Grey Sister

With well over a million copies sold worldwide and two quality trilogies under his belt, Mark Lawrence already deserved to be ranked among the best fantasy authors writing today. With each new book, he continued to make a name for himself, always pushing the envelope a bit further with plotlines that grew in depth and scope. It's no secret that "That thorn guy," as George R. R. Martin referred to him a few years back, has come a long way since Prince of Thorns was first published.

The Broken Empire and The Red Queen's War trilogies shared the same universe, but The Ancestor marked the beginning of something new. Ye of little faith that I am, I was wondering if Lawrence could do it again with new protagonists, a new setting, and new storylines. Not surprisingly, though it suffered from uneven pacing, Red Sister was another good reading experience that set the stage for yet another enjoyable and captivating series.

Could the author elevate his game even more with Grey Sister and bring this tale to another level? The answer is a resounding yes! This latest installment is one of my favorite Mark Lawrence titles thus far, second only to The Liar's Key in terms of quality and originality. And with the author under contract to write three more novels set in the Ancestor's universe, this bodes well for readers!

Here's the blurb:

In Mystic Class Nona Grey begins to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the Convent of Sweet Mercy Nona must choose her path and take the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor and a life of prayer and service.

All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord.

As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she has sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pull of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty.

And in all this only one thing is certain.

There will be blood.

All of Mark Lawrence's novels to date have been character-driven works. Still, worldbuilding played a relatively important role in both The Broken Empire and The Red Queen's War series, and it appears to be the case in The Ancestor as well. This new trilogy features a dying sun and a planet left with only a 50-mile wide corridor running along the length of its surface heated by a focus moon that allows mankind to survive from the ever-encroaching ice that covers the globe throughout both hemispheres. I found this fascinating in Red Sister and it is now obvious that control of the focus moon will become an integral part in the resolution of this series. Little is known and/or remembered of what has been trapped under tons of ice over the centuries, and it will be interesting to see if the hints of hidden and nefarious powers from the deep will continue to come into play as the tale progresses. As was the case in the previous two trilogies, age-old technology will once again come into play before the end. Unfortunately, I felt that Lawrence kept his cards way too close to his chest, with the worldbuilding elements unveiled raising more questions than they provided answers. It was evident that there was much more to Red Sister than meets the eye. I'm pleased to report that Grey Sister shines some light on several secrets and proves that this new series resounds with as much depth as its predecessors. Perhaps more!

It's been two years since the events of Red Sister and Nona is getting ready to pass the final tests to qualify to become a Grey Sister. This second volume follows pretty much the same structure as the first installment. Nona is still devastated by Hessa’s murder and at times almost fanatically driven by her vow of vengeance against Yisht. And yet, life at the Convent of Sweet Mercy follows its course and the plot moves forward as Nona's education proceeds. Once more, either in an attempt to do some foreshadowing, or just to mess with our minds, Lawrence included a couple of scenes taking place in the future. They feature a much older Nona and show that the proverbial shit has just about hit the fan and that things are coming to a head. Which bodes well for the forthcoming finale in Holy Sister.

In Red Sister, I felt that the plot suffered a bit from being mostly limited to what occurred at and around the Convent of Sweet Mercy. Grey Sister blows the story wide open, which was for the best. Forsaken and friendless, Nona Grey was a tough nut to crack. She didn't open up easily, to other people as well as to the readers. Although it was easy to root for her, given that all the odds appear stacked against her, it was nevertheless difficult to relate to Nona. Indeed, after following the misadventures of the easy-going and likeable Jalan and his barbarian companion, it certainly took a while to finally get used to Nona and her quirks. For all that it took some time, her special bond with the crippled Hessa provided truly poignant moments and her plight made it impossible not to root for her. Having said that, even a couple of years older don't make it any easier to relate to Nona. She is who she is, after all, and has more of a knack to make enemies instead of friends. The girl may be isolated in the convent, but outside forces can still influence her existence and put her life in danger.

As a matter of course, Nona's perspective takes center stage. But unexpected events throw a monkey wrench in the storylines and both Abbess Glass and Sister Kettle become very important POV protagonists. Witnessing events unfold through the eyes of such disparate characters is what ultimately made Grey Sister such a memorable read. It has always been obvious that Abbess Glass is playing the long game and has countless pieces on the board. To discover more about her back story and what she has been building toward since before Nona joined the Convent of Sweet Mercy was quite satisfying. The same goes for Sister Kettle. In Red Sister, it was often hard to differentiate the nuns. Grey Sister gave many of them more of a face and personality, and Kettle's point of view was a welcome addition to the other perspectives.

In terms of rhythm, Red Sister did suffer from pacing issues. With the plot moving forward at the same speed as Nona's training, it didn't always make for thrilling scenes. I had a feeling that Lawrence was laying a lot of groundwork in each of those scenes and that everything would come together later in the series. As slow-moving as the rhythm was in the first two-thirds of the novel, there is no denying that the endgame put everything into high gear, and Red Sister featured Lawrence's best finale since Emperor of Thorns. Things were looking up for the second volume, or so it seemed. Now that I have read the sequel, I can vouch for the fact that the first installment was an introduction meant to introduce the players and set up the various storylines. There is not a dull moment between the covers of Grey Sister. It's a veritable page-turner from start to finish. I mean, kickass nuns with swords and magical powers, assassins bent on killing a young girl, demons from antiquity, a would-be empress with delusions of grandeur, the Inquisition coming into play, the empire's richest lord seeking revenge, looming war due to the encroaching ice, and legends regarding the control of the focus moon. You probably won't be able to put this book down!

The action-packed endgame was fantastic and it does set the stage for what should be an unforgettable final installment. True, I would have liked a bit more resolution at the end given how exciting the last few chapters turned out to be. And yet, as much as a part of me cursed Mark Lawrence for the cliffhanger ending, the other part is foaming at the mouth at the thought of getting my hands on Holy Sister. Can't believe I'll have to wait a year for it!

Darker and more ambitious than its predecessor, Grey Sister is definitely one of the fantasy books to read in 2018! This just in: That thorn guy is pretty damn good!

The final verdict: 8.25/10

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1 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

I have been looking forward to this book for the past year! Also, I am really excited that Kettle is in it!