The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book of the Ice (Book 1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Science Fiction
Published: 21 April 2020 by HarperVoyager (UK) and by Ace (US)
A scintillating start to this new series!
Omens are difficult and open to interpretation but if the oracle that touches your newborn dies moments later, frothing at the mouth, it is hard even with a mother’s love to think it is a good sign. In such cases a second opinion is often sought.
If the old adage that you’re only as good as your last book holds true for authors, then it’s hardly a surprise that one of my most highly anticipated book releases of the year was The Girl and the Stars. Full disclosure, that’s a complete understatement. Mark Lawrence delivered an emphatically stunning and satisfying conclusion with Holy Sister, finishing off his The Book of the Ancestor (TBOTA) series in some style and simultaneously pushing my hype levels for his next project through the roof (although I am still not over some of the heartaches he caused me). I did not think I could be more excited. That was until I heard that his new book was set in the same world as that previous series. It’s safe to say that if I had access to a Delorean, I’d have read this quite a while ago.
*For those who have not yet read TBOTA series, you are welcome to read The Girl and the Stars first. You won’t be missing out on anything that will take away any understanding or enjoyment from this read.
Abeth is a cruel frozen wasteland, and the tribes that live on the ice are as hard as it gets. They know that a child born broken will die on the ice as their bodies do not have what it takes to survive. Growing up, the weakness in these children will grow too and become a burden on the tribe and themselves. Whether it presents a lack of stamina or resilience, whichever form it takes, it only results in the inevitable. Death. Thus the tribes gather every four years so that the regulator, Kazik, may pass his pale eyes over the children of the clans and give his judgement, weeding out those he finds wanting. When you walk on the ice you are either pure or you are dead. Like a frostbitten appendage, these chosen children are cut from society, thrown down a hole in the ice never to be seen again. The tribes call this hole the Pit of the Missing. There is no place for the weak on Abeth.
‘It’s a dangerous game to rid yourself of weakness. You never know what else you might be losing in the deal.’
When we meet Yaz, she is journeying with her tribe, the Ichta, towards the Black Rock. The time for the testing has arrived again. She is on the brink of being declared an adult and won’t have to endure the regulator’s scrutiny after that, but she knows deep down that her chances of evading the long dark fall towards death are slim. At the age of ten, she started seeing a river in her dreams, and eventually, she started glimpsing it in the waking world too. A river of the mind that runs through all things. Unexplained magic at the tips of her fingers. It was at the same age that everything that made the Ichta legendary started deserting her. Her strength, endurance, resilience against the cold. Yaz is different, and out on the ice being different is too dangerous.
The thousands stood without sound. Even the wind stilled its tongue. Still, no one spoke. And then a single high keening broke the silence. A mother’s cry from somewhere far up near the crater’s rim.
As with previous books by Mark Lawrence, the characters are brought to life through his remarkable talent, never failing to make strong impressions through every individual put on-page, but none more so than the compelling Yaz, who seems to be of the same mould as Nona from TBOTA. I don’t want to say much more about Yaz though, as her development throughout is part and parcel of the plot of this character-driven narrative, but where the other characters shone like stars, Yaz shone like a sun and I can’t wait to read more about her.
She would not surrender, not go gentle into her fate.
The planet of Abeth is as fascinating a place as ever. Ice-tribes in a frozen world, people with exciting magical skills, a missing civilization, sentient cities, mysterious technology, monsters and mysteries galore. Life is never dull in a Mark Lawrence novel. Fully established in TBOTA, this world at the end of its life provides a plethora of unanswered questions and I have a feeling many will remain so, but hopefully, others will have their answers dragged into the light. I for one can still not figure out where on the timeline The Girl and the Stars takes place, although I have seen other people stating confident and completely opposite answers from one another – some claiming it is after TBOTA and others saying it takes place before that series. I found nothing that answers it for me unless I missed it, so I will wait and see.
Glimpses of a shared universe present themselves occasionally, as a certain character shows up in this who is present in all of the author’s series. As for Abeth, the world is still suffering its last throes in concert with the dying red sun that orbits it. The planet is known to be completely sheathed in iced from the lack of heat, but the rumour persists that a sliver of a corridor, green and warm, remains around the equator. Whether this is true or used to be true is up in the air for now.
And where other stories on Abeth take mostly place above ground, Lawrence has dropped us beneath the miles-deep ice for this setting. This inspired choice adds a dark, foreboding quality to the tale that easily lurks in every sentence thanks to the claustrophobic tunnels that seem alive with menace, the ever-present weight of hundreds of millions of tons of frozen water pressing down on every side and the never-ending drip, drip, drip of water. Luckily there are cannibals and monsters and worse to keep our characters’ minds away from these things, all part of the gripping story and bookended with some rather dramatic moments!
If you have not yet read one of his books, the author has some skill at putting together sentences too, and it’s a joy to read.
Even so, it held a beauty and a peace: black rock, ice in every shade of pearl between white and clarity, the marbled seams of stardust glowing in all the colours that can be broken from the light. Beneath the many-tongued voice of falling water lay a distant glacial groaning, as timeless in its way as that of the wind.
Stacked with highly quotable sentences, sharp insights, and various themes ( friendship, finding yourself and found family are prevalent throughout), the writing in The Girl and the Stars exhibits that certain unputdownable quality that great authors seem to imbue their stories with, keeping us reading when we really should be doing that other thing we were supposed to do hours ago. Don’t judge me – pyjamas can be worn ALL day I tell you! I had a wonderful time reading this, and can confidently say that the sequel will most definitely occupy my most anticipated list, just like it’s predecessor. An easy recommendation to anyone who loves SFF or is looking to give it a try.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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