacts from earth, and the Geans (First Sister), who revere the natural world and enforce universal worship of the Goddess. Lito is sent to assassinate the head of First Sister’s order (and kill Hiro while he’s at it), while First Sister is ordered to spy on a potential traitor aboard her vessel. Classic science versus religion stuff.

Then things get complicated. Through Hiro’s tapes and the potential traitor’s whispered secrets, Lito and First Sister come to realize the organizations that raised and shaped them have been responsible for untold atrocities. They begin to believe peace would be preferable to victory, but they remain conflicted over abandoning everything they know for a future they can’t even really imagine.

Aside from the rich and nuanced protagonists, what I loved most about The First Sister is the way Lewis manages to portray the brutality of both societies without veering into gratuitous depictions of violence, sexual or otherwise. First Sister has experienced sexual violence, and it looms on the periphery of her every interaction with the soldiers on her ship, but we don’t have to witness it. Lito has conversations with sick and dying children, but we don’t have to read about their final, excruciating moments. We get exactly as much information we need to understand the direness of the situation without the kind of abject despair that lingers even after you finish *cough* other books *cough*.

This is ultimately a hopeful book. It’s about realizing the world can be better and deciding that’s worth the risk. It’s about people who have hurt and been hurt by each other making amends and offering forgiveness – and sometimes not. It’s exactly the kind of book I needed at this point in my life.

If you’re having kind of a rough time (and who isn’t) and you like science fiction full of big adventures and big feelings, you need to pick up The First Sister right now.

Then, please come back and tell me if you saw the final twist coming. Lewis telegraphed it so clearly, I have no idea how I missed it, but I was shocked enough that I dropped my Kindle and said, “Oh,” out loud.

You know that feeling of relief when there’s a word or fact you know that you know but you can’t quite remember it, but then you look it up and you’re like, “Oh, yes, that!!!”? That’s how the final twist felt. Incredible. Please, please do not spoil it for yourself. You deserve that pleasure.

One last thing …

Preorder The Second Rebel, Coming August 24th

Linden A. Lewis returns with this next installment of The First Sister Trilogy, perfect for fans of Red Rising, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Expanse.

Astrid has reclaimed her name and her voice, and now seeks to bring down the Sisterhood from within. Throwing herself into the lioness’ den, Astrid must confront and challenge the Aunts who run the Gean religious institution, but she quickly discovers that the business of politics is far deadlier than she ever expected.

Meanwhile, on an outlaw colony station deep in space, Hiro val Akira seeks to bring a dangerous ally into the rebellion. Whispers of a digital woman fuel Hiro’s search, but they are not the only person looking for this link to the mysterious race of Synthetics.

Lito sol Lucious continues to grow into his role as a lead revolutionary and is tasked with rescuing an Aster operative from deep within an Icarii prison. With danger around every corner, Lito, his partner Ofiera, and the newly freed operative must flee in order to keep dangerous secrets out of enemy hands.

Back on Venus, Lito’s sister Lucinia must carry on after her brother’s disappearance and accusation of treason by Icarii authorities. Despite being under the thumb of Souji val Akira, Lucinia manages to keep her nose clean…that is until an Aster revolutionary shows up with news about her brother’s fate, and an opportunity to join the fight.

This captivating, spellbinding second installment to The First Sister series picks up right where The First Sister left off and is a must-read for science fiction fans everywhere.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to review it before book three comes out.

Disclosure

I received a free eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

More Info

Publisher: Skybound Books
Hardback Page Count: 352

Linden A. Lewis (she/they) is on Twitter and Instagram.

You can support your local independent bookstore by buying BOOK on Bookshop.org, or grab it on Amazon.

Published inBook Reviews

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