Holy Sister

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 May 2019

Member Reviews

Holy Sister is the conclusion to Mark Lawrence’s ‘Book of the Ancestor’ trilogy. Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Lawrence’s work, and that I thoroughly enjoyed both previous parts of the trilogy. I went into this book with high expectations, and I have to say at the outset, those expectations were more than met.

To me, this is a story about family, and about affection, and the ties that bind us all to each other. It’s about struggling with strangeness, and with finding the meaning in your own lives, and those of others. It’s a story about taking hard decisions, and about forgiveness. By this time, I imagine you’re familiar with Nona, whom we’ve followed from her somewhat unfortunate childhood, through her time in the convent of warrior-nuns and into the present. If not, I’d say the first word I’d use to describe her is ‘fierce’. Possibly alongside ‘bloody stubborn’ or, if pressed, maybe just ‘bloody’. Nona has an absolute loyalty to those she has decided are her friends, a quality which gleams in the underbrush of every paragraph. If not the smartest of her peer group (albeit due to some very strong competition), she’s certainly also a fast thinker, and one able to do so under pressure. But  she remains the sum of her flaws as well as her best parts; the events which have shaped her and left her with a sharp edge have also gifted her with a fast-rising temper, and the skills to make a red mist out of anyone who happens to be standing too close when it blows.

I’ve got a lot of time for Nona. She’s an amalgam if her experiences – the broken reeds of childhood, the intense need for family, for acceptance, the desire to do more, to do better. The fiery drive that works with her rage to move mountains. Like all of us, she’s not a hero or a villain in her head, but a person, broken and re-forged in each moment, trying to make the best decisions she can, and deciding what matters to her. There’s pain between the lines of these pages, raw and honest; but there’s joy as well, and the scintillating prose gives both an equal depth and truth.

This is Nona’s story, and it explores her connections into the found family she’s built for herself. I won’t go through one by one (for fear of spoilers if nothing else), but I’ll say this: they all have a part to play. This is Nona’s story, but she isn’t surrounded by ciphers. Her friends are as vividly alive as they ever were, and you can see their minds ticking over and their blood pumping. They’re people too, a strong ensemble behind the lead. They help to guide Nona, they help shape her decision, and in many cases, they help to execute them as well. They share her concerns, hopes and fears, and they feel too, taking on the burden of her world and sharing their own. This connection, this sense of togetherness, seems an accent on the larger theme. It’s also worth mentioning the antagonists, who have a tendency to be intelligent, mildly unpleasant, and utterly ruthless. Maybe they’re the heroes of their own stories. There’s certainly no moustache twirling here, just individuals, organisations and nations with incompatible goals, and a desire to see themselves win out. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t get bloody. But does mean that when it does, the emotional and narrative stakes feel higher. This is a book which isn’t pulling any punches.

Okay, so Nona is raw and vital and honest and fun to read. Great. And her friends are people too, well-crafted, vivid characters that give us different insight into her world and facets of Nona’s character. Fantastic! And the villains are cunning and terrifying. Marvellous!

But what about the story?

The story is an absolute firecracker.

I’ve now tried to describe it several times here without spoilers. I’ll say this. Lawrence is a master at building narrative tension. At making you chew your nails and turn pages wanting to know what happens next. At cutting away as everything builds to a seeming crescendo, leaping onto another thread, and winding the screw a little tighter. There’s a lot going on in these pages. All of it is important. All of it is intriguing. And I wanted to know what was going on with all of it, all at once.
The climax, when it arrives, is an absolute tour-de-force. In a story with revelation, betrayal, with grief and murder and love and joy interweaving with each other, the close is a ray of light which feels like a kick in the gut. And the denouement has the sort of emotional heft which can leave you in tears, can demolish the reader entirely, in fact.

Is that too fluffy?

Okay. If you’re not just here for the characters, for the closure, for the feels, I can promise you this:
The world is still there, and the story takes us to places we’ve never seen before. There’s ice and darkness, there’s new questions and even a few answers. There’s battles which aren’t just talking about rivers of blood, but showing human fear and courage and the price of resistance. But the blood’s there too – there’s scenes which will take your breath away with their terror and grandeur, and ones which will bring you to your feet with their immediacy. There’s sweat and dirt and tears in here, there’s intimacy amid the great sweep of armies. There’s a story which wraps all of these things together, and will make you feel them, feel this world and these people as sharply as a razor-cut.

