*There will be spoilers* About two weeks ago, I picked up Red Sister by Mark Lawrence with a bit of a shrug and a “why not?” mentality. I tore through the first book, and fell completely into the world of a planet of narrowing ice, warrior nuns with magical powers and a young girl with murder in her veins. I loved Nona, and Ara, and Sister Kettle and Sister Apple and how Nona learns how to control her powers and how Kettle teaches her to read (Just All Of It). And then I found the sequel, Grey Sister in the library and had to wait until it became available. I think myself lucky, the library could have not had it in the catalogue – it is possible I could have waited weeks.
This review will contain spoilers. So, if you haven’t read Red Sister yet, and have any intention of doing so. Please stop. If you haven’t read Red Sister and are on the fence, here is my review. If you have read Red Sister, and Grey well, Sister read on.
The first chapter of Grey Sister covers the Very Important Information of what happens to Sister Kettle once Nona has continued at the end of Red Sister, when Sister Apple finds her. Chapter two starts approximately two years later, as Nona and Zole enter Mystic Class, graduating Grey Class ahead of Ara, and her other friends. In the higher class, Nona (predictably) makes an enemy of popular, powerful Jolie who’s family hold positions of power beyond the convent walls. It’s not a good idea, but Nona isn’t one for thinking things through, she acts. And it isn’t helped by her new companion. And when the Inquisition come to Sweet Mercy, talk of heresy on their lips, Kettle helps Nona escape into a world she scarcely recognises from leaving it aged eight. But Nona still has a target on her back, and she is reminded of the importance of friendship in the shadows.
((Look, I am going to get this out straight away, and then we can carry on with the review quite happily. I have a huge crush on Sister Kettle. I wouldn’t fight Sister Apple (Poisoner/Mistress Shade) for her, but I spent the first half of the book terrified that there was a reason why there was so much focus on Kettle, and that the reason would Not Be Good. (phew – an acceptable kind of not good in the end). Right. On with the review.))
Grey Sister starts back at Sweet Mercy, back in lessons, back with bitchy girls and learning about thread-weaving and disguise and blade. It’s back with the old Sisters and some new. Abbess Glass’s point of view chapters open up a new dimension to the convent in the way the Sisters of Sweet Mercy (or the teachers staff room) relate to each other without the novices around, or relate to the girls. It’s also interesting to experience Abbess Glass’s certainty, her perception of events and its reach, and while you assume her plan is falling nicely into place, I didn’t have a clue as to what she was going to pull out of her habit. That’s one of the best things about this series – the surprise, the pacing, the shock.
However, whereas Nona doesn’t leave the convent except in her nightmares and her ranging two thirds of the way through Red Sister, we are given far more information about the world in the Corridor (the band of moonlight stopping the ice from advancing) and the powerful families and loyalties that permeate the outside world. And not only the Empire, we find out more about the Noi-Guin (assassins who were hired to murder Nona when she first arrived at Sweet Mercy) and people only mentioned in the first book, about the Ice, about shadow-weavers and survival. We even find out more about the Apple-Kettle-Safira problem. Perhaps its because Nona is older now, old enough to notice the layer beneath the visible in the world, and old enough to survive when she is thrown a huge curveball. Either way, it’s certainly interesting!
There are overarching themes of the importance of friendship, of not losing your temper, there’s this whole thing going on with Abbess Glass, that appearances can be misleading ect. But really, at it’s core? Its just awesome. It’s a vivid violent world, dominated by women with agency, covered in blood and usually underground. (And Sister Kettle is pretty much all of the above with shadows dancing under her skin.)
I read most of Grey Sister in one sitting, then spent half my lunch break reading as far as I could, then I had perhaps two to four chapters left when I had to go back. It was so frustrating, being that close to the end and not actually getting to finish! I felt like there could have been so much more after the ending (when I got there, after work) but I guess that’s what the next book is for – what comes next. Unfortunately, said book does not come out for another year (cry). The battle may be won, but the fight for the world has begun (ooh, that rhymes).
I have loved this series so far, and I have every intention of rereading at least once before the next book in the series comes out.