Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence ( Book of Ancestors # 2)

Well, Mark Lawrence is officially up top on my list of go-to-authors for his stunningly original take on dark fantasy - And well I think having completed two of his trilogies (Yup. Complete series in itself! Old men with long beards, sit up and take note!) he becomes the author whose series I have completed/loved to bits, that I've read the maximum.

Mark is at the top of his game - and with this new series, Book of the Ancestor, he is consciously striving for something different. (Here’s my review of Red Sister) For one, the protagonist is a young girl, growing into her legacy in this savage, ice-bitten world. And it’s definitely not dark as Jorg or Jalan’s narratives. The world-building has been phenomenal, to say the least and Grey Sister builds on the strong foundation laid by the opening salvo, to give us a glimpse into this wild, savage and beautiful world called Abeth - When four ancient tribes landed here from the stars to make this land their home. The Moon continues to fall and the Corridor, a narrow space between advancing walls of ice where life is brutal and yet, still strung up in the tight circles of political intrigue that reaches down to destroy the common man, is becoming narrower by the day. There are the wild Durnish by the sea and the heretics of Scithrowl are baying for blood near the northern borders. And the wheels of conspiracies are turning even faster.

Caught in between all of this, Nona Grey – our protagonist, a full Three-Blood has now graduated to the next class inside the Convent of Sweet Mercy – studying the ways of the Mystic Class to be a Sister of Discretion. The events of this book unfolds two years later from where Red Sister ended. (The trade-mark non-linear narrative still is employed to great effectiveness by Mark here as well.)  But even in the new class, Nona is not made to feel welcome. Her popularity has made her the target of hate and jealousy among many of the noble-born children within the convent, chief among them being Joeli Namsis – whose father has close ties with the Emperor’s sister Sherzal.

Complications abound – with Abbess Glass becoming the target of the Inquisition who believe the convent is encouraging the ways of the heretic. Glass knows this to be a direct assault on her authority by her enemies when the inquisitors move to arrest her within the Convent and also condemn Nona to be punished with death, pronouncing her to be a heretic. Nona escapes but Glass is arrested. And hauled off for further interrogation. Can Nona save herself and rescue Glass in the process, this becomes the focal point of the second half of this furiously paced narrative of this sequel.

 In a lot of ways, Grey Sister is the bridge book – From our introduction to Nona and Glass and the whole process of growing up within the Convent in Book One to where the final narrative and the much awaited climax is going to explode in that final Book Three. I already did point out that Grey Sister sees much more robust world-building – as different corners of Abeth is revealed in their brutal savage glory yet. While the first half of the book happens within the walls of the convent, we are transported outside in the second half. To expose us to the wilder untamed country-side, to Sherzal’s Palace, to the secret hiding places of the assassins Noin-Guins, who had been humbled by Nona and much more.

We are re-united with much of our favourite bunch of novices from book one – chiefly Ara and Darla. Nona’s character evolution continues, her narrative still laced with poignant observations on life and the unpredictability of such, in this frozen world. There is a big addition to her life – Keot, about whom I wouldn’t want to give away spoilers, and will let you readers just experience him yourself. If anything, Nona is much more badass – as she has realized that her way to attain the Path is not the silent meditative process but the more direct, fiery manner lit up by righteous anger.

But I think the best part about Grey Sister is the inclusion of Abbess Glass’s POV. I admired her much from book one – but this viewpoint is so much cooler, giving us glimpses of how Glass’ mind, sharpened by age and experience, works to combat and thwart the legion of enemies surrounding her. Her POV is crucial to the plot, to help the reader understand the bigger political drama unfolding within the empire and the larger stakes at play in this world. She’s wise and clever – and despite the surmounting odds against her, her fortitude never falters. Just totally loved her character. Then there’s Sister Kettle, an accomplished grey sister – whose fierce love for Nona lit up the whole chapters. Another favourite of mine.

There’s a lot more action in this book than book one (Or perhaps, it’s just a bit more dangerous as we are up against stronger and more clever antagonists?) the pacing is even, grabbing us from page-one. The tension and intrigue keeps building as we come face to face with a lot more characters, some of them spoken about in Book One. Nona’s world is literally balanced tottering on the edge of a precipice and I cannot wait to see the end of this story.

A very capable addition to the Book of Ancestor series, Mark Lawrence continues to enthral us with his masterful storytelling, eminently quotable clever turns of phrases and a consciously thought-out heady mishmash of fantasy elements from varied influences. As the wind continues to howl over the ever expanding ice, lovers of this ass-kicking nun will find a lot more to love and cheer about in this sequel. A book I wholeheartedly recommend to all fans of Mark, old and new.


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