Holy Sister is, truly, a revelation, It’s a conclusion which will leave you satisfied but also wanting more. It’s an ending and a beginning, and it’s, seriously, a bloody good story.
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This book was a phenomenal conclusion to a phenomenal series. I laughed, and cried both happy and sad tears. The two timelines were masterfully worked together. There were times that things were hinted at, that only made you more curious to keep reading, hoping and praying that you're wrong. 

Our beloved characters are back in action, picking up right where we left off in Grey Sister and also 3 years in the future, where Nona is planning a heist with her follow novice friends. One thing leads to another and all the political enemies come at her. 

I LOVED THIS. I want more =(
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I shall start this review with the same words I have started my reviews for both books one and two of this series… Mark Lawrence is a genius. Without going into too much detail in order to avoid spoilers, I will share a few thought about the author and the story he has chosen to tell once my book hangover lessens.

Great. Shall we begin?

“It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.”

Holy Sister continues where Grey Sister leaves off, and then takes the reader three years forward to the present, where a seventeen-year-old Nona battles not only her own decision as to which order to join, but also the advancing ice, and the invading hordes demanding their place in the corridor. The two timelines interweave seamlessly, and Lawrence is a master at this, as his Broken Empire trilogy is told in the same vein. Each section ends in such a way that demands the reader continue page after page, desperate to know what happens next. This created an emotional, fast-paced, heart-pounding, tension-filled read that made this reader question whether sleep was necessary at all.

My findings? Sleep is for the weak!

I can’t leave this review without gushing over Lawrence’s character development, most importantly the fierce friendships and loyalty that Nona has for her fellow sisters. Nona hasn’t had the easiest time of it, bought and sold, caged, betrayed, friends and family loved and lost, but still she’s found strength in the relationships she’s built, the women she’s fought beside, and somehow still sees the very best of humanity in the darkest of shadows. Nona is inspiring, and I cheered on every one of her decisions.

In conclusion… Holy Sister has epically written bloody battles, Path magic, flaw blades (!!!), and the beautiful relationship between two of the sisters brought proper tears to this hardened reader’s eyes. The Third Book of the Ancestor delivered on every brutal promise, cementing Nona Grey into my pantheon of favorite female characters of all time.

Thank you, Mark Lawrence, for giving me Nona Grey. I can’t wait to read more books set in this world.
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I have a huge stack of TBR books.  I mean, like, completely towering – both physical and digital.  Yet, this book went immediately to the top of my stack.  It was stop everything to read!

Now, if you’re new to the series, I do recommend beginning with book one.  The author’s world is so encompassing and his characters so complex that you owe it to yourself to start at the beginning.  You’ll be glad you did.

For those readers who are returning to the series, the author immediately puts us back with Nona and all the drama and heartbreak we left behind.  Though the author gives us a little intro to remind us of everything, I didn’t need it.  After a bit, I skipped it and went right to the story – I was too excited to wait!

And the book is simply epic.

Battles, blood and betrayal are everywhere!  My heart broke half a dozen times.  I could smell the blood on the battlefield and I walked with Nona as she faced her most dangerous challenge yet.

Some of the scenes are simply iconic.  I can still picture Nona in a tattered habit as she prepared to face what may be certain death!

I hope the author continues in this world.   If he does, I’m happily on board!

*ARC Provided via Net Galley
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ARC provided by the publisher—Ace—in exchange for an honest review.

Holy Sister is an incredibly powerful and satisfying conclusion to one of the best trilogy I’ve ever read.

I won’t lie, a week ago I started rereading Red Sister mostly for the purpose of satisfying my completionist nature and eventually putting Book of the Ancestor into my “completed series I’ve read” list. However, the incredible of rereading Red Sister made me incoherently excited to continue with the series and here I am now. I have binged read and reviewed the entire series within a week, and I can say with confidence that this series has become one of my favorite coming-of-age fantasy series of all time.

