Wednesday, January 1, 2020

"Red Sister," "Grey Sister," and "Holy Sister": A Review of Mark Lawrence's Fantasy "Book of the Ancestor" Trilogy

That sharp edge of the blade where fantasy and science fiction meet is a precarious perspective for a writer of speculative fiction to adopt. Anne McCaffrey did so with her Pern series, C.J. Cherryh did so with her Morgaine saga, and Lawrence has done so with his Book of the Ancestor trilogy: Red Sister, Grey Sister, and Holy Sister. That's distinguished company for Lawrence to rub elbows with, but this trilogy earns him the privilege.

The science fictional premise is that a star-faring race colonizes the planet Abeth. Its sun dying, the original colonists (the ancestors) set up a means of keeping a thin strip of the planet around the equator unfrozen so that their descendents can survive. These colonists consist of four races, each with unique abilities, some physical and some mental, and at the time of the trilogy's action, these races are mixed to varying degrees among the surviving population. 

Enter Nona, a child of eight years, whose powers unfold as the storyline progresses through the three books. She is adopted by the nuns of Sweet Mercy, where the lowest order of the nuns is the most physical--kickass nuns. Environmental and political crises unfold, Nona grows and evolves over the next decade, and readers are swept into the intrigue and magic Lawrence's universe.

Abeth is cold, but do not think of soft, pristine snow. Think of cold, cold winds, encroaching glaciers scouring the land. Think of dirty snow, rotten snow, winter noir, and the tone of the novels, which colors Nona struggles to survive in a harsh world. And then there are the ruins of the Lost Ones, ancient aliens and their mysterious artifacts. 

The characters seek to walk the Path in order to control the basic power of the universe. They seek to pull the Threads of reality to activate the laws of nature. They seek to manipulate how others perceive reality in order to control the actions of individuals and armies. Lawrence convincingly describes battle with swords, martial arts, and mind-bending powers. And Nona and her Sisters are central to the action of saving the world by saving themselves. 

Lawrence's universe is believable, and his focus on action and the evolution of Nona provides all the suspense and conflict--and revelation and achievement--that one can ask for. I end this review by passing on words of wisdom from the good Sisters: "It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent, Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men."

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