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Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Cover illustration by: Jason Chan
The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book of the Ice (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy
Pages: 480 pages (UK Hardcover edition)
Published: 30th April 2020 by Harper Voyager (UK) & 21st April 2020 by Ace (US)
Great world-building and prose, but I have mixed feelings on the book.
First of all, The Girl and the Stars is blessed with gorgeous cover arts. The US edition cover art done by Bastien Deharme—he did the US edition cover arts for Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy—and the UK edition cover art done by Jason Chan—he did the cover arts for Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War trilogy—are stunning. Picking the book based on the cover art was a huge dilemma, and I won’t be surprised if many readers decided to get both editions. Thankfully, my dilemma was solved when Lawrence himself offered me a signed copy of the UK edition to read and review. It is, however, unfortunate that I didn’t enjoy this as much as Red Sister. (Sorry, Mark!)
“Many babies have killed, but it is very rare that the victim is not their mother.”
With a killer opening line like that, The Girl and the Stars, the first installment in the Book of the Ice, begins. Similar to Red Sister, Lawrence knows how to start his books with an unforgettable line, and if you’re coming into this book—like me—because of your love for the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, you might immediately raise your expectation from the prologue alone. However, something about Lawrence that we all have to remember is that he doesn’t write the same kind of series twice; if you—again, like me—read The Girl and the Stars expecting it would be similar to Red Sister, you might find yourself disappointed. Although The Girl and the Stars takes place on Abeth, the same world of Red Sister, in almost everything, this book has a tone and characters that are so different from Book of the Ancestor trilogy, at least so far.
“Sometimes all your words are the wrong shape and none of them will fit into the silence left when the conversation pauses.”
At its core, The Girl and the Stars is a survival story. In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole in which broken children are thrown. Yaz thought she was going to be thrown into the hole, but as it turns out, her brother—Zeen—ended up being chosen instead of her. Yaz won’t accept that, and without thinking, she jumps into the hole to save her brother. We follow the story of Yaz as she tries her best to survive under the ice and save Zeen. The story starts off very strongly, but unlike Red Sister that held my attention non-stop, I felt that after the first half of this book, the strength of the story started to lose its steam. I get it. It’s not too fair to compare an author’s newest work to their previous work, but when the series takes place in the same world, I think a correlation/comparison is unavoidable. I did the same thing on my reviews for Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War, and I have to do that again here.
“People get like that if they live long enough to turn grey. They think they’ve seen it all and have answers for everyone. But they’re so distant from living life that they forget that we all have different paths.”
The biggest issue I had with the book, and a lot of readers have mentioned the same thing, was how much of a YA fantasy book this was. I’m not saying this because Yaz is a teenager; I think it’s dumb to immediately categorize a book as YA fantasy just because the character is a teenager. Plus, except for Red Queen’s War trilogy, all of Lawrence’s fantasy series always features a teenager as the main protagonist, and they were all clearly adult fantasy books. What made The Girl and the Stars felt so YA-ish was the tone of the narrative, and all the cliché usually found in YA fantasy heroine were somehow found here. You know how it is, Yaz doesn’t know she’s special, the guys want her upon their brief encounter; I think at one moment of the book, there was actually a love triangle/square being formed.
“We are victims of our first friendships. They are the foundations of us. Each anchors us to our past. The blows that drive those nails home are randomly struck, but they echo down all our days even so.”
But even if I were to exclude this too much of a young adult fantasy thing from my review, there was still one more issue to consider: the characters are unmemorable. In Red Sister, I found myself invested in Nona Grey and the rivalry/friendship she formed at the Convent of the Sweet Mercy. I didn’t get that feeling of investment at all here. Honestly, other than Yaz and Petrick (well, I’m obviously biased on this character’s name,) I doubt I’ll remember any of the other characters by next week.
“’Stay calm,’ Petrick hissed as he followed the others. ‘The demons find their way in most easily when you’re angry. Any flaw can be exploited: cruelty, jealousy, hate. But anger’s the hardest to avoid.’”
I’ve been highlighting most of my issues so far, but there was still plenty of greatness to experience. What’s lacking in characterizations and “adult” tone, Lawrence made up for them with his beautiful prose, and this was especially true on the world-building. I’m genuinely shocked by how gorgeously written the setting was. The coldness of the ice felt palpable to me; I felt like I was there with Yaz in every setting she visited. Also, for those of you who’s wondering whether you should read Book of the Ancestor first before reading this or not, I will answer: no, you don’t have to. The magic might confuse you a bit for a while because there wasn’t a lot of info on the role of Hunska, Gerant, Marjal, and Quantal. But other than that, I think you will be able to understand everything else. Prose-wise, it’s Lawrence’s usual beautiful writing style, and this book contains some of Lawrence’s finest philosophical phrases. I don’t think I’ve ever highlighted this many passages within one Lawrence’s book so far. One of my favorites being:
“There’s a darkness in each of us, afraid to show itself, wrestling with such blunt tools as words and deeds to make itself known to the darkness in another person similarly hidden behind walls of camouflage, disguise, interpretation. Honesty is a knife that we can use to pare away those layers, but one slip, go too deep, and who knows what injuries might be inflicted … The wounds an honest tongue can open sometimes take a lifetime to heal.”
No one is more saddened about this rating than me. I really wanted to love it more, especially after Lawrence himself sent me a signed copy. But as a reviewer, I have to always be honest, and my honest assessment is that although I still liked The Girl and the Stars for its world-building and prose, I’m a reader who prioritized characterizations, and this is the one factor that—in my opinion—the book lacked. I don’t even have to like the characters, but I need to care, or even hate—at least it’s an emotional feeling. Right now, I just felt… indifferent towards the characters. I hope a reread of this book one day—or maybe the sequel—will be able to fix that.
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