“Moons might rise and fall, empires wax and wane, even the stars come and go, but there are constants too, and though the story of our kind is ever-changing it is also always the same.”
It’s always a joy and a relief when a trilogy sticks the landing, and Mark Lawrence has done a fine job bringing Nona’s story to a close. A dark, thrilling adventure from start to finish, Holy Sister ensnares readers in the world of Abeth even as the story reaches its end.
Holy Sister follows two plotlines. In the first – immediately following the events of Grey Sister – Nona and Zole trek across the vast ice encircling their world, fleeing Sherzal’s forces and fending off demons with the malignant power of the Shipheart. In the second, years later, Nona and her friends seek answers to the mysteries of their moon while the Scithrowl hordes swarm toward Verity, bent on killing anyone who stands in their way.
Holy Sister shares all the important hallmarks of the Book of the Ancestor series – namely, the grim tone, the intricate but all-encompassing world-building, and the strong women. Nona Grey lives in a harsh world, one where cruelty is commonplace and being a young woman will stop no one from trying to kill you. (It’s just as well, since the ladies are some of the most dangerous citizens of Abeth.) The story builds on the unique world-building established in Red and Grey Sister, delving into mythology about demons and life beyond the Corridor. Nona and her friends continue to be ultimate badasses, relying on friendship and sisterhood to kick their enemies in the metaphorical balls. All the best of this trilogy comes to the forefront of Holy Sister.
The characterization is spot-on, giving readers a chance to see Nona and the others grow and mature. We have Nona herself, still angry and a little feral, but learning to control her inner demons and show her enemies mercy. A large cast of characters supports Nona, filled with distinct personalities and motivations. Some of the best are Ruli, Jula, Zole, Sister Kettle, and Sister Pan. It says a lot about Lawrence’s writing ability that his characters can shine so brightly despite having little screen time.
(Also, without spoiling too much – I loved Sister Pan’s “Hulk” moment. Others who have finished the book will understand.)
There are a few spots where Holy Sister staggers in the long sprint that is the entire book. The dual narrative style forces the adrenaline rush of one plot to halt, rendering the pacing stilted. In fact, aside from creating some short-lived tension, this narrative style didn’t do much for the book. It would have been a more straightforward building of tension to rearrange the story in a linear fashion. Furthermore, while Lawrence writes an exciting story, the constant high-octane rush of the second act threatens to dull the emotional impact of later scenes.
Lastly, there is a bit of romance. Without getting too detailed, I have to say this: I wanted to like it. I loved the idea of it. But with so much of the plot dedicated to action and war, there wasn’t enough room for the romance to flourish. In the end, my lasting impression was, “Well, that’s pretty cool,” when it could have been, “Holy shit, that was AWESOME!”
Little complaints aside, Holy Sister is an excellent end to the Book of the Ancestor trilogy. I’m so glad I took this first foray into Lawrence’s writing, and if Nona and her friends are anything to go by, I will absolutely have to check out his other work.