Content notes for Linden A. Lewis’ The First Sister: rape (off-page), violation of bodily autonomy, misgendering, racism
- The protagonist – just like her fellow sisters – is a “comfort woman” and didn’t become one by choice. While nothing is shown on page and there are no explicit descriptions, it is clear that she has been raped in the past
- Several characters, including but not limited to the sisters, have their bodily automonmy violated throughout the story
- One character is forced to represent as another gender and has been physically altered to pass as that gender
- Mutated humans are a stand-in for racism
Representation: several queer characters, including bi, pan, ace and nonbinary main characters and characters of colour (Hispanic & Japanese coded?)
Linden A. Lewis’ debut The First Sister is a breath-taking sci-fi novel all about secrets and conspiracy and hypocrisy and sword fights. Well, and a lot of other stuff, but those are some really important elements!
Set several centuries in the future, the novel explores the intricacies of two societies at war, the religious Geans and the technologically superior Icarii, and the fates of those caught in the mists of their violence. The Geans live in a military dictatorship/theocracy on Earth and Mars, both of which were largely stripped of their resources ages ago, while the scientifically inclined Icarii ventured closer to the sun and settled on Mercury and Venus. And then there’s the gen-engineered Asters, who live in the asteroid belt and are being exploited and shunned by both Geans and Icarii alike.
The titular First Sister is a Gean priestess which might sound like a position of power but really the Sisters are forced into prostitution to aid the war effort – they are assigned to a ship and have to service its soldiers, or in the case of the First Sister its captain, both sexually and religiously. Their purpose is absolving the soldiers of their sins, so they can go into battle with a clear consciousness, as well as offering physical comfort, to keep up morale. The Sisters are voiceless, as in when they enter the Sisterhood they undergo a procedure that renders them incapable of speech and they communicate among themselves with sign language. They are also nameless and, considering that most of them do not enter the Sisterhood willingly, have lost their bodily autonomy.
On the other side of the conflict is the second protagonist of this novel, Lito val Lucius. Lito is one of the elite fighters of the Icarii, a duelist, empathetically bonded to his partner thanks to their technologically advanced implants. However, his partner Hiro has been absent on a classified mission for a while and Lito is struggling with their absence. So when he is told that Hiro actually betrayed them to the Geans … Well, there are a lot of conflicting feelings but part of him is sure that his partner would never do something like this unless they had a really good reason.
This is where the book starts out and over the course of several hundred pages of dense, dense world-building and story-telling First Sister and Lito are thrown deep, deep into the intricate scheming and machinations of their respective governments as well as those rebelling against them. The First Sister really felt more like it was 500-600 pages long instead of ‘only’ about 350. And I do absolutely not mean that in a bad way because Linden A. Lewis packs this full of not only lore for her world-building and highly engaging characters but also social commentary, fast-paced action and an astounding amount of twists and turns.
All in all, I enjoyed Linden A. Lewis’ debut immensely and would definitely recommend this to anyone who’s into this kind of sci-fi. Then why did I only give The First Sister four stars? Because I felt that there was a lot, especially regarding social commentary, that was only touched on very, very briefly, despite the questionable elements being integral parts of the story. However, this is also the first in a trilogy, so who knows what we’ll get in the next installment, The Second Rebel?
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