Holy Sister

As I mentioned in my last review, 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.

Red Sister turned out to be another good read which set the stage for yet another enjoyable and captivating series. Even better, Grey Sister was one of my favorite Lawrence titles thus far, second only to The Liar's Key in terms of quality and originality.

I was looking forward to discovering if the author could close the show with style and aplomb in this final installment. And though for the most part Holy Sister was pretty much everything readers wanted it to be, I have a feeling that the anticlimactic ending may put off certain people.

Here's the blurb:

They came against her as a child. Now they face the woman.

The ice is advancing, the Corridor narrowing, and the empire is under siege from the Scithrowl in the east and the Durns in the west. Everywhere, the emperor’s armies are in retreat.

Nona faces the final challenges that must be overcome if she is to become a full sister in the order of her choice. But it seems unlikely that Nona and her friends will have time to earn a nun’s habit before war is on their doorstep.

Even a warrior like Nona cannot hope to turn the tide of war.

The shiphearts offer strength that she might use to protect those she loves, but it’s a power that corrupts. A final battle is coming in which she will be torn between friends, unable to save them all. A battle in which her own demons will try to unmake her.

A battle in which hearts will be broken, lovers lost, thrones burned.

The structure of the novel is a bit unusual. Indeed, we follow two separate timelines, one that occurs in the present and another one that recounts the aftermath of Grey Sister three years before. Holy Sister is split more or less evenly between the two timelines. Understandably, the one taking place in the past tends to move faster than the other, for it needs to bring the reader up to speed with the events whose repercussions engendered what is transpiring in real time. And yet, important details which probably deserved more focus were glanced over while others simply don't appear in the narrative because they would have spoiled important plot points. Ultimately, this prevents the timelines from joining one another in seamless fashion when all the threads come together in the last portion of the book. These three years will have a dramatic effect on Nona, forcing her to change somewhat profoundly from the girl we used to know. Trouble is, those changes are not apparent until the very end, which feels decidedly discordant. There are a few hints that Nona has evolved in the the timeline occurring in the present, of course. But not enough, in my humble opinion, for the ending to have the sort of impact that Lawrence likely aimed for.

As mentioned in my reviews of Red Sister and Grey Sister, all of the author'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 felt as though it would 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 and it was obvious that control of the focus moon would 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 I thought it would 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, it appeared that age-old technology would once again come into play before the end. Well, I can now confirm that it is indeed the case, about the focus moon and everything else. When you reach the end of Holy Sister, it's evident that The Ancestor series resounds with as much depth as its predecessors. Which bodes well for the upcoming sequence of books set in the same universe!

As a matter of course, Nona's perspective takes center stage and she is once more the only POV of the story. With war devastating the land and enemy troops appearing on the doorsteps of the Convent of Sweet Mercy, it seems that Nona and her friends may not even get the opportunity to complete their training and choose their orders before facing the inevitable. And yet, Abbess Glass has been playing the long game for decades and has countless pieces strategically positioned on the board. Will it be enough to save the Emperor's dwindling forces from both the Scithrowl and the Durns? With everything on the line, a lot of familiar faces from the first two installments make appearances throughout Holy Sister. I don't want to spoil anything, but this final volume may feature the best supporting cast yet. Needless to say, Lawrence has quite a few surprises up his sleeve.

In terms of rhythm, other than the timeline focusing on the past that kept moving a bit too rapidly for its own good, this book did not suffer from pacing issues. There is never a dull moment and the action-packed endgame is thrilling. Which is why some readers might find the anticlimactic ending a little offputting. Following all those battle scenes and the blood and the gore and the sacrifices and destructive magics unleashed, if I'm honest the resolution of the war storyline and all that it encompasses left a little to be desired. Again, some hints foreshadowed such an ending, true, but I still maintain that the timeline transpiring in the past should have elaborated more on the events that altered Nona so deeply.

All in all, though it wasn't quite as good as Grey Sister, this final volume is darker and more ambitious than its predecessors and is a worthy conclusion to a superior fantasy series. Moreover, Holy Sister leaves the door open for so many possibilities that I'm looking forward to the forthcoming series to see what Mark Lawrence now has in store for us.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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