Bound by Mark Lawrence (Book Review)
This gripping short story fits in the gap between Grey Sister and the eagerly anticipated Holy Sister as Nona Grey struggles with the twin threats of algebra and murderous machinations within the gilded world of the aristocratic Sis families.
Canonically, it reminds me of the placement of Peter Newman’s The Vagrant and The City which lay in between the events of The Malice and The Seven. Newman’s bridging tale left the reader better informed and prepared for the final book of the trilogy, and I suspect that Lawrence’s short story may similarly give the reader something of a head start with Holy Sister. In particular, I found a fresh light shone on the brilliant framing story of Red Sister and indeed the trilogy’s incomparable opening line: “It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure you bring an army of sufficient size.”
Bound and The Vagrant and The City (and also Daniel Polansky’s A Drink Before We Die, and again Lawrence’s own original self-published release of Road Brothers) might be signs of a new trend in hybrid publishing: authors augmenting the promotion of their traditionally published series (by social media, public appearances and other means) through the release of a self-published short story. With Bound as the latest exemplar, it is a trend much to be welcomed.
In Bound, Sisters Apple and Kettle take a keen interest in a series of unexplained young deaths. While their independent action may be without authorisation from Abbess Glass, after the events of Grey Sister, one doubts that any of the convent’s nuns’ stratagems are entirely without their Abbess’s awareness, if not actual manipulation. Nona and friends stumble on top of Apple and Kettle’s plotting and cannot help but get involved.
A serial killer is striking, seemingly at random, against the scions – male and female – of Abeth’s noble houses. With means and motive both proving elusive, the only certainty is opportunity. The murders must originate within the gilded gatherings of privileged youth – an environment that calls for social graces, accomplished dancing, and the infinite subtlety of the grey sister’s arts, if the murderer is to be identified and excised without wider society even noticing. Nona, never strong on social graces or subtle interventions, is relegated to an unofficial backroom role but still finds a means to get involved at the sharp end of the action – and the action does get sharp in so many ways.
There are some pithy reflections not just on the life of a somewhat conflicted ninja nun, but on a wider sense of what it is to be human:
“But the fact is few people are able to see value in the words of someone they truly dislike. Have your own opinions spoken back to you by someone you despise and you will likely begin to find fault.”
Amongst the many strengths of the Ancestor trilogy are the threads of friendship that bind its protagonists together. In this compelling short story, Lawrence shows us Ara and Nona working their way together through those awkwardnesses of adolescence – first drink, first kiss, first dice with death… er, no, maybe not that one. The novices of the Convent of Sweet Mercy are already well used to dicing with death, the ballrooms of high society proving just as dangerous as any noi-guin-infested wilderness.
This will certainly keep the appetites of Nona’s many fans well whetted for more habitual mayhem as we await the arrival of Holy Sister.