Holy Sister (Book of the Ancestor #3) by Mark Lawrence

Holy sister is the final book in the Ancestor series and brings to a conclusion Nona’s story.  If you haven’t read the first two books then this review may contain spoilers so be aware of that before reading this (although I do try to avoid spoilers as a general rule).

To be honest, and before I say anything further about Holy Sister I must confess that I find myself totally in awe – I’ve read three complete series by this author and every single book has been a five star read for me.  If you read fantasy and like your speculative fiction to sit within the grimdark genre then you should be reading Mark Lawrence.  I grow tired of repeating the same things in each review and perhaps need to come up with something different but for consistency’s sake I’ll say it yet one more time.  Mark Lawrence writes incredibly well.  I love his writing first and foremost but then he also has the ability to bring a much longer game into play whenever he creates a story. If you’ve read the first book in this series you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when you pick up this final instalment.  His imagination and creativity is amazing, he writes his characters into the most ridiculously difficult situations but then gives them ways to get out of them when it feels otherwise hopeless.  Here he’s taken a nunnery, I kid you not, and turned it into a school of novices, not only for those wishing to take holy orders but those wishing to take a much more lethal way of life.  I think when this author started the Ancestor series I’ll admit I thought it was a bit of a risk.  Here he’s taken a young girl as his main focus and placed her as a novice.  It doesn’t really sound like your usual grimdark fayre and yet it works brilliantly.  It’s a bold move that paid off and one that I think will hold appeal to a much wider audience.  To be clear, Nona is not Harry Potter.  There is still bloodshed and death painting these pages but none of it is there for the sake of it and the grim surroundings and brutal lifestyle all help to lend extra focus to the friendships found within these pages.

I’m not going to talk about the story.  The series in its entirety is plotted to perfection and you need to read to the end in order to get the full picture.

The story is told in two timelines.  The ‘present’, which sees Nona coming towards the end of her novice training. We’ve jumped forward three years, the ice is encroaching and with it the advance of two armies, one from the east and one from the west with the Emperor firmly ensconced in the middle.  Things don’t look good, it’s highly likely that the novices won’t complete their training before being recruited into battle and Nona and her friends are conspiring together, yet again, to try and find a solution.  In case you’re asking what happened after Grey Sister.  Well, the other storyline picks up directly after the conclusion of that book.  Nona and her companions have escaped death and have a brief reprise but they still need to return to safety and Zole is carrying a prized possession that will lead their enemies to them.  Acting as decoys Zole and Nona take to the ice.

What I loved about this.

The setting is brilliantly imagined.  This is indeed a brutal world – mostly covered in thick ice with just a thin corridor of habitable space that is slowly shrinking and creating desperation in the surviving population.  The wars here are not ones about money and power but more a simple matter of survival.

The characters.  Well, I think everyone will have their own favourites of course.  Nona is an excellent character and one that I feel a lot of readers will love.  She values friendship and its this quality that gives her such desperation within the pages of Holy Sister when she has to make difficult choices about who to save first!  Here is a person who can forgive and it’s really unexpected, put simply she never wants to give up on a friendship when it can still be redeemed and she makes some very unusual decisions here related to promises.  Zole, wow, what a character.  Her arc was quite unexpected, well, in some ways it was expected but in others it was completely surprising,  She is still cool as a cucumber and totally badass.  I really liked her and I had a stomach clenching moment when reading this – but I’m not going to tell you why.  Nona also has a small group of very close friends, closest among them being Ara.  The two have a beautiful friendship that blossoms into something more. Then we have the Sisters.  My giddy aunt.  I love these women.  Abbess Glass plays the long game, even when she’s no longer around she’s in fact still meddling, she has a longer game than Lawrence himself in fact.  Sister Apple and Sister Kettle – I love them both.  I think Kettle is probably my favourite although in this instalment Sister Pan definitely showed what she’s made of – and it’s pretty awesome stuff!  Where did that come from!!  I don’t want to give away spoilers though so my lips are sealed yet again.

What more can I possibly say without giving away plot points.  I could tell you to read this series.  I strongly recommend it, in fact I beg you to read it, I just want you to be happy after all, you can thank me later.

Any criticisms.  No.  But, I will just mention that the ending is sort of bittersweet.  There is war amongst these pages and it’s never pretty and almost always unforgiving.  Characters die.  I expected it and yet it was still shocking.  I didn’t want anyone to die and yet at the same time I knew it was inevitable.  What I can say is that the death here was not contrived but felt like a natural part of the story.

I picked up Red Sister with trepidation and then said in my review ‘it’s a great start’.

I devoured Grey Sister in a couple of days and then said it had ‘paved the way for something that promises to be dramatic’.

I can finish my review of this series by concluding that the end was indeed dramatic.  Holy Sister is a wonderful conclusion to a thoroughly entertaining series. I raced through the pages of this book and in some ways that gives me regret because really I wanted to stay longer in this unforgiving world but, the beauty of all of this is that I can read it all again!  I closed this book feeling totally satisfied and with a massive book hangover.  What more can I possibly say.  Read this series.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

22 Responses to “Holy Sister (Book of the Ancestor #3) by Mark Lawrence”

  1. Captain's Quarters

    I have to admit that I skimmed this review because I still haven’t read book two yet. Glad to hear that ye thought this one was wonderful.
    x The Captain

    • @lynnsbooks

      This is such a good series, I can’t wait to read your thoughts on the next two books.

  2. Tammy

    Wonderful review, Lynn. So sad I never started this series, but I know after reading your review I’m making it a priority.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Haha, I hope you get a chance to pick this series up – but, I know what your book schedule is like!
      Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Something tells me that while I could not find it in myself to sympathize with Jorg, I might end up liking Nona quite a bit… 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I think you will enjoy Nona, and it would give you a chance enjoy ML’s writing.
      Lynn 😀

  4. sjhigbee

    What a fabulous review, Lynn:)). Although I couldn’t get on with Prince of Thorns – I might be able to cope with this one!

    • @lynnsbooks

      This is such a good series to be honest. Although, to be fair, I’ve loved all his series, but, I like to think that I can figure out which series will be better for which person. The Jalan series was very good, in fact I loved it and it’s really very different from his first series, quite old school in a way. This third series though, Oh yes, this will appeal to so many more people, imho, I would like to know what you think if you ever get a chance to pick it up.

      • sjhigbee

        Thank you for the recommendation, Lynn:)

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    All I’m seeing are great reviews for this book! I am hoping this will be my next read, so I skimmed the more detailed parts of your review, but I am looking forward to now more than ever!

    • @lynnsbooks

      This was such a good ending, Yes, people die, but, yeah, a great ending to series.

  6. Jules_Writes

    Great review! I really want to start this series soon.

    I’m happy to have found your blog 😀

  7. Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky

    I had do a squinty-eyed pirate impression during some parts of your review because I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m SO glad it was a win for you!! I haven’t been disappointed by any of Lawrence’s 3rd books yet, so I have high hopes. 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think your high hopes will be met with this book.
      Lynn 😀

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  9. waytoofantasy

    So glad you loved this one, Lynn! I do want to read this series at some point myself, if only my tbr wasn’t so huge! I did start Red Queens War (his second series iirc) and quite enjoyed the first one.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I completely feel where you’re coming from. I’ve been trying so hard to be reasonable and even after showing (what to me felt like considerable) restraint I still have two very busy months ahead.
      Lynn 😀

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