    “To sow knowing that you will not reap is an old kind of love, and love has always been the best key for unlocking the future.”

Holy Sister is the third and last book in Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy. The ice is closing, the Corridor is narrowing, and the empire is under siege from all direction; dangers are everywhere and Nona Grey will have to exceed her own maximum capability in the upcoming final battle. In my opinion, this is by far Mark Lawrence’s best series and it's also his best work so far. I’m still amazed by how clever it all came together. We’ve always known that Abbess Glass is playing the long game since the first installment; it all came to fruition here. Just like Abbess Glass’s long game, we can only know what Lawrence’s saving for us by reading this outstanding installment to the end. The plot of the series is so cleverly planned and structured; connecting every single plot-thread all the way back to the prologue, interlude, and epilogue of Red Sister. Unlike Grey Sister, we’re back to having Nona as the sole POV to read here. The narrative is divided into two timelines:

1. Continues immediately from where the last book left off.
2. The present-day; three years after the end of Grey Sister. Nona is now in Holy Class and she has to choose which order she’ll become when she becomes a full sister.

The story starts up slowly and it was well-paced. From the beginning, the buildup of the tension escalated non-stop until the pulse-pounding conclusion. The usage of the two timelines—both from Nona’s perspectives—was smartly executed; it was never confusing and it felt crucial in enhancing the compelling nature of the novel. The book was deftly written, extremely well-polished, and the storytelling style felt like watching a pendulum that swings from left to right continuously in order to create a smooth flow of emotional impact. I mean it, the second half evoked a variety of emotions; laughter, sadness, anger, and tension were there; making the climax sequences gripping and utterly hard to put down. The carnage, the thrill of battle, the blood-soaked war, the brutal magic unleashed, and the clash of weaponry were vividly written; it truly felt like I was there with Nona and her friends.

    “The fight matters. But in the end it is never truly won or lost, and victory lies in discovering that we are bigger than it is.”

Before I close my review, I would like to say that the greatness within this series was achievable due to how well-written the characters were; their developments throughout the series was astounding. Nona Grey has officially become one of the greatest heroines I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel. She’s flawed, loyal, kind, and simply inspiring as a person. The present may be full of darkness; familiar landscape changed by war. The future may be bleak, but she never gives up. Her friendship with her friends remains her beacon of hope and I loved every moment of reading her journey with her friends. By involving and developing every single character brilliantly, it honestly feels bittersweet to me to have read the conclusion of this series; I'm sad to say goodbye to these characters, but I'm glad to have read this trilogy.

If you’re reading this review, rest assured that the best of parts of the book are purposely excluded from this review; you simply have to read and experience them for yourself. Mark Lawrence has outdone himself with the creation of Holy Sister. I have mixed feelings on Lawrence’s previous trilogy, I wouldn’t have thought that Book of the Ancestor would become one of the greatest trilogies I’ve ever read but here it is; suffice to say that I recommend this series with all my heart. That's all from me.

Series Review:

Red Sister: 4.5/5 stars
Grey Sister: 4/5 stars
Holy Sister: 5/5 stars

Book of the Ancestor: 13.5/15 stars

Official release date: April 4, 2019 (UK) and April 9, 2019 (US)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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Mark Lawrence has written an almost perfect trilogy of books, ending with the glorious "Holy Sister." What starts out to be a fantasy series morphs into a mix of fantasy and scifi. The world building is stupendous, and Nona Grey's story is captivating, from start to finish. Excellent!!
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What a perfect ending to a fantastic series. I loved watching Nona grow and develop as a character and I will miss her now that the series has concluded. The thought and planning that Mark Lawrence had to put into this series is mind boggling. Fantastic plot and character development. This is series is a must read and the final book will not let you down.
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Sincerest of thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review! 

