Review: Seven Deaths of an Empire by G.R Matthews

Rating: 8/10


A new grimdark fantasy for fans of Anna Smith-Spark, GRR Martin and Mark Lawrence.

The Emperor is dead. Long live the Empire.

General Bordan has a lifetime of duty and sacrifice behind him in the service of the Empire. But with rebellion brewing in the countryside, and assassins, thieves and politicians vying for power in the city, it is all Bordan can do to protect the heir to the throne.

Apprentice Magician Kyron is assigned to the late Emperor’s honour guard escorting his body on the long road back to the capital. Mistrusted and feared by his own people, even a magician’s power may fail when enemies emerge from the forests, for whoever is in control of the Emperor’s body, controls the succession.

Seven lives and seven deaths to seal the fate of the Empire.


It doesn’t happen too often but every now and then you get a book come along that just makes it hard to begin anything else. For me books like A Memory of Light, The Sword of Kaigen, The Burning White and Ruin have left me not reading for weeks or months even. Now days I don’t feel like I have that particular luxury anymore, I want to review books and that means I need to read books which means slumps aren’t allowed to exist. From now on these mental blocks will be laid siege too. Today’s review is on Seven Deaths of an Empire by G.R Matthews and it’s the book that beat that slump, it’s the trebuchet that flattened my mental block. This won’t be my prettiest review and I apologise off the bat because I think the story that GR Matthews wrote deserved a better reader.  I struggled to get going with this, and that isn’t down to the book, purely my own mental incompetence.

Thank you to Rosie over at Rebellion Publishing for sending me an ARC of this incredibly beautiful book. I wish all paperbacks looked this good.

Seven Deaths of an Empire is a new epic fantasy series following the stories of Bordan, a general of the Empire and the man ultimately in control of its military, and Kyron, a young apprentice whose job it is to guard the body of the dead Emperor as he’s escorted home after campaigning in the North. Seven Deaths of an Empire is set in a world heavily inspired by our own historical period of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, we are brought into a world were the unstoppable might of the Empire continues to roll out from its capital, swallowing everything as it goes and bringing its own version of civilisation to the Tribes and peoples of the Forests. The Empire is heavily based on the Romans as we knew them, we have its Gladiators and Colosseums, its soldiers carry the same weapons, their armies building the same roads and following the same military strategies on the battlefield, and the Empire following the same tactics that made the Romans one of the most powerful empires in history. Even a lot of the lore we are given seems to mirror our own historical events quite well, the book having a considerable focus on religion that a lot of people theorise is a large part of why the Roman Empire eventually crumbled. The Tribes are a little less of an exact copy but share a lot of similarities with the Gaul and Germanic Tribes that the Romans fought and eventually conquered around 50bc. Even though Matthews has heavily sourced his story and ideas from our own history he has done incredibly well to make this world his own and I found myself loving the setting and changes that were made.

One of my only real criticisms of the book and not even a very large one is I felt we had barely scratched the surface this world that Matthews built. I really enjoyed the magic system that Matthews has built, it reminded me in part between a mixture of life magic similar to what we see in Paolini’s Inheritance Series and the channelling we all know from The Wheel of Time but yet felt new and original in a way. Magic is seen as “motes”, particles that are found in all living things are drawn from around the Magician and then are weaved into complex and fragile webs, Magicians having talents in different areas of magic and stronger Magician’s being able to form more numerous and stronger webs. We saw quite a few uses for this in some inventive ways, webs being built that could detect lies, battle magic and even wards that help preserve a body from rotting. This I felt was a soft magic system, there was no real limitation on what could be done as it seemed to be scaled more from the users own imagination and quick thinking. It definitely also seems like the Empires power starts to decline its knowledge is slipping away with it, I do not believe we’ve fully seen the extent of what can be done, and I can’t wait to see what we might get in the next book.

Only the minute specks of magic remained, passing through and bouncing off all that surrounded him. They were everywhere, in everything, a million tiny flies buzzing past his ears, a billion minuscule stars wheeling around the sky. They called to him and he to them, commanding, cajoling, explaining, demanding, and controlling.

This was magic. This was where he existed.

The Tribes themselves seemed such a massively unspoken part of the story and it led to a lot of frustration, I want to learn so much more about them and the broader world outside of the Empire itself. We do get a little look into one of the villages part way through the book and all it did was flare up my curiosities further. I feel I understood why Matthews decided to leave out so much lore, it seems to mirror the characters ignorance to the world and cultures around them, it means we have to be a part of Kyron’s lack of understanding and learn alongside him as he has the world and truth start to open up to him. So even though I consider it a criticism, I believe it is there for a purpose and will give us a much more exciting book two as we find out a ton of new info. So instead of a criticism, it should be more of a frustration?

