I’ve never made any secret of my admiration of Mark Lawrence as an author. Neither have I hidden the fact that Red Sister is one of my favourite books.
Then I read Grey Sister.
I devoured it in just over a day. It takes everything that is good about Red Sister:
- the ebb and flow of drama that builds relentlessly
- the imagination
- sublime prose (and that opening line…)
- the insights into human nature
- the people — brilliantly flawed and utterly human
- a plot that both twists and turns as it winds itself around you and won’t let go
- an attention to detail that doesn’t overwhelm the story
- the intelligence behind it all
and somehow improves on it.
Grey Sister gives us characters like –
Joeli Namsis – a villain in the mould of Dolores Umbridge, so much worse than any imaginary monsters because her petty vindictiveness is so relatable.
Abbess Glass – a woman surrounded by super humans who has her own power: an uncanny ability to read people and think through consequences.
Nona Grey – a complicated girl centred by two opposites: rage and friendship.
There are sacrifices – both the noble ones of people dying for their friends and the ignoble ones of those hiding behind others’ deaths.
As good as Red Sister is, its grey sister is better.
The word ‘unputdownable’ is over used. This is one of those books that deserves it.
Bound is a short story set between Grey and Holy Sister. It’s short. It’s twisty. It’s good. And features a nice twist on that opening line from Red Sister.
What of Holy Sister?
Holy Sister doesn’t have the pace of Grey Sister but packs its own punch as the tragedies mount. There is more than the vague glory of death here, characters change, they grow, they learn respect and love. But, unusually for a Mark Lawrence book, I had a few small issues with this one.
I’d have preferred the story be given chronologically rather than split between two time lines. Some of the tension was leeched from the ‘ice’ timeline knowing that Nona is in the ‘siege’ timeline. You could argue that her presence in the latter half of the book was a given, but it turned the overriding question from ‘will she survive?’ into ‘how will she survive?’
I’d also rather have had Abbess Glass present for at least some of the book. Her absence worked for the story, especially the ‘reveal’ of Abbess Wheel. But, given how important she was in the previous books, I wanted her final moments on the page rather than in Nona’s memory. (Yes. I know that’s almost the same thing.)
And, being pedantic, I’d rather have had a few more commas. There were some sentences when the flow of the story stuttered as I had to reread what had just happened to who(m).
SPOILER ALERT OVER!!!
I feel a little churlish pointing these things out as the book is great. It reminded me of the finale of Emperor of Thorns (the technology left behind by a previous civilisation) and The Wheel of Osheim (the relentless carnage of the final siege). Holy Sister builds on its predecessors and rounds out the series nicely.
To sum up…
Red Sister is one of the few books I’ve read more than once. It will be one of the few that I will read more than twice. Along with the sequels.
Buy the books.
Beg, borrow or barter for some free time.