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Book Review: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Title: Grey Sister

Author: Mark Lawrence

Series: Book of Ancestor #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Behind its walls, the Convent of Sweet Mercy has trained young girls to hone their skills for centuries. In Mystic Class, Novice Nona Grey has begun to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the convent, Nona must choose which order to dedicate herself to—and whether her path will lead to a life of prayer and service or one of the blade and the fist. All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the designs of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a knife, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord. As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she is sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pulls of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty. And in all this only one thing is certain: there will be blood. -Goodreads

The Review:

I hate to say it, but I think Grey Sister suffered from middle-book syndrome.

It kind of did the opposite of Red Sister, which started out slow and gained momentum. Grey Sister started out with a bang and engaged me with all the things I look for in a good fantasy. It was a nice continuation of the story that took place primarily in a school setting (I never get tired of school settings). There were also a lot of great character dynamics and some really interesting training scenes. Nona was testing her boundaries to see if she had the makings to be a “grey sister,” which was easily the highlight of the book for me.

The trouble is, none of those awesome things had anything to do with the second half of the book. By about the 75% I was seriously considering a DNF. What ultimately kept me reading was a general appreciation for the complex world and interesting cast of characters. And a mild curiosity over where the story would go next. I also really like Nona as a main character. She’s smart and resourceful without feeling too superhuman. It’s nice to finally see her start to open up her heart.

Although the last 50% had quick pacing and a lot of action scenes, it didn’t feel like anything was happing to advance the overall plot of the series. It felt like we were on one big tangent with no purpose other than as filler content. I acknowledge that it may serve a purpose in the greater scheme at some point (after all, I’ve no idea what’s planned next), but unfortunately for me it felt inconsequential and was a struggle to get through.

The world really has a lot of things going on – so many ideas left and right that it’s on the cusp of throwing in the kitchen sink. However they’re woven together well enough that it all seems to work. This last book has me feeling a slight Fifth Season (Jemisin) vibe and I really like where the overall story is developing. I think my profound interest in that is both why I want to continue reading, but also why I was so disappointed in the lack of expansion.

Series status: downgraded. I’d like to see where the story goes next, but have to admit I’m no longer eager to pick it up asap.

Recommendations: I think there are a lot of cool elements to this series. It currently lands itself in the middle of my recommendation spectrum. I buddy read this with my Goodreads group and, while most agreed it lost momentum in the second half, I think they all liked it more than I did, so take my rating with a grain of salt. ;P [I wrote this review and assigned a rating, then I checked how others rated it on Goodreads… I’m definitely the anomaly here].

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Title: Red Sister

Author: Mark Lawrence

Series: Book of the Ancestor #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist. But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse. Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive… – Goodreads

The Review:

Red Sister surprised me in quite a few ways. I’d heard a lot about this author’s Broken Empire Trilogy, and much of the hearsay led me to believe I wouldn’t enjoy those books because of difficult subject-matter. However, when the author offered me a review copy of Red Sister, I decided to accept it… with reservations.

As it turns out, I didn’t need any. Red Sister was a really good first installment of The Ancestor series. What surprised me the most was how beautiful his writing and composition was. Very lyrical, but always careful not to overwhelm the story. The same could be said about his world building – it was a subtle integration of details that gradually described the interesting ailments of this world. There were a lot of cool ideas that I can’t wait to see expanded on in the next book.

My favorite part of the story was Nona, the main character. She was such an enigma! As with the world-building, Lawrence revealed bits and pieces about her past as the story went along, and I enjoyed diving into the mystery of it. She was a very compelling character. [Spoiler] highlight to reveal: Nona thought she was a monster, but found a home and friendship with these sisters even though, deep down, she didn’t believe she deserved it. Watching her find a place in this convent and become a cherished member was easily my favorite part of Red Sister – so profound! [End Spoiler]

Red Sister primarily takes place in a convent where the Sisters train on everything from spiritual focus (involving a bit of magic) to hand-to-hand combat. I love school settings as is, but it was cool to read about one in a dark and gritty context. But thankfully it wasn’t too dark, as some of his other works are rumored to be (which I’m sure are still good books, as lots of people really like them. I’m just too squeamish). Red Sister wasn’t nearly as gritty as I was prepared for, containing just enough to make the events realistic and intense without being off-putting.

Overall, Red Sister is a book I’ll be thinking about for a while. I’d recommend it to fantasy readers who don’t mind a little blood and gore. It’s definitely worth your time.

Thank you, Mark Lawrence, for the opportunity to read and review Red Sister. :)

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by Niki Hawkes