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Book Review

Book Cover

Grey Sister (Hardback)


Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Harper Voyager
RRP: £16.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 815234 5
Publication Date: 17 May 2018

Sold to a child catcher and rescued by the nuns of the Convent of Sweet Mercy, Nona Grey is growing into a young, powerful woman. Her destiny is not yet set so she must choose to enter one of the four of the convents disciplines’. Should she become a red nun, giving into her warrior’s heart, or should she join the grey, black or the blue? As her education progresses within the confines of the convent, greater forces are being brought to bear which may make the decision for her...

Grey Sister (2018. 407 pages) is the second book in the ‘Book of the Ancestor’ series, written by Mark Lawrence who has previously found popularity and critical acclaim with his ‘Broken Empire’ and ‘Red Queens War’ trilogies.

This time Lawrence has gone for something a little different. Previously there was a labyrinthine quality about his storytelling and while this trilogy is no less dense in plot or characterisation, there does seem to be a more simple approach to telling Nona’s story.

Her world is not the traditional fare of fantasy books. The planet was settled many thousands of years before by the ‘Missing’, who arrived in great arks onto a desolate ice world. With technology they constructed an artificial moon which keeps the ice at bay creating a habitable corridor around the planet. But the moon is falling and the corridor is getting thinner. As the ice advances so the various tribes and nations are being squeezed into a smaller area and tensions are running high.

Nona is young, but gifted with what appear to be magical qualities. These have helped her survive attack, execution and assassination. Unfortunately along the way she also killed the son of a powerful nobleman and incurred the ire of the Noi-Guin’s, a particularly nasty but efficient band of assassins.

The book is really in two halves. In the first we follow Nona through some more of her schooling. Much like Harrry Potter there are jealous rivalries to navigate and hidden discoveries to be made. The nuns could have come straight out of a Bene Gesserit breeding program as both groups use religion to hide in plain sight, though I feel that Sister Glass is more wedded to her religion than any Bene Gesserit ever was. Similarly they look to secretly wield social and political influence while at the same time training the novices to kill and maim. It is little wonder that with the ice encroaching that various elements in the Empire would look to gather this resource to themselves.

None of that matters to Nona who has her own problems having lost her shadow, but gained a demon. She mourns over the death of her friend and it is this anger at her murder and guilt at not being able to prevent it which drives Nona and the plot on.

If the first half of the book is a little tranquil in its pace, the second makes up for this with, peril, pain, political double takes and a lot of fighting.

I really like Lawrence as a fantasy - or is that science fiction – writer and this new series is shaping up to be just as good as the last two. He seems to especially enjoy writing strong female characters from the power and guile of Sister Glass, the Abbess, to the exuberant reckless lack of fear displayed by the young novices. Although this is the difficult second book with neither the fresh discovery of the first nor the frenetic climax of the last, Lawrence still manages to create an entertaining book whilst moving the pawns into their final positions for the stories end.


Charles Packer

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