Book Review: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

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By Jacob P. Torres

Grey Sister

Find my spoiler-free review of Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence, Book 2 of his Book of the Ancestor Series.

Cover Description: The second novel in a brilliant fantasy series from the international bestselling author of Prince of Thorns.

Behind its walls, the Convent of Sweet Mercy has trained young girls to hone their skills for centuries. In Mystic Class, Novice Nona Grey has begun to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the convent, Nona must choose which order to dedicate herself to—and whether her path will lead to a life of prayer and service or one of the blade and the fist.

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

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

And in all this only one thing is certain: there will be blood.”

What is the book about?

This is the second book in Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor series. IN the previous book we met Nona a young girl that had been sold by her parents to the fighting rings of the Cathless. We met her as she was to be executed for the murder of a nobleman’s son. Nona is saved from this fate by Abbess Glass, the head of the Sweet Mercy convent. She takes in Nona who learns to wield magic and knives at the convent as she trains to become a sister of the church. The worldbuilding in the first series was focused mostly on the life at the convent and Nona’s classes as she learns to be a sister, set in the backdrop of a conflict between the Abbess and the Thursis Noble family, the one from whom Nona had wronged by attacking the son. The first book ends with Nona and her new friends surviving assault and capture at the hands of the Thursis family and Abbess Glass successfully removing a the head of the priesthood from power to protect Nona. But not all was a victory, Nona list a friend in the convent when they failed to stop an agent from stealing a shipheart from the convent, a mysterious relic of the Ancestor that gives the people on this planet some of their powers.

They second book picks up where the first one left off. The Thursis family is now more desperate to kill Nona for she finally succeeded in killing of the person she’d originally been accused of murdering at the end of the second book. Nona, and her friends Ara and Zole, are continuing their studies at the convent and becoming more powerful every day. Abbess Glass and the sisters Kettle and Apple are trying to reclaim the shipheart from the Emperor’s sister and stay out of the hands of the Inquisition at the same time.

As the book progresses, things look bleak for Nona as she makes more enemies than friends at the convent and she has to learn to deal with a demon that’s been possessing her since the end of the first book.

What Did I Like About the Book?

The worldbuilding in this book was fun. We learn a lot more about the world that Nona lives in. This planet appears to be a failed colony planet, humans have settled there and been unable to leave. The star is failing and almost all people live in a stretch around the equator no more than 30 miles north and south of the equator, this area kept warm and livable by a “moon” that’s really an orbital mirror that reflects the dying star’s light back on this planet. There are ruins from a previous, alien civilization spread throughout this planet, as well as the original Arks that brought people to the planet, though this is mostly under ice now. So, it’s a fun inventive little world and I’m glad we got to see more of it.

I really enjoyed that we split the focus off of Nona more and onto some of the other characters. Many of them are quite excellently described and a lot of fun to read. Especially Abbess Glass who I’ll discuss more in the next section. I’m glad this book expanded a little to talk about the romance between sisters Apple and Kettle, it’s really the only explicit romantic relationship in the book, and it’s with two characters from the first book that were real fun.

Book does a good job of making the political struggles of Abbess Glass feel realistic and worth knowing about. And this book improved on the previous in that the classroom drama of Nona and her friends was much better paced and more exciting.

Who was my Favorite Character?

Definitely Abbess Glass. Her chapters were a lot of politics and running a school drama but I love watching her slowly put all of her little pieces in a row so that she can set off some grand strategy at the end of the book. Even though you know it’s coming from book one, watching all the pieces come together was a treat, even if her big master plan didn’t work like she wanted it too. And this was something I liked too. Too often with these strategist type characters either their plans fail because they just weren’t good plans which damages the character as a whole or they come off as damn near prescient. Glass made a great plan, all the pieces came together right, and then it didn’t work because her opponent just flipped the table over. This felt like a realistic reaction to how this would all turn out and it was fun. We also then got to see Glass having to take quick, direct action which was a new part to her character.

Character wise, I want to see more of Zole, Ara, and Nona in the next book. Nona still got to shine but most of her chapters were less about her interactions with her friends rather than her very literal personal demons. It took some of her charm from the first book away and we need her back to form. Also, the small bits of Zole and Nona’s relationship we did get as subjects of prophecy just wasn’t enough.

What Did I Not Like?

If you’re looking for a book that grips you from the beginning and never lets you go, this is maybe not the series for you. Like the previous book this one is a bit of a slow burn in the beginning and it suffers from an uneven pacing. But once the plot really kicks in about a third to halfway in on the book it really gets going and never lets go.

This book suffers a bit from second book syndrome, it’s heavier on the world building and exposition and that adds to the drag in the middle. If action and worldbuilding had been a bit more evenly distributed that would’ve improved the book. This book, like the last one, also had these far future scenes, my problem with them is that they removed a lot of the dramatic tension from the series because we know that many of the characters we really like make it to this scene in the future, and then we have to spend twenty chapters of them in assassin high school. I hope the third book is mostly just this future thing, because it seems real interesting, what little we see of it.

The book flips between two chapter styles, one set of chapters exclusively focuses on Abbess Glass (Her chapters start with her name at the top of the chapter) and the second set mostly focuses on Nona Grey but at times it tells the story from other characters perspectives. This is worse during the big action filled climax than anywhere else in the book. But it was a little distracting to have the focus split in that manner. Honestly, I don’t understand why Lawerence didn’t just split the chapters into smaller chunks and head up each one with the character its focusing on. It would’ve given him a great opportunity to flesh out some of the excellent secondary characters.

The Verdict!

4 out of 5 cups of tea. A solid second installment that built on the great foundations from the first book. Like the last book this one starts with a slow build that rewards you with a fun, action-filled climax. We get to see some really fun political maneuvering and an improvement in the classes and schoolyard drama from the last book. I’m looking forward to the next book but I’m hoping it tones down on the exposition and spends more time on Nona and her friends, who are really the heart of this series, none matter how much I, and I think probably Lawrence, love Abbess Glass.

4 of 5
Final Verdict: 4 out of 5 cups of tea. A solid second installment that built on the great foundations from the first book.
Pros Cons
+ Abbess Glass, Our Lady of Machiavellian plans was a lot of fun to read and see more of. – Like the last book it was a slow burn to get going.
+ Apple and Kettle need their own book of them kicking ass and taking names when they were younger. – Focus was unevenly split between chapters about one character and then chapters that were mostly about our main protagonist but also could be whoever.
+ Nona, Zole, and Kettle had a great climactic them against an army scene and I loved the whole ride at the end. – Middle Book Syndrome strikes again with a lot more exposition.

 

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