Back in the olden times of just over two years ago, I read Sisters of the Vast Black, a charming novella about a small convent of nuns in outer space. Lina Rather’s debut in the novella scene captured my imagination and heart and left me wanting more. Fortunately, Rather has decided to continue the story of this small order, who are now on the run in Sisters of the Forsaken Stars.
Picking up some time after their defiant actions on Phoyonga III, the now nameless convent has replaced its mother superior, and is in hiding. They are slowly acquainting themselves within their new living ship updating its systems with what little they scrounge together. Resources are tight because they are no longer officially a part of the Catholic Church, and they have to be careful about who they trust. As the drums of war echo throughout the systems of humanity, a biological sister of one of the nuns requests asylum, while another woman seeks to join them. And all the while, the stories of these nuns and their deeds on Phoyonga III spread across the outer colonies, bolstering the more rebellious tendencies of those persecuted by Earth and the Church. Will the sisters ever know peace again? And can their faith survive the empty black of space without the foundation of the church itself?
If Vast Black was an examination of how faith pushes one to act, Forsaken Stars is a much more somber meditation questioning said faith. It’s a slow burn novella that soaks in the individual character’s ruminations as they come to grips with their separation from the Church. There aren’t big world shattering reveals or fast paced moments of action. Instead, Rather meditatively digs into each character, showing how they individually and collectively grapple with who they’ve become. It’s full of conversations about the nature of the Church they are running from, and the revelation that Earth itself might be behind one of the greatest plagues that humanity has witnessed. Doubt has seeped into the bones of the sister’s, and their mission has become shrouded. While they discuss matters internally, they are constantly reminded of the world outside, and how their actions have spurred a renewed rebelliousness amongst some of the younger colonists. As much as the sisters want time to process and regroup, the galaxy keeps spinning.
The characters themselves are still wonderful to follow, and Rather uses the pages to highlight everyone this time around. All of them are given equal weight in their search to understand what is the right thing to do. The shifting perspective opens up the different avenues of faith, and how it creates conviction and doubt within each member. Rather reveals the motivations and past of all the sisters, weighing and measuring their sins with a magnanimous empathy for such a small book. I would have enjoyed a longer treatise personally, but it also feels just right, avoiding a long wallow. But this is definitely the between phase before the clash, the calm before the storm of war.
Vast Black had a novelty to it, bringing religion to space and highlighting the various doctrines that have to be reconsidered within the church to make it holy. With Forsaken Stars, Rather moves beyond the novelty and cements the story within conversations of personal faith, and communal commitment. While each member had their own issues to wrestle with, their solidarity through the book really grounded the experience, making the deliberations feel tangible and relatable across the varied cast. It may not be explosive, but it’s worth your while. I pray that Lina Rather continues to deliver on these quiet and much needed meditations.
Rating: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars 8.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.