Seven Deaths of an Empire is a two person POV story which was right up my alley, alternating chapters between Bordan and Kyron which I loved because it never meant we had long to wait when we had those little end of chapter cliff-hangers that authors love so much. It took me a while to really fall in love with either of these two, this was in part because of the mental blocks Ive previously mentioned, but I also didn’t feel that these two characters were really fleshed out till we really got into the book. Once Matthews got going we ended up getting a lot of depth and complex motivations behind both, Bordan and Kyron both being incredibly well written towards the end with a lot of focus on what drove them to make the choices they make, plenty of situations that left them questioning their beliefs and a lot of tough choices to be made. I ended up invested enormously in both of these characters particularly loved the progression that we saw with Kyron as the book went on, Matthews doing a wonderful job of writing a youngsters naivety to the real world and a realistic look at what happens when you are introduced to things that questions those lifelong beliefs that you’ve held.

Bordan almost took a step back in surprise. There was a heat rising from the young woman’s skill, almost too hot to touch and Bordan could feel the heavy pulse of blood running through her arms. Grief tore at your mind, he knew that, and gave free rein to base emotions. Some raged and spat at the world. They would shout and fight, attack with words those closest to the. Eventually, they would calm, and relation would come crashing down with a hot wave of crushing sadness. Later, they would raise their heads, emotions spent, and carry on, the hole in their heart scarring over but never truly free of the pain.

I may have struggled to be drawn into the two main characters, but I quickly fell in love with Matthews supporting cast, both Bordan and Kyron were surrounded by characters I enjoyed reading about and spent much of the book wishing to see more of them. Emlyn was my favourite character of the entire story and definitely the first character I actually found myself loving, brimming with attitude, and making me laugh out loud at moments, I thought she was incredibly well written, and I feel she will have a much larger role to play in coming books which is a very exciting prospect. I also had some genuine anger and frustrations towards the Royal Family and people such as Livillia, Matthews wrote characters I would struggle not to slap if I stood in the same room as them,  and Ive always believed that if an author can make me feel some rage or anger, they’ve done an incredible job.

One thing that really stunned me as the book went on was how beautifully Matthews did with writing the fight scenes, even though battle and bloodshed wasn’t at the forefront of this book the bits we got were thrilling, Matthews has a natural ability to write fights that many authors struggle with. The Roman setting isn’t something new in fantasy and most will have some knowledge on how they fought, but I grew up watching shows like Time Commanders and playing games such as Rome Total War, I love the way ancient civilisations fought and the Romans were geniuses on the battlefield, Matthews managed to transport me into that shield wall, he made me hear the call for heavy Pila’s as they were thrown from the back lines to find purchase in the bodies of my foes, and he set the rhythm to the fight that found us taking that one step forward, grinding away at our enemies bit by bit . I could read Matthews battle scenes every day and be a happy man.

An axe rising into the air, the suns light scattering from its chipped edge. A whisper of air and a cry of effort as a shield met the blow and shattered. Splinters pinwheeling through the air and sudden lack of weight on his arm. Gladius stabbing forward, driven by training and instinct. A gap opening in the line ahead. A soldier falling and stumbling over the injured man, desperate to keep his shield high and sword in tight. Moving into the gap and slamming the shield forward to create room, peering over the top, wary of an attack. Heavy armour and biting pain at the base of your neck where the helmets rim met flesh. Sweat pouring down your face, under your cheek guards, and hot breath burning lungs as each precious gasp powered you forward.

 A quick final shoutout to Matthews on his writing, I was a big fan of his prose and writing style in general. His writing was unpretentious and never felt unnecessary, but out of nowhere he would smack you with this beautifully written sentence that struck to your core. I find this sort of writing so much more impactful sometimes because when you get to that incredible prose they are really elevated and give pause. His chapter structure was also something I loved and something I’m always grateful for. I always love a wonderfully short chapter that doesn’t waste any time, they break up the story so well, every page giving you what was needed, when it was needed without that horrible pain you are normally left with at the end of an exciting chapter.

Seven Deaths of an Empire isn’t outrageously different, it isn’t a new take on the fantasy genre, and it isn’t leading the pack in diversity, but it is a superbly written grimdark story and a classic feeling epic fantasy that reminded me of reading authors like Raymond E Feist and David Farland, its exciting at every turn with a wonderfully spun plot that keeps you guessing the entire time and Matthews has written a book that I really hope and believe has opened up a much vaster and even more exciting series to come. I can’t wait for book two, Silencing of the North.

Book Review – Dragon Mage

I have to thank twitter again for putting me onto Dragon Mage by ML Spencer. Jealously was a big factor in why I had to buy this, this is probably one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen in years. Illustrated by the incredibly talented Sutthiwat Dechakamphu, and designed by the excellent STK Kreations, this is a must for any hardback lovers bookshelves. This was the first time I had heard of ML Spencer and that is a mistake I will be rectifying as soon as I can buy her other books. She has written two other series; The Rhenwar Saga being a Semi-finalist in Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO which in recent years seems to be one of the best untapped resources when it comes to Fantasy. I say untapped but I’m coming to think my knowledge of the Fantasy world is just lacking. Book twitter makes me feel like a novice.

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.

