“Nothing is as cruel as a righteous man.”
While I didn’t enjoy Grey Sister quite as much as I did Red Sister, this book is a solid addition to the series and a credit to Mark Lawrence’s world-building and characterization.
Grey Sister picks up several months after the events of Red, with Nona now attending Mystic classes. Nursing murderous grudges and harboring a Demon hungry for blood, Nona’s humanity is placed at stake when she is banished from the convent and forced to flee from wealthy lords that would see her dead.
In my review of Red Sister, I expressed confusion about the world Nona lives in and how it works. Fortunately, the second book of the trilogy has put many of my questions to bed with a handy “Abeth 101,” followed by much more attention to world-building in the story. This was especially helpful, as Lawrence gets deeper into ship hearts, threadwork, and the Path.
That being said, Grey Sister has confirmed a suspicion I began to form while reading Red – that Lawrence prefers to introduce plot points and explain later. At the beginning of the book, readers are introduced to Keot, a Demon Nona has acquired after her battle with Raymel Tacsis. Keot is the evil version of a cricket on Non’a shoulder, constantly urging her to create violence and mayhem. This would have been a truly interesting bond to develop, but Lawrence drops us into the story with Nona already accustomed to her Demon, alluding to her struggles immediately after acquiring him rather than giving readers a front-row seat. This abrupt change, coupled with the fact that Keot never really does anything beyond encouraging Nona to act violently (which, arguably, did have some dire consequences), makes the Demon’s addition seem… pretty close to pointless, honestly. One can hope that Keot returns to fulfill a more concrete function in the third book, but I’m not holding my breath.
While I wasn’t wild about Keot, several other characters made up for his lack. Chief among these is Jolie Memsis, a vicious girl with a knack for threadwork. Jolie is one of those characters you just love to hate, and god, is she hateful. Other wonderful characters include Darla, Zole, and Kettle.
(A quick aside – after Red Sister, I had entertained hopes that Lawrence would develop Nona’s crush on Ara. That seems unlikely now, and while Regol is a charming character, I really had hoped we would see a main character LGBTQ relationship.)
The characters and world-building are chief among Grey Sister’s strengths, but they can’t completely account for the plot. Major plot points come across as contrived, particularly Nona’s banishment from the convent. In the first book, a similar banishment/execution is attempted, but Sister Glass diverts it by mutilating herself and elevating Nona to the important position as the Chosen One’s Shield. After all that, it seems odd that the banishment in Grey (already a recycled plot point) would occur so quickly.
Overall, while a worthy sequel to Red Sister, I did not find Grey Sister as strong or compelling as its predecessor. But I still look forward to the trilogy’s conclusion – Lawrence has crafted a dark, dangerous world full of intriguing magic, and I want to inhabit that world for as long as possible.