The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence
If I decided to use a five-star system this book is an easy 5/5.
But I don’t, so you can ignore that.
Lawrence’s newest series, the Book of the Ice is set in the same world as The Book of the Ancestor. If this isn’t something you’ve read, I would highly recommend you changing that as soon as possible. It isn’t necessary so you can skip over if you feel so inclined, but a lot of the lore and information you will be given is easier to understand if you go back. The major reason for going back is getting to see the world Lawrence has written, potentially one of my favourite and imaginative worlds in recent years. The world of Abeth is dying, its sun unable to stop the encroaching Ice Age that creeps from both poles, the last defence of man is a barely functioning man-made moon that refracts the suns light into the corridor, a 50-mile-wide strip of land around the equator that’s slowly getting smaller year by year. The inhabitants of Abeth fighting each other for the scraps of what the ice hasn’t taken.
How fucking amazing does that sound?
The Book of the Ancestor focused on Nona Grey, a girl living in the corridor. Lawrence decided to stick to this incredible world but also explore the rest of Abeth this time round. Small tribes that live out on the ice, nomads, always moving, who can barely leave the safety of their clothing, spending most of their lives even unable to touch each other for fear of a quick and icy death.
As I said, how fucking amazing does that sound?
Our story focuses on Yaz, a sixteen-year-old girl from the Ithca tribe, we enter as they travel to the Pit of the Missing where the children of the tribes are tested for any signs of “weakness”. Weakness isn’t allowed to exist on the ice, and anyone not considered whole and strong is swiftly pushed down the hole, it is where all the broken must go.
“In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole into which broken children are thrown.”The Girl and the Stars – Mark Lawrence
Yaz knows she isn’t the same as the rest of the Ithca, she can’t run as far, she isn’t as strong, she feels the cold that little bit more, she knows when she arrives it is her time, she is destined to go into the dark depths of the hole and never to been seen again. However, Yaz is wrong, the regulators decide she has greater thing in store, but things quickly things change when she follows her twelve-year-old brother Zeen who’s been pushed down the hole instead.
“Many babies have killed, but it is very rare that the victim is not their mother.”The Girl and the Stars – Mark Lawrence
This is the first sentence of the book, and I felt Lawrence really came out of the gates swinging with this and god damn what a start, it’s not often that a two-page prologue manages to get me so hyped. That energy never really disappears during the entire book, at no point did it feel boring or lacking. We get a tiny lull in the middle but honestly, I felt that was only a lull because the rest of the book was so exciting. Having a world that’s already been set really helps with this as we get to skip straight into the story, we don’t need the too common first book data dump or slow setup, we know of the tribes and the four bloods, we know (or really don’t know, I guess) about the missing and the technology they left behind. But even though this is the same world we already know it feels so different, the people of the corridor actually know so little of the rest of the world and that quickly shows. Then on the flipside and what was remarkably interesting was that the tribes do not even believe in the existence of the corridor, the contact isn’t there, the people of the tribes haven’t seen a tree, or a butterfly, they can’t wander down to the local market. What we get is almost a completely new setting, barely stained by any previous events, but with the framework of a truly incredibly, well written world. The Caves and the undercity were incredibly exciting to read about and I’m glad so much of the story was spent in the ruins of the old city. I’m a big fan of Lawrence’s post-apocalyptic settings, the tie in of barely understood technology into everyday life, and the story that is slowly put together looks like we will get to see more of that than we’ve seen before. Lawrence really fleshed this new Abeth with some of the best writing I’ve seen from him so far, as with anything practise makes perfect and you can see the continued evolution of Lawrence’s talent. There were some beautiful prose and every setting Yaz visits was painted beautifully without being unnecessarily over the top, I was super happy to not find myself skipping over paragraphs of prose that didn’t need to be written which is often the case and for myself a real tell of how good the writing really was.
As per usual Lawrence’s book follow a single person perspective with its usual array of supporting characters, Yaz is a well written and exciting main character to follow. She isn’t in any way wildly different from the classic fantasy protagonist, I do like Lawrence’s continued theme of not writing characters that have these massively preordained destinies or the “chosen one” which is seen all too often. We have a brave and smart teenage girl who is following her instincts and making mistakes along the way, she does seem to be on the stronger side of magic users in Abeth, but this is likely just due to her being out on the ice were people with the old blood have been slowly bred out, I’m not sure if she was against Nona she would seem all that special. The other supporting members of the cast were all enjoyable to read about and fell into their parts of the story well, there were a few stand outs for me; Maya is a bad bitch and I hope our little shadow assassin continues to be in the story. Erris and Elias both came into the story perfectly, super exciting chapters, revealing just enough to really keep you tense. Thurin was a great secondary to Yaz for the first part of the book and I think the portrayal of a survivor was done well, you felt his pain and fear as you found out more about him. As a whole, the Broken as a group were written beautifully, the pain and misery were heavily felt, these people had been abandoned to what was barely a life, slaving away for the people above ground without really knowing it, spending every day in fear of death, or worse.
“At first glance it’s an action-packed high-stakes adventure. Scratch a little deeper and it’s about right and wrong in a place where the two can be hard to disentangle.”The Girl and the Stars – Mark Lawrence
Theus and the tainted were incredible boogeymen, and as the book went on you really started to struggle to see the lines as they blurred between good and bad (don’t get me wrong, I hope all the priests of the Black Rock are murdered off). It was fantastic to really see the demons come into the story in a bigger way, finally finding out where they are from and how they were made. It really makes me excited to see where the Theus character arc goes, as he finds more missing parts of himself and becomes more complete, it makes you question whether he will stray from being the villain to being something closer to a hero? And does the Missing’s name maybe have less to do with the fact they are missing from the world but more to do with the fact they are missing what made them human in the first place? I think we are getting to see the reason for the Missing’s downfall and that really excites me.
I agree with some people’s views that this book felt a little more YA than some of Lawrence’s previous entries and even then, it’s a very tiny agreement, and in no way is that a bad thing. I at points wished that the book focused a little less on the boy’s feelings for Yaz, the introduction of what I can only call a love square wasn’t needed (Quell returning out of nowhere was probably the only bit of the book I didn’t enjoy, his character should have stayed topside). But overall, the book felt to me more grimdark than some of the previous series, we have what really feels like a bleak and hopeless world, regardless of those living above the ice or below, every day is just scraping another day of survival with very little joy.
“The world turns whether we will it or not and everything, longed for or feared, comes to us in time.”The Girl and the Stars – Mark Lawrence
The Girl and the Stars really is the peak of Lawrence’s writing so far, an incredibly well written first entry into what will be a magnificent series. I’m writing this review a couple months off from the The Girl and the Mountain release date and couldn’t be more exited to get my hands on it and I won’t be letting this one sit on my shelf for close to a year this time.
tl;dr Read the damn book, its great.
Thanks for reading