Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Grey Sister, by Mark Lawrence

         It’s entirely unnecessary to state (but I must!) that once again Mark Lawrence has all his readers by the scruff of the neck from the first page of this second book in his fantasy the Ancestor trilogy:  little Red Sister Nona Grey (see review below) has gone from strength to strength at the Convent of Sweet Mercy, presided over by her rescuer and mentor, Abbess Glass – a person whose powers compared to her charges, seem negligible until called upon to prevent the bloodshed and murder that threatens her community on an almost regular basis, for the Convent of Sweet Mercy is regarded as the home of a monstrous traitor, a novice guilty of the heinous crime of killing the heir of one of the country’s most powerful noble families.  Nona Grey is the killer, and the Abbess is regarded as just as guilty for sheltering her.
            The Abbess is taken prisoner and removed from the Convent to stand trial.  Nona is forced to flee from the only real home and haven she has ever experienced but is comforted by the knowledge that she has made firm friends and loyal allies among the novices and tutors;  if they can they will follow her and protect her as much as their powers will permit:  in the meantime she must fend for herself in a hostile world, accompanied by a truly nasty new character who, when Nona dispatched Raymel Tacsis to the Hell he deserved at the end of Book One, transferred itself to her ‘because she enjoyed killing Tacsis’.  Keot is a devil, a ruthless, evil presence that had to look for a new home when Raymel breathed his last, and where better to reside than Nona Grey when she is in the midst of a killing frenzy?  Perfect.
            Nona’s new ‘lodger’ is a thorn in her side, full of bad advice, i.e. anyone remotely suspicious on Nona’s travels should be rubbed out, wiped out and generally stubbed out;  if his counselling is not followed (and it never is)  he shrieks with rage or goes into a sulk.  He is not the ideal travelling companion, but when the chips are down – especially then, for he and Nona are captured more than once by fearsome creatures called the Noi Guin:  then, his advice is sound, his ‘solutions’ effective and instant, and Nona (for once) is glad that she has him.  The Noi Guin are assassins, hired by the late Raymel Tacsis’s grieving father to track her down and imprison her so that he can take his time giving her the slow death she deserves. How she escapes them all to wreak a terrible vengeance is heart-in-the-mouth suspense of the highest order.
Once again Mark Lawrence satisfies his legions of fans admirably, leaving us all clamouring for the third book – the final showdown, the last battle for supremacy between Good and Evil:  Magic!  And I hope Keot features again;  for a thoroughly nasty little creature he is really quite endearing.  FIVE STARS.  
Red Sister, by Mark Lawrence

            Well.  Mark Lawrence has done it again:  sucked me into his latest fantasy adventure from the first page – effortlessly, his story-telling skills buffed and polished from his first two trilogies, ‘The Broken Empire’ and ‘The Red Queen’s War’.  And so he should:  I would expect nothing less from the creator of murderous anti-hero Prince of Thorns Honorous Jorg Ancrath, or his opposite number Prince of Fools Jalan Kendeth, known chiefly for his good looks, shameless behaviour, and ability to hide or run like the wind at the first sign of danger.
            Now, Mr Lawrence introduces us to the Red Sister, the first book in The Ancestor trilogy.  Once again he has created a character as huge in spirit and soul as she is small and malnourished, for Nona, called Grey for the part of the narrow land from which she was sold to a Child-Taker, has unique powers, powers she is too young to understand or harness. All she knows is a world that is gradually being consumed by mile-high walls of encroaching ice, for the sun has died and all humankind has now to nurture life on the planet is an artificially developed Focus Moon.  Every night it casts its square (yes, square!) red warmth over the landscape and melts what the ice has claimed.
            There are still towns and cities, rich and poor, and Nona is dirt-scrabble poor.  She cannot understand why her mother and the head man of the village sold her – no, GAVE HER AWAY, so that she eventually ends up being sold to a Fight Master, who fattens her up with a view to training her to fight for money.  Her life is tolerable – the food is more than she has ever seen in her life! – and Nona actually makes a friend, a little girl called Saida:  perhaps she will survive after all.  Until an act of sadism towards her only friend causes Nona to wreak a terrible vengeance against the guilty one, the eldest son of one of the richest aristocratic families:  she and Saida are thrown into prison, ready to be hanged.
            It goes without saying that poor little Saida is sacrificed to the rope (and the plot);  Nona’s rescuer in the nick of time is Abbess Glass of Sweet Mercy convent:  by fair means (and foul) she manages to bring Nona within the shelter of her convent’s fortress walls, there to harness and train for good the propensity to violence and murder that rage can provoke within Nona’s skinny frame – and to discover eventually that Nona has no need of weapons with which to kill:  her hands and her anger are the only weapons she needs to vanquish whole armies, if need be.  WOW!!
            And again, Mr Lawrence teases us with his rocket science theories (well, he knows what he’s talking about) by intimating, despite the settings of medieval pomp and pageantry - not to mention squalor – that the world being overtaken by an inexorable Ice Age is not the original planet that existed;  rather, it was the destination of everyone’s forebears who travelled through the heavens in great ships, looking for a world that still had a bright sun.
            As always, Mr Lawrence leaves us all shouting for more – he simply cannot produce the sequel fast enough:  I want to start it NOW!  FIVE STARS

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