“There are some lessons that must be written in scars,” Sister Tallow tells her students early in Grey Sister. That ends up being in important lesson to take to heart in a story such as Grey Sister.
A year ago I reviewed Red Sister, the first in this series. Now the sequel has arrived and one can wonder: does it live up to its predecessor? I say that it does.
The first book followed Nona, a young girl sold to a child taker who is eventually taken in by the kindly Abbess at the convent Sweet Mercy. At the convent, Nona and her classmates study and train to be warriors. This is not a pious place of quiet reflection. These nuns mean business.
At the end of Red Sister, Nona is betrayed by a friend and has another friend perish while apprehending the true villain of the story. I’m keeping it vague in case for some crazy reason you haven’t read it yet. Read it. Trust me.
Grey Sister picks up shortly after the first novel, with Nona and her friends still in school, now in some more advanced training. She has to deal with normal school stuff, you know, major evaluations, childish rivalry and unspeakable vengeance against the one who stole the convent’s shipheart and killed her best friend. Normal school stuff, really.
Joeli Namsis, a privileged and conceited girl, serves as the antagonist for the majority of the book. Though she’s not the Big Bad, she does play a crucial role. Think Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series. Joeli is a truly wicked girl who will stop at nothing to torture Nona. I was very frustrated for Nona’s sake. Nona could level this girl easily, but has standards.
Abbess Glass really shines in this novel, pun intended. We get a number of chapters from her point of view, especially when Nona must leave the convent due to some underhanded business with the church inquisitors. Glass is in major trouble for a number of “crimes” that are mostly just an excuse to unseat her from her position at the convent. We simultaneously see her in grave peril and in complete control. The cool, collected way she deals with the superiors who try to destroy her makes her a strong, formidable woman. She is my hero, and she’s probably fantastic at chess given how good she is at planning multiple steps ahead.
Mark Lawrence writes women really well. This can’t be said of all authors. He also doesn’t shy away from representing women in positions of power. With good descriptions and witty dialogue, the number of girls and women at the convent and abroad are portrayed as unique individuals. Nona is still an excellent main character, but you’ll find yourself picking favorites among her classmates as well. Just don’t get too attached to everyone. If you know this author, you’d know why.
During a good portion of this book, Nona and her friends explore the caves below the convent. It’s part adventuring, part sleuthing as they try to find a new way to the place where a friend died in the last book. The exploring revealed more mysteries, ones that I’d rather not give away before you get a chance to discover yourself. It also introduces a creature that is pure fear. I’d like to revisit this creature in the next book if possible, because it was both terrifying and fascinating. My bad timing led to me reading that part late at night, which meant I was only a little paranoid of the shadows in my room.
We are also still getting clues about The Missing – the people who inhabitited the planet before the ice started closing in. I’m always curious to get more morsels about these people, and hope that more will be revealed about the original tribes, the ships they came in on and what happened to The Missing. So many things point back to the mysterious origins of Nona’s people. Even the devil that takes up residence in Nona at the end of Red Sister is a relic of that past somehow.
There’s a lot to be said also of the socioeconomic realities of this world close to its end. There’s a wide divide between the privileged rich who attend extravagant galas and the poor people who struggle in hunger and are pushed from their homes by the encroaching ice. The hierarchies of power, the struggles between the last world powers and the different religious factions will surely come to climactic conclusion in the next book. I’ve enjoyed the ride so far and I look forward to more.