Mark Lawrence, you've done it. You've created a high-ish, dark-ish trilogy that not only was executed perfectly, but also helped restore my faith in the fantasy genre. I don't read a lot of fantasy, mostly because it's long-winded, overly descriptive, and just plain boring (at least in the past I've felt it so, mostly because my mood for fantasy had long-since died). But, over the past few years, the fantasy genre has started to rejoin my reading repertoire, mostly because of two big reason: Brandon Sanderson and Mark Lawrence. Sanderson's first Mistborn trilogy and the Stormlight Archives went a long way towards rekindling my love for the genre, but one author can't single-handedly carry the burden of the genre alone. So when Grey Sister (the second of the trilogy by Mark Lawrence) showed up in my Berkley newsletter, I took a look at Red Sister to see if it would be of interest. It had rave reviews among friends, so I accepted the Grey Sister ARC and got my copy of Red Sister so I could read it first.  And boy, was I not disappointed!

This trilogy is a roller coaster ride! We meet Nona when she's but a wee pup, and we watch her grow throughout the trilogy into a strong, confident, amazing woman, capable of changing the world.  I don't want to say too much, because of spoilers, but the growth in this character alone is enough to impress, but the cast of secondary characters is fantastic as well.

I HIGHLY recommend this trilogy. Can't wait to give Lawrence's other trilogies a try soon, but I'm sad to be finished with Nona and her friends. They were a pleasure to discover.
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Well Amazon won't allow me to post this but HOLY SHIT! I spent 2 years waiting for this book and it started getting stressful about 150 pages from the end and never let up or gave you any clue as to what might happen until the end, then the author gives you a chapter and an epilogue to get your mind back intact.

The REALLY great book/series are the ones that almost leave you in tears because you have been so deeply immersed in this world (I read the whole trilogy as a marathon) and you realize that there is no more and I doubt he will revisit this story since he never has but I am going to miss these characters and watching their future play out.

I consider his "The Broken Empire" one of the actual masterpieces I ever read but this comes damn close. 5 Stars and wish I could read about these people forever.
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I didn't realize that Holy Sister was third in a trilogy. I did read through some of it, but I can see that I need to read the other books first. I will leave a review after I read them. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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I was lucky enough to get an eARC of this from Netgalley.

I know we’ve all been waiting on this one with eager anticipation, and I’m going to try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but if you don’t want to know anything at all about it, let me say right away: It’s good. A fitting conclusion to the series. Be warned there are some light spoilers through the rest of this review.

Now for a little more detail, though I will still try and be vague. Unsurprisingly, it’s very easy to get back in the groove of things. We all know these characters, and thankfully there is another “Previously on…” section to get everyone back up to speed. More series need something like that.

The book is structured a bit differently than the previous stories. It covers two time periods, the immediate aftermath of the conclusion of the second book and a period of time three years later. Both of these periods are main parts of the book, unlike the occasional flash-forwards of the other books. The timelines are skillfully intermixed, with revelations from one impacting the other. Some of the revelations are pretty subtle. There was one early on that I kind of glanced over, got another page or so down the line, thought, “Wait, WHAT?!”, and had to go back and re-read to be sure.

On to the action. There are vows! And fights! And intrigue! And shiphearts! So many thread bonds! Some people get what’s coming to them in very satisfying ways! Sister Pan is amazing. The way a certain event from past books is blended into the “current day” timeline is great. We get to see some ancient tech in action (and what an action!).

As far as disappointments go, the book came tantalizingly close to solid answers on the various mysteries from the series (who built the arks, who were The Missing, who were the original tribes and where did they come from, etc), but doesn’t quite actually answer those questions. There are also some more rather immediate questions I’m left with, but I won’t spoil those.

The more I think about it, though, the more I’m okay with having those questions go unanswered. Perhaps there will be more stories in the universe to further explain things. But even moreso, this is a story about Nona and her friends. That story is complete, and I don’t feel any lingering mysteries. I would say more about the ending, but I’m loathe to lay it out for everyone.

Finally, be warned that the next paragraph is a fairly big spoiler, but I need to mention it.

