Book Review: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of Book of the Ancestor
Publisher: Ace (April 3, 2018)
Length: 432 pages
The saga of Nona Grey continues in the second novel of the Book of the Ancestor series, Grey Sister. A couple of years have passed since the end of the first novel, and our protagonist finds herself advancing through the ranks at the Convent of Sweet Mercy, which has been her home since she was eight years old after being rescued from the hangman’s noose by Abbess Glass. It’s now time for Nona to choose a path—but so much has changed since her arrival at the convent, it is quite unclear where the future will take her anymore. Her talents make her perfect for the next stage of her studies, Mystic Class, in which she and her fellow classmates will learn to unlock the secrets of the universe. Nona, however, has made as many enemies as friends over the years at Sweet Mercy—powerful ones who will not be content until she is completely destroyed. She has already been targeted for death several times, and worse, she has also earned the ire of Joeli Namsis, whose family has close ties with the nobleman who seeks revenge on Nona for what she did to his son.
And as if that weren’t enough, the Convent of Sweet Mercy also finds itself targeted by the Inquisition, who arrives on Abbess Glass’s doorstep claiming to be on the hunt for heretics. Their presence is an invasion, their watchful gazes permeating every nook and cranny of the convent. The situation quickly devolves, until it is no longer safe for Nona to remain at Sweet Mercy. Meanwhile, Abbess Glass is also facing her own problems as the Inquisition’s attention turns her way, hauling her off for imprisonment and further interrogation.
In many ways, Grey Sister feels like a “bridge” book, and I mean that in the best sense of the term. Many changes and story developments are brought about in this installment, while the story also expands upon our knowledge of Abeth. Not only have our characters matured, the world-building has also become to feel a lot more robust and fleshed out—which is really saying something, since this aspect was already top-notch in book one. I continue to be fascinated by the supernatural aspects of this world of shiphearts, demons, and magic. Mark Lawrence’s books always feature incredible settings, characterized by a wondrous mishmash of elements from many different genres.
Then, there are the characters. In Abeth, there exists four main “tribes” of people, each distinguished by special powers that their bloodlines possess. As someone who has proven to be a “triple-blood”—having Hunska, Marja, and Quantal skills—our protagonist Nona Grey is an extremely rare case, and I really appreciated how Grey Sister gave readers a chance to explore her past and background during her forced exile from Sweet Mercy. We are shown just how much her character has evolved, with each victory and tragedy having etched their mark upon her soul. Some of her teachers think she needs to learn humility, but in truth, Nona is her own worst critic. There are a number of emotional and heartbreaking moments in this book, as we gain more insight into Nona’s thoughts. She’ll go to the ends of the earth to seek vengeance against those who have harmed her or her friends, but she’ll also never forgive herself for her own failures.
I also liked how Grey Sister included several new POVs. Here, I just want to say how much I loved, loved, loved Abbess Glass. I already had a soft spot for her character in Red Sister, but this sequel quickly rocketed her up to my all-time favorites. Glass is hard, principled, and wise, but neither does she fall into the archetype of the strict and stuffy old matron. In my head, I picture this badass old lady, and everything I read here only confirmed my image of her. Her chapters were wonderful to read, and every time they gave about, I gave a little inward cheer. As well, I welcomed the return of amazing characters like Zole and Ara, and of course Sister Kettle, who also gets her chance to really shine in this sequel. Things are made more interesting too with the addition of Keot, who is a bit of a strange entity, but since his role in this tale is probably best experienced firsthand rather than explained, I’ll just leave it at that.
And finally, like any good sequel, Grey Sister carries the story forward. While there were a few lows to go with the highs, the plot was fast-paced for the most part, grabbing my attention from the get-go and not releasing it until it was over. Also, Nona and her friends may be older in this volume, yet the story still retains some of those “Young Adult vibes” I first felt in Red Sister, which probably helped make this one feel like a lighter, faster read than a lot of Lawrence’s other books. This means that if you’ve never read the author but would like to give his work a try, Book of the Ancestor might make for the perfect jumping on point. It’s very different from his Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War trilogies, but as some of those books can be quite heavy and dark, some readers might see that as a good thing.
Bottom line, I think it’s safe to say if you enjoyed Red Sister then you will enjoy Grey Sister as well. Mark Lawrence has written another brilliant novel, as rich and complex as ever.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Red Sister (Book 1)