I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher. While I am thankful for the gift, the giving of it had no impact on this review. All views below are completely my own.
Holy Sister keeps you on the edge of your seat from the first page. It’s an incredibly smart conclusion to a standout, action-packed series, with heartbreak and triumph mingled on nearly every page. I can’t remember the last time I felt so satisfied upon finishing a book.
“Some lessons must be written in scars.”
In this book we’ve finally come full circle, experiencing the stunning introduction to Red Sister in real time. The novices we’ve come to know and love over the course of this trilogy are now nearly grown, forced to prematurely take their vows in the face of war-laced apocalypse. As the moon weakens and ice encroaches from the north and the south, the only land left to fight over is the small Corridor of yet unfrozen terrain around circling the middle of Abeth. And there just isn’t room for everyone.
“North and south the ice squeezed and all the nations of the Corridor bled.”
“A million words won’t push the ice back, not even the breadth of a finger. But one word will break a heart, two will mend it, and three will lay the highest low.”
Grey Sister presented us with a tale from two perspectives. In Holy Sister we are again seeing things entirely through Nona’s eyes, but are alternating time frames, hopping between present day and three years ago, as we see what happened in the immediate aftermath of Grey Sister’s climax. As we progress, we see how and why Nona makes the decisions she does, and what kind of impact that has on those around her. Nona’s character development over the course of this series is mind-blowing. She’s one of the bravest, coldest, most loving characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. She’s a calculating badass who throws herself into danger with almost no fear of what might befall her, but she will go to any lengths necessary to protect those she loves even as she uses them. And those she loves are numerous. I would have never thought when I first met her in Red Sister that Nona would have one of the biggest hearts in fiction, but she undoubtably does. I can say without qualm that she’s my favorite heroine in the fantasy genre.
“I must caution you. Nona Grey could tear this street open to the bedrock to see you dead, and level the houses all around us. She could blast you with such force that the amulets your gold has purchased would burn and fall to dust. And before I could take a single step to stop her you would all be smoking offal amid the ruin… You should know that I would do everything in my power to bring her to the emperor’s justice after such an outburst. But it would be scant consolation to your corpses.”
As much as I love Nona, I feel that the true hero of this series is Abbess Glass. The way she sees the world and its most probable futures is insane, but her ability to recruit others to serve as her knowing and willing pawns is even more astounding. She is everything I love about characters such as Gandalf and Dumbledore and McGonagall all mingled into one person. I’m just so blown away by her. I am also incredibly impressed by the development the author gave to many of the other nuns, especially the likes of Pan, Wheel, and Tallow. What Lawrence was able to do here was show that any female, whether aged or youthful, regardless of talent or skill level or interests, has the capacity to be a hero of epic proportions. I have never read another book or series with so many strong, well-developed, completely epic female characters, let alone but a male author. I applaud Lawrence so much for this amazing cast of nuns and novices.
“…the application of knowledge could unlock doors that her flaw-blades couldn’t so much as scratch, and it could bring down those so mighty that no feat of arms would stay their hand.”
“To sow knowing that you will not reap is an old kind of love, and love has always been the best key for unlocking the future.”
I also want to take a moment to recognize Lawrence’s wonderful way with words. He paints lovely pictures with his sentences, and they are a pleasure to read. I would consider this series literary fantasy, as the writing is not only important but almost a character in its own right. Consider this sentence as an example:
“The fighter was young, still in his early twenties perhaps, and his muscles crowded along his bones, the battle for space heaping them up in great, veined mounds.”
I think that is a marvelous description, one I can clearly envision while also appreciating the way Lawrence built the sentence. Because that’s how I feel about Lawrence’s prose; it’s not written, but crafted. The quote below is one of the most important realizations of the book, in my opinion, and it’s such a beautiful sentiment that I had to share it here. I’ve removed all possible spoilers and tried to only include the most philosophical elements.
“At Sweet Mercy they made a weapon of me. They honed every skill into a sharp edge. They put a sword in my hand, because there will always be foes who much be opposed, always violence that much be met with violence.
But that is not the heart of Sweet Mercy. It was always the faith. Always the notion that all men and women are our brothers and sisters. And that faith doesn’t end with borders. It doesn’t care about heresies use to divide us, or whether you speak your prayers to a white star, or to the fields and forests and stones…
Not as a weapon but as a tool. As a healer might used the knife, sometimes to cut, but ultimately to heal.”
I can’t recommend this trilogy highly enough. Whether you’re a fantasy fan or not, this is a series well worth your time. It has so much to offer to so many, and I dearly hope that it acquires the audience and notoriety it deserves. I feel that Nona’s story offers many profound lessons that could bring our world healing and understanding of one another if we would all take its words to heart. There is tragedy in Holy Sister, and the mourning it brings, but there is also vitality and passion and selflessness. It’s a beautiful book that I can’t wait for the world to read.
“Moons might rise and fall, empires wax and wane, even the stars come and go, but there are constants, too, and thought the story of our kind is ever-changing it is also always the same.”
All above quotations were taken from an uncorrected proof, and are subject to change upon publication.
Expected publication date: April 9, 2019
You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!