I still remember the way Prince of Fools took me by surprise following The Broken Empire trilogy and how I needed a little time to adjust to reading something so different from the same author. Both book series were very much character-driven. Jorg a merciless, broken, cold-blooded killer, but also fiercely intelligent and a philosopher at heart. Hence his tale, just like his worldview, became dark, gritty, dramatic, his observations clever and beautifully worded. Jalan was funny and shallow, hence in the Red Queen’s War the poetic prose had been largely replaced by humour, and instead of revenge-seeking massacres we embarked on epic adventures the protagonist got pulled into.
I thought I learned my lesson then, which was that you shouldn’t start reading a new Mark Lawrence work with fixed anticipations. He’s incredibly talented and instead of trying to replicate what he did well in the past, what already proved successful, he will want to push himself and see how far he can stretch those creative muscles, reaching into different tones, styles or even genres. So it’s best if we just let go our expectations and keep an open mind, because if we don’t and keep on looking for what we want to see in his new books we might miss entirely what he’s giving us instead.
And yet, Red Sister once again took me by surprise. It was such a departure from everything I’ve seen Mark write before. But at the same time it also allowed him to show off skills and qualities he couldn’t showcase in the previous books. One of these was the ability to present us with a larger cast and the complex ways their relationships move the story forward. While Jorg travelled with his brothers, he didn’t allow anyone too close to him, and so we only got a restricted, blurred picture of his companions, his relationships with them simple and without emotional complications. Jalan, similarly self-centered, cared little for most people around him. He had a unique friendship with Snorri, but otherwise we only occasionally managed to glimpse behind his well-guarded walls and it was even more seldom that his feelings towards others have influenced his actions. (Unless they were fear or lust, of course.)
Nona however has always been someone who wanted to belong, to be accepted, someone who loved her friends, even when they turned against her. She’s both curious about people around her and cares about them. Which in turn allows us to learn more about characters who one way or other are important to her, and see how these relationships grow, change and affect her life, her immediate environment and ultimately her whole world.
She’s also a hero, following a villain and an anti-hero in the previous trilogies, with a disposition towards good, towards helping others and making the world a better place. This might have also contributed towards the book’s popularity with readers, several of them who admittedly didn’t like The Broken Empire books very much enjoying The Book of the Ancestor. Red Sister in fact has a higher Goodreads rating than either Prince of Thorns or Prince of Fools and let me tell you now:
If you liked Red Sister, you’re going to love Grey Sister!
1. The strengths of the first book become even more prominent in the second
Once foundations of a story are properly laid down in a first book, (think worldbuilding, (both in a geographical and in a cultural/political sense), introducing the main characters, or understanding the basics of how the magic system works, etc.), the second book should allow the author to build on those foundations and raise the story to the next level. Mark Lawrence doesn’t so much as takes things to the next level but takes off from those foundations and shoots for the stars.
The characters become even clearer, easier to set apart, yet more complex, their relationships stronger, more vivid, more colourful. In turn readers will likely find themselves more emotionally attached, and not just to the main character, but to a number of them, so letting themselves to be moved even more by their story. Seeds that were carefully sown between the icy storylines a year previously spring to life now, blossoming into the main plot of the trilogy.
“Who’s got something to report?” Nona looked to Ruli first. Ruli was on gossip duty, gathering any snippet of information that leaked into the convent through its connections with the outside world. Ruli had a talent for both creating and gathering gossip.
“I do! I really do!” Jula stepped forward, half-raising her hand before remembering that she wasn’t in class.
“I was reading the appendices in Levinin’s older works. Everyone always quotes from the Seven Histories of Marn but—”
“What did you find?” Darla had even less patience for Jula’s booklore than the others.
“More about shiphearts in one page than I’ve discovered in all the books I’ve searched through since we started looking!” Jula grinned.”
2. Fewer classes
Reading a fair number of reviews since April I couldn’t help but note that in some cases people felt the classes were slowing the story down and they were eager to get to where they felt “things were happening.” I have to admit, this was something I also raised with Mark at the time of beta-reading, but he himself felt that they were important to understand how the magic system worked. Furthermore, he set out to write a magic school themed trilogy. How novices studied and trained there was very much part of the story itself. So if you didn’t enjoy them so much, fear not, there will be definitely fewer of those in the second book. And if you did enjoy them, you’ll be pleased to hear that those few that are yet to come will be really good!
“Zole got to her feet, scowling, as the Poisoner beckoned her to the front.
