Series: Book of the Ancestor #2
Published by Ace on April 3rd
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Dark Fantasy
Our reviews of this author: The Liar's Key, The Wheel of Osheim, Red Sister
I’m going to start this review with a little story of my own. About six and a half/seven years ago I picked up a book called Prince of Thorns. This book was different than anything I’d read before in fantasy terms. I absolutely loved it and pretty much devoured the series in short order. The main protagonist, Jorg, is not for everyone. The Broken Empire series is awash with blood and Jorg, although he will grow on you if you give him a chance (imho), is somebody you don’t want to cross, not if you like breathing. This was my first, but not last, foray into grimdark and I was absolutely sold. Obviously I couldn’t wait to read the Red Queen’s War. What a difference. I expected more of the same, and I certainly got that in terms of good writing, but the story was so different, still bloody, still brimming with fantastic characters and Jalan was just a blast to read. I seriously think The Wheel of Osheim is one of my favourite books ever. Then Lawrence comes along with a magic/school for assassins story, his main protagonist a female. So, colour me intrigued but maybe a little bit reluctant to be wowed. I picked up the first book thinking that maybe this would be the book that I didn’t love and yet Nona completely won me over with her badassery.
So, Grey Sister, not going to lie, I went into this thinking it had to have problems and I was determined to find them. There reaches a point surely when if you’re constantly waxing lyrical about something people will begin to question your opinion and yet here I am, once again, telling you that Grey Sister, defying all the odds, was another hit. It’s that simple.
The thing is for me, I love good writing and I love the long game and Lawrence excels at both of these things. His prose is just beautiful. It’s easy to read. It’s the kind of writing that I simply, appreciate. His writing absorbs you, you fall into the world and actually struggle to come back out. Then this whole thing of being so many steps ahead. Of course, you may say, ‘he’s the author, of course he’s ahead’, but his writing doesn’t make it feel like that. You think you have a handle on what’s going on, right up until the point that you realise you didn’t.
I’m not going to say too much about Grey Sister in terms of plot because I really don’t want to spoil the satisfaction for other readers of discovering this for themselves. I can say that once again you will read of Nona’s classes, her friends and her struggles to get along with those at the convent who dislike her so much. Nona’s path was always going to be a difficult one, she’s determined to become the best and yet so many past decisions stand in her way. One of the richest and most influential nobles in the land would see her dead. Assassins that won’t stop until the job is done are on the case and, as if the constant need to look over her shoulder wasn’t enough, Nona isn’t exactly the popular girl at the convent. The last thing needed is the Inquisition to come poking around looking for trouble.
What I loved about this was the character development. Nona is someone who values friendship. It’s one of the aspects I loved about the first book and it continues in Grey Sister. Her loyalty runs deep and she remains constant even to those who have let her down or betrayed her in the past. She has a small, but trusted, group of friends and of course Zole. This is the other thing that is unusual here. Zole is actually the chosen one – not Nona. And I loved that aspect. Zole is ice cold. She’s of the ice and her demeanour could have been carved from it – it never slips. Ara, I knew that Ara was going to be kickass and it turns out she is. Abbess Glass plays a wonderful role with her own POV chapters as the story progresses. I love her character. But, for me, Kettle is the star. I loved her in this book. I want to hug her, except she has lots of vials containing poison hidden inside her nun get up, so that might not be the best plan. She may be shrouded in dark but she’s a bright light. If anything happens to Kettle… well, all I can say is that “I am born of war”, okay, I was born on Wednesday but let’s not split hairs here, just don’t go there, please.
We watch Nona struggle with her studies. She has one particular challenge that seems insurmountable. And then, just as I was thinking I needed a break from the classroom, Nona is removed from Sweet Mercy in a rather abrupt fashion. Again, I can’t really go into too much detail but I loved this aspect of the story. We get to explore more of the world at the same time as reading the plight of Abbess Glass that is being played out in a parallel timeframe. I can’t say too much more other than the ending is just a little jaw dropping.
In terms of criticisms. Well, once you’ve met Nona the surprise value has been lost. You already know the setting and the hardships involved in the schooling at Sweet Mercy and the world building has been laid out in Red Sister – although clearly there is more to explore here. Obviously, with the long game in mind Grey Sister is very much establishing the way forward to the final instalment and in that respect it does feel like something of a bridging book, but, in spite of that it stands on it’s own two feet and whilst not as much time is spent in the classroom, and therefore less time with Nona’s friends, I still felt the friendships developed and I loved the additional characters that really featured strongly – although I’m sure everyone will have their own favourites.
To be honest, I can’t fault this. It was an excellent read that has paved the way for something that promises to be dramatic to say the least. I can’t wait for the final instalment.