Abbess Glass is only in one chapter of this book. Yet, throughout its entirety, she remains a major force. Even though she’s gone, she’s still there, affecting events. A testament to the strength of her character that, even when I was a little outraged at first when I learned she was gone, it ended up not feeling like she was gone at all. Really helped bring home the theme of family that ran through the series.
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A fantastic end to the Book of the Ancestor trilogy!  I have to say I was a bit sad at finishing this book knowing I wouldn't have another to look forward to next year.  This trilogy has been hands down my favorite in the fantasy genre since Red Sister was published a couple years back and the concluding third book did not disappoint in the least bit.  As usual, Lawrence's master skill at world building sets the tone for Nona et al's final act.  I can only hope at some point the author revisits Abeth again in future writing because it is hands down one of my favorite fictional worlds.
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Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for providing me an ARC.
This book..... oh my god. Sometimes there were no words. This was a book I was dying to read, and it delivered in every way!
The writing was flawless, the story breathtaking and heart pounding and gut wrenching, the timelines were drawn together. So many times I laughed or gasped aloud, and at one point I was forced to explain to my boyfriend a scene that I just couldn’t keep to myself.
The ending was a spectacular way to finish the story, action and intrigue and death and battle and loss and resolution: all things I’ve come to expect from Nona and her sisters. There was just enough left out at the end to keep the possibilities open, but not unanswered.
But on a side note: the book ended without Nona admitting her feelings or even kissing Ara which I’m a little salty about but that’s really my only complaint.
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I absolutely love this series, and Holy Sister is a fitting end to the trilogy! I couldn't put this book down. It wrapped up a lot of loose ends and really did the characters I've come to love justice. I would recommend this whole series to book clubs and general readers advisory.
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Growing up can be tough. One day you’re sneaking home past curfew from a sexy rendezvous with your partner, and the next day you’re being hunted across a frozen wasteland carrying a relic that’s trying to poison your mind. We can all relate. But just in case you can’t, then the concluding entry in Nona Grey’s story will bring you up to date. In Holy Sister, the third and final entry in his Book of the Ancestor series, Mark Lawrence has crafted a powerful and heartbreaking ending to Nona’s story. Like Lawrence’s earlier trilogies The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War, there exists a fine balance of tragedy and hope in a world on the eve of an apocalypse. The author excels at weaving compelling tales of humanity as it is pushed to the brink of extinction, and The Book of the Ancestor series is his strongest work to date.

(Warning: I will be discussing events related to Red Sister and Grey Sister below. If you haven’t read them yet, turn back now.)

One of the more interesting aspects of the story is its narrative structure. We spend much of the early part of the book jumping back and forth between two time periods. When we last left Nona and Zole and the rest of the survivors from Sherzal’s palace, they were being hunted for their stolen shipheart. We spend some chapters following up on those events and discover the true fallout of the Convent of Sweet Mercy’s actions. The second timeline jumps a few years forward, and we pick up with Nona and her small group of allies enacting a mysterious plan amidst an unstoppable Scithrowl invasion. I appreciated this novel approach to the story structure as opposed to breaking it into two halves with a time jump in the middle. Discovering the cryptic details of the plan while switching off to an action-fueled escape sequence pushed the story forward at a tremendous pace. 

The time jump also brings Nona into adulthood. Her age is still unknown, even to her, but she is likely pushing 19 or 20. Her burden of responsibility has expanded beyond just her circle of friends. She is feeling the weight of the world quite literally closing in on her. This serves as an accurate metaphor for achieving the early stages of adulthood: the world grows larger and smaller all at once. Although she has shown great leaps in maturity since her early days in the convent, Nona still struggles to make the right choices. She is the most powerful when she is fueled by anger, but those instances don’t always lead to the best decisions. The balance that Nona finds between the two is a testament to Lawrence’s ability to provide a strong characterization that feels real and relatable. We’ve all made rash, emotion-based decisions when we were young. With Nona, it just happens to be life-or-death situations more often than not. 

I’ll say little of the conclusion other than it being an incredibly emotional sendoff of characters that I’ve grown quite fond of. There are more than a few big surprises and an equal number of heartbreaks as both major and minor character arcs draw to a close. Overall, this is a brilliant series from one of the top names in speculative fiction, and will be on most “best of” lists by year’s end. Don’t miss it.

