“There are some lessons that must be written in scars.”
Grey Sister is an action-packed thrill ride that packs a heavy emotional punch. It’s everything a second book in a trilogy should be. So many writers miss that mark when it comes to a middle book, but not so with this series. There was not a single chapter that felt boggy or unimportant to me; I was entranced by every page. Lawrence took the story and relationships he crafted in Red Sister and managed to make them both more playful and more poignant and, most importantly, more powerful. I have never come across another fictional character to whom friendship is more important and personality-defining as it is with Nona Grey. I think this quote illustrates that importance beautifully:
“Those…are my friends and I would die for them. I would face a terror for them that I haven’t the courage to stand against on my own behalf.”
During the first half of the book, we get more focus on the school setting that won my heart in Red Sister. I love everything about the descriptions of Sweet Mercy convent. I love the classroom setting, and how each class and teacher is so radically different from one another. I love that Nona still stuffs herself in the dining hall, as if a plate with food still on it is an affront to her. I love the battle training in the Blade Hall. I love dorm life and Nona’s battles with classmates turned enemies and her secret wanderings into hidden places with her friends. School stories have always been special to me, and I think they always will be. Nona’s story is now among my favorites in that category. However, the story doesn’t stay within the walls of Sweet Mercy, and the story takes some crazy turns from there.
“Your enemies make you what you are. Your foes shape your life more than friends ever could.”
Something that set this book apart from its predecessor was the inclusion of another perspective in the storytelling. Instead of seeing the entire tale through Nona’s eyes, we are also witnessing the experiences of Abbess Glass. I was thrilled to get a peak inside her mind, because I think the Abbess is a wonderfully complex character. She doesn’t have the crazy strengths and abilities demonstrated by so many of her novices. No, her gifts are far more subtle. The best literary comparison I can thing of for her would be Lord Varys, the Spider from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Abbess Glass is playing a long and deep game, and knows how to pull strings and plant ideas without anyone being the wiser. However, I find her to be much kinder and more caring than Varys, and much more likely to use herself as a player on the board instead of being content to orchestrate behind the scenes. I find her highly compelling, and the trade-off between her and Nona’s perspectives kept the story feeling fresh.
“When strength is in your hands there is a temptation to lash out against what looks like injustice. But our rules are all we have to stop everyone from lashing out, each to their own sense of justice. Battles are better fought within the system, even when it seems broken.”
As I stated earlier, there was an insane amount of action in this book. I think that Nona is the most badass character I’ve ever come across in fiction, male or female. Her sense of self-preservation is impressive when she’s alone but flies completely out the window if one of her friends is in danger. I have never met another character so free with their love and so fiercely protective of those who have won her affections. I’ve also never seen anyone so freely admit their faults or so canny in their ability to use said faults to their benefit. I know the quote below is long, but I feel like it perfectly sums up Nona’s view toward her internal struggle with rage:
“The holy disdain anger, for what faith is not, at its core, about acceptance of things you cannot change? The wise call wrath unwise for few truths are to be found there. Those who rule us stamp upon rage for they see it clearly, knowing it for the fire that it is, ad who invites such hungry flames among that which they possess?
To Sister …, though, fury was a weapon… There is a purity in rage. It will burn out sorrow. For a time. It will burn out fear. Even cruelty and hatred will seek shelter; rage wants none of them, only to destroy. Rage is the gift our nature gives us, shaped by untold years. Why discard it?”
I find her understanding of herself incredibly compelling.
I am also insanely impressed with Lawrence’s prose. Book of the Ancestor is the first of his series that I’ve read, but every element of his writing style just absolutely works for me. He has a beautiful way with words, and knows how to weave metaphors seamlessly and powerfully into his descriptions. For example:
“The sword Cage held offered its sharpness to the world and the Corridor wind, divided by its edge, hissed in pain.”
Isn’t that a beautiful description of the sound the wind makes? I could hear it as I read that line. He also has some profound things to say that serve as great commentary of and words of wisdom for the time in which we live. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
“The understanding that power corrupts is an idea older than the language we repeat it in.”
“The world is not changed by individual acts of violence, no matter how good the cause.”
“The greatest threat to any faith is not other faiths or beliefs but the corruption and division of its own message.”
I agree with all of these so strongly, and Lawrence stated them so well, that these are lines that will stay with me.
“There are many poisons that will induce madness but none perhaps quite so effective as love.”
Love comes in many forms, and we see them all in this series. Romantic love, maternal love, love between friends, and even darker loves, such as love of power and of self. Love is often portrayed as a source of weakness, and we see it as such in both Red Sister and Grey Sister. But it is also presented as a source of strength, which I absolutely believe it is.
“Trust is the most insidious of poisons.”
I can’t recommend this series enough. I have my fingers crossed that Holy Sister will be a mind-blowing ending to Nona’s story. If that wish is fulfilled, Book of the Ancestor will be among by favorite trilogies I’ve ever read, without question. If you love school settings as much as I do, you’ll love this. If you like your books pack with nearly nonstop action and epic fight scenes, you will definitely get that with Nona’s tale. If you prefer your fantasy packed with girl power, you can’t find a more powerful group of women than those residing in Sweet Mercy. Nona is a phenomenal protagonist, and I can’t wait to see where she takes us next.
”I am my own cage.” She lifts her sword. “And I have opened the door.”
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