Book Review: Holy 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 3 of Book of the Ancestor
Publisher: Ace (April 9, 2019)
Length: 368 pages
And so another fantastic trilogy by Mark Lawrence has come to an end. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, though—there is something genuinely remarkable about The Book of the Ancestor, and not just because it felt like such a departure from the author’s previous trilogies. While this one might not be my favorite of his, nor do I think it’s as contentious or impactful as The Broken Empire or The Red Queen’s War, I do think it’s the most accessible of Lawrence’s work. More importantly, it also shows that he has a wide range of talents and he’s forging ahead in his career with no fear of stagnation, which is great news for readers.
Holy Sister continues the saga of Nona Grey, picking up from the end of Grey Sister which saw our protagonist and her fellow sisters and nuns from the Convent of Sweet Mercy barely escaping with their lives. It is told via two timelines, one in the present and one in the near past. The earlier one takes place three years earlier, following the harrowing flight from Sherzal’s palace. As you would recall, things ended quite intensely with Nona and Zole parting ways with the rest of the group to give them a fighting chance, while the two of them decided to set off onto the vast icefields of Abeth with their precious cargo.
The timeline in the present, on the other hand, follows Nona as she attempts to master her studies and prepare for the final confrontation with Sherzal as the invading armies march ever closer to their home. And here’s where things get a little wild. Along with the keen sense of sand running out in the hourglass, Nona and her friends have nearly completed their training and are expected to choose a specialization to pursue. But for our protagonist, who has manifested multiple talents and is skilled in many of the convent’s teachings, how will she choose which path to walk? And will she have time to decide, before war comes to destroy them all?
First, let’s get some of the awkwardness out of the way. I have never been a fan of dual timelines as literary device and I doubt I ever will, so I can’t say I was too thrilled when I realized Holy Sister was going this route. That said, it is hard to mind when it is done well, and if anyone can do it well, it is Mark Lawrence. For one, I was surprised to find that pacing wasn’t affected too aversely. I liked how the two timelines complemented one another, weaving back and forth like dancing partners completely in tune with each other’s thoughts and movements. When momentum in one timeline flagged, the other one will slip in and take over, re-energizing the narrative. In a way, the book actually felt like a cohesive whole despite the two alternating parts, indicating a massive amount of pre-planning and careful plotting.
And of course, I loved how the book expanded on everything that came before. This trilogy has been an epic journey chronicling Nona’s life from a peasant girl to become a novice at Sweet Mercy. And now, it is time for her and her friends to graduate. It is a momentous affair and I’m glad Lawrence gave it the attention it deserved. In addition to her education, Nona has also come a long way in her personal growth, maturing physically and emotionally. Reading about her relationships with the nuns and her peers has always been the highlight of the series for me, and one of the best things about The Book of the Ancestor is the central focus on female friendships and bonding. This is not only limited to Nona’s relationships either; the story also develops the relationships of the other women and their dynamics with each other. And since this is the final book of the trilogy, a lot of these emotions surrounding our characters feel even more heartfelt and intense.
In terms of criticisms, there’s nothing too negative I have to say. While I feel this series lacks some of the “weight” of the author’s previous trilogies, plus the fact the characters and writing style somewhat skews towards a slightly younger audience, The Book of the Ancestor is still a fantastic read and Holy Sister caps it off fantastically. Sure, our characters might act a little predictably at times and certain things might tie up a bit too nicely, but overall, rest assured the novel will answer many of your questions and provide the closure needed. Be sure to also pay attention for the climax and denouement, because things there moved very quickly!
All in all, this another highly entertaining and satisfying trilogy from Mark Lawrence! Again, if you’ve read The Broken Empire and/or The Red Queen’s War and you’re curious about The Book of the Ancestor, just keep in mind that it’s quite different. If you enjoyed Red Sister and Grey Sister though, I am sure will also love Holy Sister.