(Note for NetGalley: I am including a URL where my review will be posted in several weeks. Our FantasyBookReview.co.uk blog has a set schedule for review posts, and this review will appear under Emma Davis' soon.)
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When writing about a book that’s the third and final in a trilogy, there’s only so much that can be said without edging into spoiler territory. So this review, if it can be called that, is done with the lightest touch, hopefully just conveying some sense of the range of feelings the books evoked in me.

More than almost any other series I’ve read, the three novels which form the Book of the Ancestor feel like one continuous story. Perhaps this is a reflection of the way the oft quoted opening line ‘it is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size’ links the prologue in a surprising way to the trilogy’s finale. It’s only at the end that you can truly see the shape of it; the beauty of story made circular. If not for the considerations of time and space, the books would be best read straight through. For all those who haven’t started this series yet, and I recommend you get right on that, give yourself some time to experience the wholeness of it. From the finish, the artificial boundaries made by the division into three seem somewhat arbitrary and while the first two books conclude with explosive and brutally fun high action set pieces, they don’t necessarily serve to illuminate the really significant junctures of the story. Or at least, not all of them. This is a character driven narrative and Nona's journey, her growth, is a continuous thing. There’s an equality of significance given to all types of moments, the smaller, private ones having as much impact for Nona as the ones she faces blade in hand. Each builds upon the other so that the world altering choices she makes at the end of Holy Sister can only be understood in terms of the entirety of her experience. Our assumptions about her path, directed in part by the tricksy author and in part by what we ‘know’ about fantasy writing, lead us to believe in what seems like an inevitable conclusion, yet those expectations are repeatedly demolished. The lessons she’s learned aren’t the ones you think. And that means she never ceases to surprise.

The pacing in this book follows a similar structure to Grey Sister. It starts out in an interesting but measured fashion, so much that you wonder if it’s going to be like this all the way through, then it’s all whatthehellyoucantdothatohmygod The End. Once it hits a certain part, be prepared to go all the way. You won’t be putting the book down, that’s for sure. It epitomises the reading experience i’ve had throughout the series, an essential contradiction of which I can’t help be aware. Namely, that the action scenes are so good, and I mean ridiculously good, that I’m constantly jonesing to get to them as soon and as often as possible, but that none of those moments would be anywhere near as affecting or effective if I didn’t care as much about the characters, a depth of feeling built in the slower moments. The space utilised on what may initially seem like trivialities, Nona’s schooling/training for example, is where relationships develop in to the type of bonds that will save the world. Nona’s foundations are her friendships, the love and loyalty that bind her to other people. It might take time to show that to the reader but the payoff is huge. 

The close focus shapes the whole story. This is a book that dares to put things offstage, battles detailed only when literally they turn up on Nona’s doorstep. How many other authors would put a whole war in the background? Most of what the reader knows is through Nona and if she’s not there to see it only so much can be told. As in Grey Sister, there’s some scope for alternate viewpoints, through Kettle for example (as an aside, I love Kettle, she’s the best character in the series. Come at me), but there’s this brilliant dichotomy between a comprehensive, multilayered world that clearly and vibrantly exists and the limited slice we get to see. In the dual timeline of this book it allows scope for playing with what’s known by various characters, deepening the layers of the intricate, high-stakes plots, and heightening tension via misdirection and the withholding of knowledge. Only when seen from the end, when the circle is completed, can we discern how the long game played by Abbess Glass fits together. Only then can we see who Nona really is. And none of it will turn out as you imagined.

An exceptional series and by far my favourite of Mark Lawrence’s work. It has that something that sets it apart. It has the deft, unexpected characterisation, the perfect turn of phrase, the killer hook we’ve seen before in his other series, but this has a magic all of its own. I can’t explain it and I’m not going to try. I cheered and I cried. Then I cried some more. I was surprised, amused, and devastated. The author snuck in some stuff that I can’t even talk about because its spoilery, but damn I didn’t see that coming. As for a happy ending? Well, you know who wrote it, right??? That’s all I’m saying. 

Make sure this is on your 2019 reading list. Highly recommended.
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Fitting conclusion to the series. Great action. Some really great characters, including the enlistment of the older nuns and the novices in the battle for their land. Will definitely purchase for my library and recommend to fantasy and scifi action fans alike!
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