Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence
Mark Lawrence’s new Ancestor Series is a triumph. I enjoyed Red Sister but I feel like Grey Sister is its better in every way shape and form. This second book builds on the characters and the world in such huge leaps and bounds it makes the first book feel like merely a set up when in reality it was on, if not top of, every fantasy fan’s Best of 2017 list.
It’s two years since the events of Red Sister and Nona is getting ready to take her final test to qualify to enter the Grey order. Despite this passage of time she is still devastated by Hessa’s murder and utterly driven by her vow of revenge against Yisht, Hessa’s killer and thief of the convent’s shipheart. The animosity she exhibited on Raymel Tacsis death and the depth of her hatred toward Yishit have also unleashed something else that may prove to be a help or a hindrance. Keot is a new element of chaos, like Goldblum in Jurassic Park, and you'll find out plenty about him when you pick the book up.
Nona has always been a creature of passion and her love for her friends shines through each page as much as her willingness to slaughter her enemies. It’s probably both her greatest strength and weakness all at once as it drives her forward and makes her likeable but also allows others to manipulate her with little difficulty. More than once I inwardly screamed at Nona to control herself, see taunts for what they were and walk away from that bitch but she rarely played ball. That being said when she is pushed to her limits you never quite know what will happen so it’s hard not to anticipate and enjoy such moments when you see them coming. She is a fierce friend, a powerful young woman, a soul torn by circumstance and Nona is quickly becoming one of my favourite characters. Mark writes her beautifully.
Another reason I loved Grey Sister was the development of Abbess Glass and Sister Kettle. In Red Sister I found it a little hard to distinguish between some of the nuns as I tried to figure out who was a Snape and who was just a Sprout, but there is no question in this one who is front and centre and worth keeping an eye on. Abbess Glass is a major piece of work and her quest to guide the development of Nona and Zola’s power whilst protecting them from the politics machinating within the church and the nobility is intricate and filled with turns and twists. She toys with other characters, her wit always giving her a comeback, her shrewd intelligence telling her when to keep it to herself and when to launch it at her target like a spear. She’s the sort of character you want to see prevail as her words and actions encourage you to never give up hope.
Then we have a Kettle who will undoubtedly win the heart of every reader as she executes the role of ‘ninja assassin with a hug on the way’ to absolute perfection. The attachment she feels for her students is palpable and there can be no doubt that love is the thing that drives Kettle forward and gives her the strength to outmanoeuvre her opponents again and again. It is through Kettle we learn a lot more about the magical system at play in this world and there are a number of brutally awesome scenes where she is forced to think and fight her way out of situation where the odds are piled against her. It's heart racing stuff.
There is a great deal of commentary on religion and the church, which is always interesting to me. “The greatest threat to any faith is not other faiths or beliefs but the corruption and division of it’s own message”. The difference between those that hide behind a belief structure and falsely use it to represent themselves and those whose every action defends the heart and spirit of their faith is laid bare for any observant reader to find and digest.
All in all Grey Sister is fantastic and another gift from Mark Lawrence to his loyal readers. The Ancestor Series will no doubt win him new fans and also satisfy us old gnarly one’s too. It’s his best work ever. I can't wait for Holy Sister to top it. 10/10
Thanks to AceRocBooks for sending me an ARC.