Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: "Grey Sister" by Mark Lawrence

One of the most glaring absences in my 2018 reading was Mark Lawrence’s “Grey Sister” ($7.99, Penguin). Lawrence’s books have been a fixture of my end-of-year favorite reads list going back to 2011, but he was missing last year simply because I didn’t get to it. I’m happy to say I’ve remedied that, and with three more books this year, I could make up for it by giving him multiple spots on the 2019 list. This one certainly earns one entry.

Nona has moved up a class at Sweet Mercy, and her troubles start on her very first day in the new dorm. She runs afoul of a Joeli Namsis, a member of one of the ruling families who wields great influence at the convent and has it in for her new classmate. She has the power to make Nona’s life miserable and possibly even get her banished, which could turn out to be a death sentence since the Tacsis family still wants vengeance for a son slain by her hand in battle.

External forces are not Nona’s only problem. Tortured by the death of her friend Hessa, she continues to explore the caves beneath the convent looking for a clues to find Yisht, who stole the shipheart and killed Nona’s friend in the process. Keot, a blood-thirsty demon who possessed her after the killing of Raymel Tacsis, doesn’t make things any easier for her as he urges her to choose the violent solution to any issue.

Life his further complicated by the fact that Sherzal has sent the Inquisition to Sweet Mercy to monitor the school and try to take Abbess Glass down after she refused an order to return Zole, believed by some to be the chosen one of prophecy, to the house of the ambitious emperor’s sister. One wrong move could end up with the Abbess in chains and Nona on the executioner’s block.

The first half of “Grey Sister,” while displaying Lawrence’s immaculate storytelling skills, moved at a slower pace than usual for his books. It had me wondering what he was working at. But he’s never disappointed me, and that faith was soon rewarded as the story unfolded.

Once the action starts, buckle up and hold on because it comes fast and furious, and you won’t want to put the book down. The dominoes begin to fall, leading up to an absolutely breathtaking climax to the story, which, of course, I won’t give away for those who may not have read it. It’s well worth the ride, though.

Flawed and broken characters are Lawrence’s stock in trade. In his first two series, The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War, he made us love two characters that started out very unlikeable – the bitter and violent Jorg Ancrath and the cowardly and philandering Jalan Kendeth. He started out with protagonists that could easily be villains and slowly began to show us why we should like them.

With Nona Grey, he’s inverted the process a little. We started out with a character that was very easy to get behind – a young girl sold into slavery and forced to fight for the entertainment of nobles who was saved from the gallows by the abbess of a convent. Through the course of two books, he’s unfolded the darkness within her. You absolutely still love her and root for her, but there are a couple of moments in “Grey Sister” that may make you question if you should.

As usual, Lawrence takes readers on a fantastic ride, incredibly written, with lots of twists and turns along the way. The ending left me desperately wanting to continue the story, and luckily for me, I don’t have a year-long wait. Up next, “Holy Sister.” 

No comments: