Review: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence
In Grey Sister, the Second Book of the Ancestor, Mark Lawrence continues his explosive trilogy as Nona Grey goes in search of the magical shipheart and revenge against Yisht—tool of the emperor’s sister Sherzal—who stole the magical shipheart and killed Nona’s friend Hessa. It’s a fast-paced, action-packed romp, bursting with powerful magic, political intrigue, kickass fighting, and impending doom. Lawrence’s prose is lucid and nearly poetic at times. He manages to weave an abundance of threads and subplots into a coherent and confident story set in a unique world that in itself is integral to the plot. Grey Sister is a masterwork of storytelling and plotting and is chock full of top notch action and fight sequences.
Grey Sister begins where Red Sister left off. There is even a little pre-prologue to get you caught up on what’s happening. Nona and her friends and enemies continue to slog through the challenges of Sweet Mercy Convent (and beat each other senseless) with the hope of reaching their desired top level of Red Sister (warrior), Grey Sister (assassin), or a couple of others, while they also continue to investigate the caves in the Rock below the convent, hoping to solve the mystery of the missing shipheart and the death of Hessa. Nona has been promoted to Mystic Class, the next level of student, and as expected takes on a brand new nemesis from the rich class of Sis, the suffix tacked on to the names of all the aristocratic families in the empire. This time, though, Nona brings along a little frenemy, a confidant character who lets us have a little insight into Nona’s thoughts, which are characteristically kill them or don’t kill them. Meanwhile, the artificial moon that keeps the ice from the equatorial Corridor seems to be losing power: the ice is encroaching and enemy nations are on the move, searching for ever-decreasing space to live. As if that weren’t enough, the Inquisition, initiated by Sherzal, comes to Sweet Mercy to hunt heretics. Due to circumstances somewhat beyond her control—a misplaced comment off the cuff of the abbess—Nona is ultimately forced to leave Sweet Mercy and go it alone—until some friends join her—on her quest for the shipheart and vengeance.
I think it’s safe to say that no one could have written Grey Sister better. Each scene is beautifully and vividly depicted, and I think the series could become a great graphic novel, and is definitely suitable for the big screen. Lawrence’s writing brings you there. Sisters of Mercy Convent must rely upon rustic, conventional heating since the theft of the shipheart, and you can feel the cold in the air. The caves below are dark, damp, and claustrophobic, bristling with sharp rocks and stalagmites. Each fight scene—and there are a lot of them—brings play-by-play kicks, punches, and other thrashings, all with the sounds and smells and tastes that pummel the reader with broken ribs, elbows, wrists, knees, puncture wounds, slit throats, etc. It’s all extremely well executed.
The magic system in the Books of the Ancestor grows in Grey Sister. As if it weren’t intricately pre-conceived enough in Red Sister, we now have magical devils, and seemingly every imaginable type of power and poison and antidote. Along with these new discoveries, we still have the confounding abilities of the marjal, quantal, hunska, and gerant; Blade Path, other Paths, etc, to enable to limitless possibilities of combinations of speed, magic, power, strength, endurance, healing—everything you’ll ever find in a D&D game and more. At times, though, there seems to be no limit to the girls’ power, which can be a bit overwhelming, at least for this reader. Nona and her sidekicks, after a couple of years at Sweet Mercy (and given their blood heritage), possess (literally) unbelievable powers, but Lawrence’s execution is good enough to help the reader suspend disbelief as Nona performs incredible feats or derring-do.
Which brings us to the star of the show: warrior, assassin, magician, genius, lightning fast hunska, archetypal fantasy orphan, fifteen-year-old Nona Grey. Nona is basically a super hero. No matter what is thrown at her, she has the power to emerge on top. She is incredibly intelligent, compassionate, strong, and fast. And she is not alone. The other girls we know from Red Sister also grow in strength and develop new powers as they age and proceed through Sweet Mercy’s excruciating program. And this time they take their fight beyond the walls of the convent and out into the world, which enhances the excitement. Without giving too much away, let’s just say the action is explosive.
Although most of Grey Sister is emotionally and intellectually YA with its themes of friendship and loyalty, and its good versus evil main conflict and constant action, the Abbess Glass interludes provide refreshing intellectual relief from the constant kicky-stabby stuff. She is a wily old fox with little or no crazy power, tough as nails, and brave as hell. Her subplot, albeit minor, is tense and gripping and is ultimately woven into the climax of the novel in a surprising and exciting way.
Grey Sister is an amazing book. If you enjoyed Red Sister, which all of you did, Grey Sister will blow your freaking minds. It is over-packed with action, fighting, magic, tension, and spectacle, all woven into a conventional quest plot with seemingly innumerable threads. And so I wait eagerly for the conclusion to the Books of the Ancestor in 2019 (?) and look forward to what lies beyond.
Grey Sister was published 3 April 2018 by Ace, an imprint of Penguin Publishing. It’s Mark Lawrence. He’s my hero. Buy it.