Sister Apple offered her a smile in return. ‘Now, Zole, tell me how much you love to dance.’ She raised a hand to forestall the objection. ‘And while you sell me the lie, also convince me, without using words, that you’re a native of Verity born to a merchant family of moderate wealth.’ In that moment the nun’s accent so mirrored that of Zole and Yisht that Nona could believe her born on the ice and raised for thirty years without sight of green.
‘I live to dance.’ Zole spoke through gritted teeth, tightening each word into something that sounded more like a Durnish sailor in pain than any subject of the emperor, let alone one of Verity’s moneyed class.”
3. There’s more humour in the second book
No, we won’t have anyone turning into Jalan Kendeth all of sudden. But there will be definitely more humour arising from situations and from the stark contrast of characters in the book. Some of this will be down to a new character called Keot. Having said that it’s best not to know who this Keot is prior to reading the story and I hope that none of the early reviews will spoil it for you. Just know that he’ll be a great addition to what’s ahead.
4. There’s also more action and more tension
Right from the beginning we get to worry about characters we grew fond of in the previous book. With the ice closing, the moon falling, the pressure grows on the world and on those who try to control it. Even the classes taking place won’t quite have that peaceful bliss to them anymore one might expect. With the inquisition’s deadly hand reaching into Sweet Mercy, its cold fingers trying to close around its prey, there’s a constant threat hanging over the Rock of Faith and it’s not the only one. Yet, it’s around the middle of the book when things really take off. Quite literally. In fact, it’s best to hide somewhere with the book from that point onwards, because chances are you won’t be able to put it down.
5. There’s even a little bit of romance – and not with whom you’d think!
Um… right. I won’t say anything about this one, not wanting to spoil it. Except that it’s all good.
It’s quite spectacular how all the story-lines come together at the final location of the book. There might have been things you didn’t fully understand, small ones you didn’t think particularly important, actions characters took or didn’t take, letting you wonder why – it all becomes clear here. All I can say is trust the author, have faith, even when things don’t fully make sense mid-story. It’s all leading to an ending that you’ll enjoy. It’s a triumph!
7. Another beautiful prologue and epilogue
They are once again beautiful, poetic, intriguing. They provide a very clever arc over the trilogy leading up to the main confrontation yet to come.
“The holy disdain anger, for what faith is not, at its core, about acceptance of things you cannot change? The wise call wrath unwise for few truths are to be found there. Those who rule us stamp upon rage for they see it clearly, knowing it for the fire that it is, and who invites such hungry flames among that which they possess?”
As always, you’ll also find a refresher at the beginning of the book, summarizing what’s important to remember from the first book.
I hope you found the post interesting and weren’t disappointed about so little revealed in advance. As you might have gathered I’m really against spoilers and believe that things work best if you find them out in the book. I literally fought for as little of the wordbuilding to be revealed in the blurb of Red Sister as possible, because for me the experience of realising what was going on as I read the chapters made a big difference. I loved how it all gradually became clear in the story. Like the sun rising over the land. I actually found it all so intense, I even dreamed about the focus moon one night. Anyhow, I didn’t want other readers not having the chance at experiencing the same thing. I remember reading a sentence in Mark’s outline for the publisher concerning the book. It said: “The universe is dying.” It struck me as one of the most sad yet somehow still beautiful lines I ever read. Would I have felt the same way upon reading about all the red stars surrounding Abeth and understanding what that might have meant? Or would the experience have been even more profound? I’ll never know now.
Grey Sister is out next April, and we already have one of the covers revealed: The US cover by ACE features once again a beautiful art from French artist Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme that you can see HERE. The UK cover is still under development and as far as I know HarperVoyager is also preparing different cover artwork for the RED SISTER paperback, which is due to be released in February.
Mark finished writing the third book of the trilogy, Holy Sister, in the summer of 2016, but it’s yet to be edited by his publishers and will be out, closing the trilogy, in 2019. He also started writing a second trilogy this year based in the same world, which is promising to be just as good or if possible, even better than the current one. So yes, good times ahead! We can certainly rely on him for more great books to come! He also needs to eat in the meantime however so if you enjoyed Red Sister please consider pre-ordering Grey Sister as pre-orders help authors and the publication of their upcoming books tremendously.
Since this is most likely my last post here in 2017, let me also wish you a great holiday season and a happy new year! I hope you enjoyed all the content and giveaways this year on the site!
For the art at the end of the blogpost I unfortunately couldn’t identify an artist on the internet apart from the signature visible on the art itself. If anyone would know who it is, please let me know!