I received a copy of this book from the publisher (Ace) in exchange for an honest review.
“Many babies have killed, but it is very rare that the victim is not their mother.”
So begins Mark Lawrence’s newest novel, The Girl and the Stars. As always, Lawrence knows how to captivate an audience and set the tone for the book all within the first sentence. We know immediately that Yaz of the Ictha, our perspective character, is an uncommon child. On the Ice, difference can be a death sentence. And not just because those differences often render their bearer vulnerable, but because children who are too different, broken in the eyes of their elders, end up being tossed into the Pit. And that is the end that Yaz envisions for herself with a hard clarity. But when the time comes for her to face the push that will send her into the abyss, things go differently that she had always imagined. What she fully expected to be the end of her story turned out to be its true beginning.
“We are the unwanted, the things of such little use that they are thrown away. We are what is beyond repair. We are the Broken.”
The idea of tribes as both extended family and the roots of identity is a dominant theme in The Girl and the Stars, as is the prospect of found family versus families related by blood. If you’ve read Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy, you’re already familiar with both the importance of blood in the magic system and the power of the families one can build around oneself. I have a serious soft spot for any strongly tied grouping that feels like family, whether that family is genetic or gathered over the course of a life. I was happy to see that explored a bit in this book, and I believe it will be an important element of the books that follow.
“Did beauty need an observer to matter? Was anything beautiful without someone to think it so?”
I thoroughly enjoyed being given the chance to revisit Abeth, and to see it from an unfamiliar angle. It’s really interesting to get the same world and magic from a different perspective. The new ways in which these are viewed and conveyed add a depth to the world building. At first glance, life on the Ice is so radically different from the setting of Nona’s story in the Book of the Ancestor that it’s difficult to find much commonality. But as the story progresses we are shown more and more the ties that bind two such dissimilar ways of life irrevocably together. I also found the subterranean setting of the majority of the book quite fascinating. It’s a hidden world that was touched on in the Book of the Ancestor, but I enjoyed seeing it further fleshed out here. Cold, wind, and the Ice are the most important aspects of life here because they’re the most dangerous. It’s interesting to see to what extent these elements dominate every single moment in the minds of those who dwell within it.
“…it’s better to die trying for a life we can take for ourselves than to die fighting each other in the dark for an existence we were condemned to.”
While I found the world building and the quality of the writing in The Girl and the Stars just as exemplary as that of the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, I found myself unable to love this story with quite the same intensity. I think this disconnect was due in large part to the characters. While I liked Yaz and respected her steadfast loyalty, she didn’t have the same depth in my opinion as Nona. I also found her a bit too akin to a Young Adult heroine, especially since almost every male with a pulse, and one that I’m pretty sure doesn’t even have one, seemed completely infatuated with her. Yaz is also a weird combination of helpless and all-powerful, which again reminded me of a heroine from so many YA novels.
“It’s a dangerous game to try to rid yourself of weakness. You never know what else you might lose in the deal.”
Another thing that threw me out of the story on occasion was actually one of my favorite elements of any Lawrence book I’ve read thus far: the writing. Lawrence tends to wax philosophical quite often, which I always love. I always heavily highlight his books, and this one was no exception. He had some truly profound things to say, and he said them well. However, due to the fact that the heroine and the novel itself felt more YA in tone than the preceding trilogy, I found that these philosophical passages didn’t quite mesh with the rest of the story, and even felt a bit self-indulgent. Anytime a character embarked on an esoteric monologue, it felt incredibly out of character to the point where said character felt more like a ventriloquist dummy than an autonomous being. I hate that I found this so jarring, but it further hindered my ability to connect with Yaz and her compatriots on any emotional level. I also found the subtle science fiction and post apocalyptic undertones more distracting here than I did in the preceding trilogy, as did the occasional references to our own world. The balance was just off in my opinion.
“She understood that she wasn’t the selfish voice, or the kind one—she was the sum of a multitude, normally joined so close the seams didn’t show, but liable to fall apart under stress. Everyone was. A mix, a recipe, the sum of their parts and more.”
I might not have loved Yaz are her story with the same fervor I felt for Nona and her fellow nuns, but Lawrence told an incredibly interesting tale with The Girl and the Stars. He did a brilliant job of showcasing the same world from a different angle, highlighting facets that had previously been in the shadows. I’m interested to see what Abeth holds next for Yaz, and what impact Yaz will in kind have on Abeth.
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