‘Sisters Of The Forsaken Stars’ continues the story that was started in ‘Sisters Of The Vast Black’, a book that Lina Rather described as being about ‘Nuns living in a giant slug in outer-space’.
When we met the Sisters of the Order of Saint Rita in the first book, they were a small community of nuns travelling in their convent, Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a vast, genetically engineered mollusc called a Liveship, to tend to the sick and carry out marriages and baptisms in the outer reaches of mankind’s colonies in the stars. By the end of the book, some dark secrets about the sisters had been revealed and they’d managed to entangle themselves in a brutal covert struggle between Earth and its colonies. The ending was action-packed, explosive and surprising.
One way to write a sequel to a book like that is to ramp up the violence and the struggle and lead towards an even more explosive ending with even bigger consequences for humanity.
Lina Rather went a different way. She’d been writing about nuns in space, not Marines in space. The women in her story have chosen to live a religious life of service to others. Whatever their background before they joined the Order of Saint Rita, they are now women who bring peace and solace, not women who challenge governments and lead revolutions. Yet their actions have turned them into a legend that the Earth government wants to suppress and that some of the Colonists want to turn into a rallying cry of the revolution. So Lina Rather goes for the personal rather than the big-picture political. She explores how the Sisters find a path that allows them to honour their faith, to support each other and to minister to those who need them without either being killed or turned into a weapon.
The strength of the novella lies in its ability fully to imagine the reactions of the Sisters, a disparate group of women from many backgrounds and with different views on faith and responsibility but who have chosen to live as a community with a duty to serve God by ministering to others.
No one has any easy answers. Faith is tested. Trust is hard to gain. Threats keep multiplying and options keep narrowing.
I loved watching how these women thought through their problems and worked hard to maintain themselves as a community.
The story and the ending were lower-key than the first book but no less powerful for that. I hope there’ll be a third book in the series. If there is, I’ll be there, rooting for the Sisters in the Liveship.