by Mark Lawrence
They came against her as a child. Now they face the woman.
The ice is advancing, the Corridor narrowing, and the empire is under siege from the Scithrowl in the east and the Durns in the west. Everywhere, the emperor’s armies are in retreat.
Nona faces the final challenges that must be overcome if she is to become a full sister in the order of her choice. But it seems unlikely that Nona and her friends will have time to earn a nun’s habit before war is on their doorstep.
Even a warrior like Nona cannot hope to turn the tide of war. The shiphearts offer strength that she might use to protect those she loves, but it’s a power that corrupts. A final battle is coming in which she will be torn between friends, unable to save them all. A battle in which her own demons will try to unmake her. A battle in which hearts will be broken, lovers lost, thrones burned.
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS. I try to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, but I need to have a rant. I’d recommend reading this once you’ve finished reading Holy Sister yourself!
Oh Holy Sister, why did you have to do me dirty?
If you’ve been following my reviews you’ll know I was disappointed by Red Sister, but ended up loving Grey Sister far more than I expected to, so I was excited to get to this third and final book in the Book of the Ancestor trilogy. Usually I wouldn’t continue with a series if I don’t like the first book, but I will never turn down a book about assassin nuns.
Sadly Holy Sister fell flat for me, even listening to the audiobook narrated by Helen Duff who has been such a fantastic narrator for this series.
Holy Sister takes place in two timelines, one following on directly from where Grey Sister left off and the other leading up to the scenes we got glimpses of in Red Sister.
Throughout Red Sister there were scenes which jumped forward to an epic ‘final battle’ that we correctly assumed would take place in this third and final book. Unfortunately I think Red Sister set expectations far too high, because the final battle itself was a flop for me. The stakes simply didn’t feel high enough for me; Nona spent so much time away from the battle’s frontlines that there was no emotional impact when characters I knew were killed, and when characters are killed off, especially in a series finale, I expect to tear up.
Reader, not a single tear was shed.
Sister Pan, at least, got an amazing scene that completely stole the show and I adore her. It didn’t make me cry, but it did make me want to punch the air and pretend that I was also a badass assassin nun.
I think part of the reason I didn’t get upset, though, is because Holy Sister made me rather angry. There is one character death I just can’t forgive Lawrence for.
Why, dear god why, did he have to kill Apple? I am so mad! I love Kettle and Apple so much, I love them individually and I love them as a romantic couple, and while I completely understand that it’s a war and people die, I’m so annoyed that he had to give his awesome lesbian nuns an unhappy ending.
I’m particularly annoyed about this because they’re not the only LGBT+ couple to have an unhappy ending. Oh no. Two of the novices, whose romantic relationship Nona has regularly mentioned throughout the series, are also killed.
And then there’s Nona and Ara. I love Nona and Ara and I love their friendship and I love that there’s clearly something more there. What I don’t love is that we don’t get anything more intimate than holding hands. I know kissing isn’t the be-all and end-all of romantic intimacy, but if you’re going to kill three of your four other queer women (that we know of), could you at least let us have one kiss?
What especially bugs me about this is that I feel like the short story Bound (which is promoted as essential reading before Holy Sister and subsequently begs the question: why wasn’t it just included in Grey Sister or Holy Sister in that case?) was released to satisfy those of who would be disappointed in the lack of f/f content between Nona and Ara in this book.
I don’t want to downplay their friendship because I love their friendship and their love for one another is so evident, and friendship is far more important than romance in this series anyway which I really appreciate, but this series is so popular and is read so widely that I wish Lawrence had just given us one kiss, not the kind of scenario where it can be read as a close friendship or as something more depending on the reader’s personal feelings. Don’t pull a Rowling on us, Lawrence. You’re the author – if you want your characters to be romantically involved, show us that they’re romantically involved!
Despite all my ranting I did like the ultimate ending, I just wasn’t keen on how we got there. I was surprised by how rushed it felt, and also by how much Nona kept secret from the reader. There were one or two ‘big reveals’ that she’d arranged with Abbess Glass and they made perfect sense for the story, but I couldn’t understand why she kept them secret from the reader for so long when we’re experiencing the story from her perspective. It felt forced for the sake of having one final ‘ta-da!’ moment.
Also if someone could just kill Joeli, that’d be great, because she’s so irritating and not in a good way and to be honest so’s Clera. I get that Nona values friendship, but I felt like Nona forgave Clera far too easily.
Essentially this finale was a disappointment for me. I wanted to love it, but too many narrative choices got under my skin for me to completely enjoy it and I’m very sad about it.