Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor #2), Mark Lawrence

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Nothing is as cruel as a righteous man

All that stands between Nona and her future as a Sister are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord. As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she has sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pull of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty.

Read my review of Red Sister.

* * * * *
5 / 5

I thoroughly praised Red Sister as an absolute masterpiece of a novel and that’s a tough act for any sequel to follow. Grey Sister is in the exact same vein: a slow-paced, riveting, bloody story focused on female friendships and learning to use swords.

Red Sister ended with Hessa dead and the Convent’s shipheart stolen on behalf of Sherzal, the Emperor’s sister. Grey Sister picks up a little further on in time, with Nona moving into Grey Class alongside her friends. She’s still tough as nails, violent, and impulsive; Nona will do anything to protect those she loves. As she learns more, she becomes more powerful, but I still never got the feeling that she was overpowered, which is a great balance to strike. But now Nona comes with a new addition: Keot, a mysterious demon entity that took up residence in her brain when she killed Raymel Tacsis. Keot is great. He’s funny, unnerving, and is constantly getting her into trouble.

But I must warn you, sister, that a sickness runs in me, and if you fashion yourself my enemy I will make a ruin of your life, for I am born of war

The book massively benefits from the pre-existing relationships – I adored Nona’s friendships with Arabella, Jula, Sister Kettle, Abbess Glass and her new and flourishing relationships with Darla and Zole, among others. There’s so much love in this book, in all it’s different forms. The more prominent role Sister Kettle got (as well as her relationship with Sister Apple) was an absolute highlight for me, particularly the focus on how much she cares for Nona.

And then it all gets torn away. The Convent of Sweet Mercy must play host to The Inquisition, a branch of the Church that exists solely to root out heresy and burn it to the ground. Safe to say, not everything is exactly kosher under the rule of Abbess Glass and things quickly spiral out of control. Another thing I loved about Grey Sister was how many chapters we got from the point of view of the Abbess – it’s nice to get that older, more mature perspective from someone who fights with words rather than fists, who looks at the world as a whole and balances up her goals. She’s tricksy and quick-witted, but the Abbess is not infallible and for those reasons she’s fantastic character.

She had lost a shadow, lost two friends, and gained a devil

But it’s not all doom and gloom, death and darkness. There’s some amusing and endearing scenes where Nona has to pass trials to become a nun, featuring her quick wits. There’s some touching moments, like when Zole tries to venture out of the Convent but finds her elevated status as the Chosen One overwhelming. Note: I love Zole! And Arabella! And Nona! Love and fondness and and forgiveness and trust permeate this book; they are its key themes and they are beautifully written.

I gave this book four stars originally. But that’s only because I was judging it in relation to Red Sister, which is an absolute masterpiece, and Grey Sister suffers a touch from feeling a bit like it borrowed too much from the first. But on its own merits, Grey Sister is a well-deserved five stars. The audiobook, which I listened to, is also wonderfully done and the narrator is fantastic.

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