Overview (No Spoilers):
Holy Sister is the conclusion of The Book of the Ancestor trilogy and I am not ready for my time with Nona to be coming to a close. As I mention in my Grey Sister review, I have so enjoyed my time on icy Abeth that I have read both Holy Sister and The Girl on the Moon without drafting their individual reviews, and now I’m struggling to keep the reviews distinct. Regardless, the two endings are brilliant and overlap in a satisfyingly complex series of revelations that merges two trilogies and sends shockwaves throughout all six books. Lawrence also brings The Broken Empire back into the fold, but there I go getting ahead of myself again.
In Holy Sister there are two timelines volleying back and forth, with one picking up immediately in the aftermath of Grey Sister as Abbess Glass, Nona, Zole, along with many others are fleeing Sherzal’s palace. In order to give the bulk of the group an opportunity to reach safety, Zole and Nona escape to the ice, drawing off any pursuers. It is on the ice that Zole’s secrets come to light, giving new context to her role as a novice at Sweet Mercy.
The second timeline takes place years in the future at a Sweet Mercy that has undergone significant changes that leaves the reader reeling with the losses and new political atmosphere.
[Prepare yourself for spoilers!]
[Are you prepared?]
[You’ve been warned.]
Abbess Glass has passed, leaving a power void in her wake. She easily became one of my favorite characters in Grey Sister, and I was stunned by her death. Her presence had looked so large through the previous book that it was hard to imagine how the story could go on without her schemes. As Holy Sister progresses, Glass’ foresight, meddling, and plotting proves to outlive her physical self as pieces of her long game emerge over and over again throughout this book, popping up when one least expects it.
[Ok, no more spoilers.]
In the present day, Nona has fully come into her powers and is on the cusp of taking the trials for the various orders of the convent. Each of these trials is equal parts thrilling and stressful to read with Lawrence adding in unexpected complications for Nona to make the already difficult task that much more impossible.
As has been the case with this entire trilogy, Nona juggles varying degrees of stress from the immediate dangers at school to the Scithrowl who are pushing war to the very doorstep of Sweet Mercy. This intricate dance easily keeps the reader glued to the story as the conflict threatens to draw everyone Nona loves into imminent danger.
When war finally does come to the heart of the Empire, Nona is faced with a series of decisions, each one more difficult than the last, as her threadbonds reveal friend after friend in deadly situations. Nona repeatedly has to choose who to save and who to abandon, with each decision Nona is forced to make breaking both her and the reader’s hearts as no one is safe from the deviation wrought by the Scithrowl. Seriously. So many tears
Holy Sister manages to pack almost nonstop action into one novel, while still maintaining pacing that doesn’t cause the reader to grow numb, instead becoming ever more engaged as the timelines reach their endpoints. The two timelines are expertly interwoven, volleying back and forth but managing to heighten the suspense as Zole’s secrets directly offer potential salvation from the Scithrowl, but at great personal cost. Overall, I can’t imagine a more perfect ending to The Book of the Ancestor with Holy Sister completing Nona’s personal journey as she finally settles her internal morality debate that has been evolving since Red Sister.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- First and foremost can we talk about Sister Pan? There were so many moments that made me smile toward the end of her big grand finale from her riding in the cart with the shipheart to her interactions with Nona. Cue all the tears when she reveals that she hasn’t left the path in years and years. I’m so thankful that I read The Girl and the Mountain before Holy Sister to be able to read about Sister Pan in her youth first.
- It is so painful to read about the sacrifices Zole has to make to be able to wield the shiphearts and command Taproot.
- I love seeing all the promises Abbess Glass extracted before her death come into play throughout Holy Sister. They would show up when you least expected. Was her death really a poisoning? If so, who did it?
- In ranking satisfying literary deaths, Sherzal’s might be one of the more gruesome but deserving.
- Again, the order I read these two trilogies comes into play as I already have been introduced to Yaz when we find out Zole is likely a descendant.
- I thought there would be no way that we could ever come to appreciate Sister Wheel but the rigid, spiteful woman grew significantly on the reader in Holy Sister.
- I hate that Markus betrayed Nona!
- And Nona’s relationship with Regol is another fun, off screen transition for her. Honestly, I can’t imagine how awkward the first steps of that relationship would have been so not too disappointed I missed out on that aspect.
- Also, talk about perma-grin when Ara came back for Nona!