Tag Archives: Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister – review

Grey Sister is the second book is a fantasy series by Mark Lawrence. If you’ve not already read Red Sister – the first book, I strongly recommend starting there.  (You can get it all the places that do books, here’s one of them https://www.bookdepository.com/Red-Sister-Mark-Lawrence )

This is a narrative that revolves around a group of young women training to be nuns. Some of them will be warrior nuns – Red Sisters, and some of them will be Sisters of Discretion (I leave you to imagine) some will focus on magic, and some will do religion. This story plays out on a freezing world whose sun is dying. A technological moon reflects what sun there is, in order to keep a narrow band at the equator ice-free. The moon is falling, people are fighting over the scraps and dreaming of miracles.

This is a world that has been imagined in great detail, but you will never be bogged down in those details. It is a world in which women are powerful agents for change, and the story itself revolves around the actions and adventures of a handful of young women. I absolutely revelled in this; it’s so rare to read high fantasy in which women get to dominate the pages like this. Mark Lawrence’s women are allowed to be all things. Some are heroic, some political, some nasty and plotty, some mean and spiteful, some kind and generous. Many are complex people with multiple motivating forces acting on them. None of them exist as prizes to be won. They rescue each other.

However, the thing I love most about this setting is how the magic works. Too often, when fantasy magic is described in other books, it becomes dull and mechanical. There’s often no mystery in fantasy magic, no sense of awe, or wonder. The magic in Grey Sister builds on what we encountered in the first book. It is wild and unruly magic. It does have rules, but it reminds me a bit of learning about physics. You start out at school with gravity and pressure and things that make sense and you can relate to. Then you advance into more disorientating territory. This is what magic in Grey Sister is like. We did the basic magic physics in the first book, now we’re doing things that are like the way space time blurs and quantum and string theory makes most of us confused. Whole new levels of reality are revealed to us.

Except the magic also isn’t at all like this because it is felt and breathed and lived and alive and in everything and makes intuitive sense and sings to my animist heart.

Mark Lawrence is an author of rare skill. His characters are complicated, well rounded, engaging people. This is an author who understands people – at their best and worst – and knows how to create scenarios that naturally would bring the best and worst of people to the surface. His world building is vast and well considered and full of glorious detail, while never turning into history or geography lessons. We learn about this world by seeing people trying to live in it. His prose is snappy and sharp and laced through with humour. He knows how to keep you turning the pages. But then at the end when you look back, you’ll see the richness of it. Too many page turners leave me feeling hollow at the end. This is not one of those. He’s one of my favourite authors.

Now I have to wait for the next one, and that’s going to be the difficult bit.

More Grey Sister here – https://www.bookdepository.com/Grey-Sister-Mark-Lawrence/


The lies we tell ourselves

I’ve recently finished reading The Wheel of Osheim – the third book in Mark Lawrence’s trilogy The Red Queen’s War, and while anything published by Harper Voyager is normally too famous for my book hipster standards, I like Mark. And, I knew him before he was famous. I liked him before he was cool.

Mark Lawrence is an author who can write tales that work on a lot of levels. A fast paced adventure trilogy, with witty dialogue, action, shagging, demons, magic and all the things you’d expect from a popular fantasy series. But alongside that, there are themes and concepts to chew on, and that’s why I find these books so engaging. It’s not just surface amusement.

For me, the major theme of the Red Queen’s War trilogy, is the impact of the stories and lies we tell ourselves, and each other. The central character, Jalan, has a big story about how he’s a coward and a man with no morals worth mentioning. But he gets caught up in other people’s stories, other people’s ideas about who and what he’s supposed to be and ends up doing all sorts of heroically out of character things.

We all assemble our lives out of stories. We tell ourselves things about who we are, and what we’re doing and why. We do that to justify actions that maybe aren’t justified at all. We do it to excuse shortcomings, to explain poor choices and mistakes. We tell stories about how other people impacted on us, the ones who saved us, the ones who are our enemies… and we tell these stories so well and so often and with such conviction that we often forget they are stories, and that other versions of events exist.

At the same time, we can talk ourselves into other roles and story-shapes, if we want to. We can talk each other into being braver and honest, into trusting instincts and following our inspiration. We can tell each other stories that help us get through the day, or get things done.

So, if you’d like a story that will entertain you, but that may also give you a bit of an existential crisis, do check out Mark Lawrence. And while you’re doing it, ask yourself what story you are telling about your own life and nature.

Find Mark here – http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/


Courage, delusion and the Prince of Fools

Courage was considered a virtue by the heroic cultures many modern Pagans look back to for inspiration. However, once you start prodding it in earnest, courage turns out to be a rather complicated thing.

I’ve spent the last few days reading Mark Lawrence’s novel ‘Prince of Fools’. Book one of a dark fantasy trilogy, running in parallel time-wise with his Thorns trilogy. I really like Mark as an author. He can do plot and action, he balances light and dark superbly so you’re always in your toes, but sometimes giggling, his craftsmanship with words is superb, and there are layers. Start digging around in what holds the plot together, and there are weighty concepts about what it means to be human. These are qualities I very much appreciate in a book. He’s also a lovely person.

After some deliberation, I feel that the key themes in Prince of Fools, for me were cowardice/courage and self-delusion. The interplay between the two in the narrative is also fascinating. The first person narrator ‘hero’ self-identifies as a coward. Jalan prefers running away to fighting and getting out of things tends to appeal to him more than sorting them out or facing responsibility. Much of this is held together by a total refusal to think too much about anything – a form of protective self-deluding there, which keeps him from the consequences of what he does, and does not do. His companion, Snorri, seems brave, he’s certainly driven, but there is no small amount of refusing to think making that apparent bravery possible, too.

