Series rating: 5/5
Genre: Fantasy, grimdark
Author: Mark Lawrence
Synopsis: 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
I just finished Holy Sister today and this is hands down one of the best series I have ever read. There is not one thing that I didn’t love about this. Straight up, 5/5 stars for each book on the series. Also, for those of you who like audiobooks, the narration for this series is top notch. I audiobooked all of them and it was just a great experience.
I’m going to try to insert some structure into this review so, first I’ll talk about the writing style. The whole series is kind of a frame story. Each book gives a glimpse into the present, or rather to the climax that the entire series is leading to as a prologue and epilogue. And then the rest of the book fills in some of the details. And that progresses with each book, with a little more making sense. I hope that makes sense. Each book then in turn is usually told in two different timelines. It sounds confusing when I try to explain it, but it’s actually very well done. It creates this suspenseful atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times. The writing is also very evocative and this is just all around such a well written series.
The world is really cool. The books are fairly short and heavily plot and character oriented, so the world is not very thoroughly explored. At the end of the series, there are still things that I have no explanation for. But it’s done well. We learn progressively about the world as the characters learn about it and that serves as much to drive the plot and characters forward as it does to flesh out the world. It’s just masterfully written. It might be a bit frustrating if you like very clearly defined magic systems such as Brandon Sanderson’s. This series definitely has a soft magic system, though it’s not as vague as say, A Song of Ice and Fire. I personally like both soft and hard magic systems and I really loved the magic in this series. There are multiple branches or aspects of the magic and I thought they’re all really cool. I thought the world was really cool.
I read Prince of Thorns by Lawrence as well and I didn’t like it as much for one main reason. Both this series and the Broken Empire series are set in a past-apocalyptic world where the people have kind of reverted to medieval-ish levels of technology, but they live in a world that used to be inhabited by technologically advanced people and there are vestiges of that. Which is a trope seen in many fantasies and one that I really enjoy, with one caveat. I don’t like it when that world is made out to be a future of Earth. At least not if there’s magic involved. It’s for some reason very jarring for me when that happens and it takes me out of the story and I just don’t enjoy it as much. And that’s what The Broken Empire series did, and I am so glad that this series was just set on some planet called Abeth. It’s all I needed for it to not be ruined for me. Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent.
The characters in this series are the best and Nona Grey is the best of the best. I don’t remember the last time I loved a main character as much as I love Nona. She is the most precious murderous nun in the world. She’s just so loyal and values friendship, which are two things I value so much and I feel like they’re so under-explored in books. So this story was just a balm for my soul. It’s so great to see Nona grow and the relationships that she forms and how those shape her and how she shapes others and ugh! It’s really hard to talk about the characters without spoiling anything, but just… amazing! Every single character is so amazing.
The story itself is fast paced and as I said before, keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s dark. I mean it gets super dark sometimes, but it’s also ultimately such a hopeful story. And those are my favourites. I classed it as a grimdark fantasy, but I’d say it fits better with the more recently coined subgenre of ‘hopepunk’. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can google it. But just to give you a feel of what I mean, you know that scene in The Two Towers, where Sam and Frodo were captured by Faramir and on their way to Gondor, but the Nazgul attacked and Frodo almost put on the ring and then almost killed Sam when he tried to help? And then Sam talks about “the great stories of old” and what made them stick with you? And Faramir hears and Gollum hears and Frodo hears and they’re all in the middle of a battle terrified and hopeless, but Sam somehow gives them hope and it’s a super powerful scene? Yeah, it’s that feeling. That’s hopepunk. And that’s exactly what this whole series feels like.
That’s all I can really say without any spoilers, so I will close by saying that I wholeheartedly recommend this series.