Book Review: First Sister, by Linden A. Lewis

My review this week is of the debut novel from Linden A. Lewis, The First Sister. Rival factions of humanity vie for domination in this galaxy-spanning series opener! This fair and unbiased review was provided with gratitude for the free electronic copy of the book which I received from the publisher.

This review contains an affiliate link to, which will earn me a commission if used, and will help to support independent bookshops.

Do you like large scale worldbuilding, including observations on class, society, gender, belief systems, military doctrines and the like? Yes? Well, you might just be in the right place. One last question though – how about all of that, but twice over?

That’s essentially what you’re getting with The First Sister. The titular character herself serves on a Gean ship – Geans being one of the human factions – acting as confessor and counsel to the crew. Unable to speak thanks to the extreme doctrines of the mysterious Sisterhood, she is forced to communicate through sign language and gestures, and is strictly a non-combatant. Her elevated position at the captain’s side keeps her safe from the sexual advances of the rest of the crew – unlike her fellow sisters, who are expected to dutifully fulfil their needs. Abandoned by the captain, she is thrown into a world of uncertainty, subterfuge and tenuous alliances. Our other main character is Lito, an Icarii soldier. The Icarii are a rival, technologically advanced faction of humanity, with neural links pairing soldiers as rapier and dagger to form deadly fighting units. Despite all of his combat training and conditioning, Lito, a rapier, still relives the memories of a traumatic defeat at the hands of the Geans, as well as mourning the absence of comrade-in-arms Hiro, his dagger.

Both the Gean and the Icarii sides of the story are extremely compelling. Chapters alternate between the two, and you will grow to love the characters on both sides. It’s clear from the outset that them being on opposing sides in a galactic war sets them on a collision course with one another, but the nature of the conflict means neither side seems particularly in the wrong. The fact that we get both sides of the story from Lito and the First Sister makes several scenes much more impactful than they would have been if Lewis had opted to champion one side over the other. When we see a Gean Ironskin tearing through the quicksilver warriors of the Icarii, for example, it’s much more than just another action scene – these are Lito’s allies being cut down, and we feel their loss much more keenly than if they were just the faceless goons of “the bad guys.” Hiro – a non-binary character who I just could not get enough of – offers still another perspective on events. Hiro is funny, quick-witted and sharp-tongued, as well as being every bit as deadly as Lito. The bond between the two goes far beyond the neural link they share, and the glimpses we get of their relationship often show Lito at his most vulnerable, adding nuance to his character and making him much more complex and interesting than he might otherwise have been.

This is really the crux of what’s great about The First Sister. As good as the action is (and trust me, it is really, really good), Lewis never loses sight of those at the centre of the maelstrom. Without ever resorting to overt proselytizing, this is a story of the very human cost of war and conflict; not just in terms of the lives lost, but also in the toll it takes on those who survive. Individuality and personal agency are subsumed by governments, dogmatic and zealous religious institutions ruthlessly enforce their doctrines and the war machine grinds all in its path. Shadowy power plays and politicking are also present throughout, and never feel dull or slow. On the contrary, the tension in many of them is likely to set the heart racing just as much as any of the high-octane action sequences, even as they provide well-judged changes of pace.

With more ideas than some other series manage across their entire length, The First Sister is a work of considerable ambition. Despite the extensive, excellent worldbuilding, it never feels like we’re given an overwhelming amount of information, with the introduction of new concepts perfectly paced. There are hints and threads aplenty to be picked up in subsequent books, all of which would seem to foreshadow an even grander expansion of this already hugely immersive and well realised world. I can’t wait.

The First Sister is published by Hodder & Stoughton, and is available in hardback now. You can order your copy through this affiliate link.

Currently reading: Fearless, Allen Stroud
Currently listening: A Flight and a Crash, Hot Water Music

8 thoughts on “Book Review: First Sister, by Linden A. Lewis

  1. Wow! Fantastic review – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I received The First Sister as part of my Goldsboro Books subscription and was already excited by the blurb, but after reading your review I can’t wait to dive in!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a really great book. Not something I would read personally due to my own preferences, but I’m glad to see a lot of people saying that this book managed to discuss some difficult issues in a good way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] It’s another trilogy opener at number three, with The First Sister, by Linden A. Lewis. The titular – and mute – First Sister calls the ACS Juno home; a spacefaring battleship crewed by Geans (one of the warring factions of humanity), it was captured from the technologically advanced rival faction the Icarii. In her role as ship’s confessor and comforter to the captain, she looks forward to following him planetside. But a last-minute betrayal forces her to re-evaluate her position, as she is forced to stay on the Juno under its new captain, Saito Ren. Meanwhile, Lito, an Icarii soldier, is dispatched to hunt down his former partner Hiro. Already tangled alliances become even more thoroughly knotted as both sides work to achieve their aims, with bombshell revelations coming thick and fast in this hugely exciting debut. Read the full review here. […]


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