The theory that Mark puts forward, through Jalan, is that everyone is afraid. Everyone is in the business of running away, it’s just a case of what you fear most. The person who fears dishonour more than death will run towards a fight, not away from it, quite simply. They may be no less afraid, it’s just a different fear. I note for myself that I can be careless of my own pain and physical damage, but fear causing discomfort – even minor emotional discomfort – to others. Which has interesting influences on my choices.

Without fear in the mix, it’s very hard to call anything brave. It may just be stupid, unimaginative, misguided. To be brave, you have to know what there is to be afraid of. It’s an interesting question as to whether, having identified the biggest fear, you can then bravely run away from it towards something that also offers challenges. I am inclined to think that the naming and owning of the fear might well be the bravest part of the whole process. To know what frightens you most is to know yourself, and to be honest about your fear is to be more authentic.

However, Mark doesn’t leave it there, because the theme of not being honest with yourself about fear runs through the book. It takes a certain amount of dishonesty to keep going when the things to be afraid of are big enough to easily break you. It takes a certain kind of deliberate forgetting and denying to stay sane in the face of horror and trauma.  A person with PTSD needs to forget – because it is the remembering that takes you apart. What do we lay down of past and self in order to face the future? What lies do we have to tell ourselves in order to be able to act? When failure seems inevitable, the heroic path may depend entirely on your ability to believe otherwise. To die for a cause is to be able to believe it’s worth it right up until the last breath, despite all evidence to the contrary.

We tend to hold honesty as a virtue, but it is also worth considering what the little lies and bigger ones we tell ourselves allow us to do, for well or woe.

(More about the book here – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18693743-prince-of-fools)


Writer stuff, may contain subversion

Mark Lawrence is a writer I like and admire, and he’s also someone who has managed to get a big, shiny publishing deal for a fantasy trilogy, so when he talks about writing, I pay attention… http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/rules-to-write-by.html It’s a fine blog, do have a read. It’s a fair depiction of the writing life, the uncertainties, insanities and challenges. If I had believed how crazy a business it is, I would never have started. But, I was sure I could do it and that what I had to say was worth saying, and more than a decade later I’m pottering along selling the odd book. Fame and fortune are rare in writing, most of us will stay obscure. If we get lucky, we get a niche audience and reason not to quit.

From Mark’s blog I learned that his first 2 attempts at novel writing did not make it into public spaces. Talking to other authors, and people who want to be authors, this is a normal, healthy, necessary part of the process. Odds are you won’t even finish the first draft of the first book, because you learn so much just by trying it, that by about three quarters of the way through you know that it sucks. No one would expect to write an opera starting from cold, or to design a shopping centre. Writing is as much an art form as every other art form; a bit of practice, experimenting, messing up and learning is required. Only by doing this, do we find out if we were good enough. Giving ourselves permission to mess up is essential for being able to try things, and to grow. So try it, and don’t worry about ‘failing’ because getting a couple of barely finished, unsatisfying books under your belt is part of the initiation process.

The internet lets us put our every thought in public, barely considered. It’s tempting to rush that first book over to amazon and self-publish it, confident that the world will rush in to buy it and it’ll be like 50 Shades of Grey all over again. Except it probably won’t. I think we all expect that somehow, by magic, that will happen to us. It doesn’t, and those apparently fluky stories of wild success are seldom quite as they seem to be. It takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.

I’d encourage anyone to write who felt inspiration to take up pen or keyboard. Writing for the love of it is a wonderful thing. Writing for the joy of sharing with some likeminded folk is well worth your time. Be it a blog, a local poetry group, or your offspring, writing to share is sublime. It is possible to write for money. I know a few people who actually do quite well at this. The reality is not overnight success, or wealth, or ease. It’s years of working hard for long hours and getting little pay, or holding down a regular job and writing when you can, and there are no guarantees. As Mark points out, there is no magic formula for fame and fortune. Bad reviews, hideous rejection letters, books that flop… it is an industry that will keep hurting you, no matter how good or successful you are.

But if I haven’t put you off, and you still want to write, here’s my 5 things to do…

1) Read everything you can, especially in the area you want to write in. This will help you avoid repeating what already exists, falling into cliché, and failing to understand the section of market. It will also help you if you ever need to try and sell your book to a publisher.

2) Be interested in everything. The world is full of ideas, inspiration, possibilities, events, people. A good imagination is nice, but the more you know about reality, the better able you are to imagine well and convincingly. On top of this, research what you’re writing about, it helps to get technical details right and gives you more material to work with.

3) Either write your autobiography, or write fiction. A thinly veiled reworking of your life in which you become a famous author, or turn out to have super powers, is not going to be a good read. Or, get it out of your system as the first book, safe in the knowledge that you’re never going to show it to anyone.

4) Write often enough that you can honestly say ‘I am a writer’ not ‘I am someone who has a fantasy about being a famous author.’ You’ll irritate fewer people, and actually get something written. I’m not an advocate of ‘something every day no matter what’ although I do blog most days. Just not when I’m feeling ill or really stupid.

5) Don’t do it for the money. There are lots of things you can do for money where there’s a decent chance of getting paid, and where the work you don’t won’t suffer from your desire to make a small fortune. Do it for some money, sure. It’s good to be rewarded for work. Write for paying markets, sell your work, but if money is all you care about, you probably won’t write good stuff. You’ll write what you imagine is going to sell, and there’s a lot of that out there already, and it doesn’t sell anywhere near as much as people think it will. Readers don’t want easily marketable, commercially viable books. Readers want, and buy, good books that interest and entertain them. Ironically, if you want to be a wild commercial success, you can’t afford to think about too commercially about writing.