But Aram is more. Much, much more.

Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honour among the armies of men: dragon riders.

Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.”

Dragon Mage – ML Spencer

Our main character is a misfit boy named Aram; a boy who has spent his entire life shunned because of his differences. Aram sees the true colours of people and of the world, completely unaware of where this will lead him, tangling him in the schemes of others, the only one able to save the world from the disaster that awaits. I did worry slightly reading the blurb, it could come across that Spencer has created the classic fantasy character, a sort of Gary Stu, but there is no scene where he suddenly springs to his full potential, he isn’t a master warrior overnight. Aram’s story is filled with despair and struggle and those worries quickly slipped away. I genuinely haven’t felt such angst, pity, worry and every other emotion going towards a character since Fitz Chivalry in the Farseer Trilogy. Spencer fully went toe to toe with Robin Hobb in emotional torture and I think that’s partly the magic in this book, she quickly punches you in the gut, dancing over the lines of plot protection that leaves you afraid at times, but fully investing you to Aram’s story in a way that very few authors are able to do. Watching the boy grow, the many moments of misery and the few incredibly rewarding moments of joy, Spencer has written a truly relatable, very human character and it’s because of Spencer’s incredible writing of Aram that you latch on to this book more than anything.

“For now, I will abstain from plucking your wings. But take my advice: live each day as though it was your last, for every day from now forward is a gift from me. Yet also understand that every gift in this world comes with a price. Someday I will ask you to repay me for this mercy I have bestowed upon you”

Dragon Mage – ML Spencer

Now you could almost call this book a single POV story, almost completely focusing on Aram, but for brief moments over its 800+ pages we occasionally get first-hand snippets of Markus, Aram’s only friend and protector. Spencer did a wonderful job of writing the relationship between the two characters, , the snatches of his perspective that you get you can fully feel his emotions towards Aram, the same love and want to protect that mirrors the own readers. Aram and Markus are surrounded by the classic cast of fantasy characters that you expect to see, but Spencer’s skill to write realistic, fun to read characters is what turns this from a fairly classical fantasy story into something remarkable.

“After you hear something so many times, it starts to define you, and it eventually becomes a prison. He had been confined by that prison all his life, and now he feared the world outside its walls.”

Dragon Mage – ML Spencer

I’ve loved to read since I was young, as most of the book community have, but there is one series that really cemented my love for the fantasy genre. Christmas morning 2005, I’m fifteen years old, I unwrap a book shaped present, it is Eldest by Christopher Paolini, I didn’t own Eragon so on boxing day morning I ran down to WHSmiths and bought it. I devoured the books, eagerly waiting for the next two in the series and since then I’ve reread The Inheritance Cycle every year from when I was fifteen to about twenty-three and only stopped because I now have too many books in my TBR pile. It’s a flawed book, a lot of people have mixed feelings about it, and I can agree with those people on their points, but I have a deep love for it and always will.

Now first things first because my mum will be reading this and I don’t want a slap, I’m in no way slating my mother for her occasionally buying me the sequels of books. She picked the books I loved most over my young adult years and bestowed her excellent taste onto me, and I will be forever thankful to her. The reason I love to read, and read fantasy, is because of her.

Dragon Mage held a lot of similarities to Eragon for me in the sort of story it is, I’m not trying to say it’s a book heavily influenced by Eragon. Spencer has built a completely different world, a very new and unique magic system, completely different characters, even the Dragons are different in their ways and I can’t stress enough that Spencer wrote something new, something truly fun and addictive that had me reading from morning till night and meant I finished this monster in 3 days.  What I mean is Spencer’s books gave me that same sort of feeling the Inheritance Cycle did, the same amazement, the same joy. I love a coming-of-age story and Spencer did this incredibly well, stories of children that find themselves tied into some great plan, books that go take us through the journey from child to hero, the classic magic school, training montages, a grizzled old teacher to show them the ways. These types of books bring out this incredible level of nostalgia reminding me of when I was a kid and hoped I would get a letter through the door telling me I was a wizard or to go find a dragon egg in the mountains and become the first dragon rider in years and go flying off to save the world. Spencer’s book hit me right in these memories, she returned to me a sense of childlike awe and reunited me with feelings that I haven’t had from a book in a very long time. This is why this book has become so important to me, it is why it’s a book I will make my children read when they become the little nerds I mould them to be and it’s a book I will reread many times over the course of my life.

I’ve also mentioned this before, but I really love books with dragons.

The only nit-pick I did have with the book is I did sometimes feel the pacing was slightly off in scenes I expected to be bigger and more in-depth. A prime example being Aram’s first time meeting the council upon arriving in the world below, a scene I would have normally expected to last a chapter was over in two or so pages, and it seemed to happen at a few points in the book. However, I didn’t realise that this book was intended to be a standalone till I had finished and upon finding out that piece of information you quickly realise why some scenes had to be made shorter, to fit the incredible scope of Spencer’s story in a single book. This issues never affected fight scenes or big set pieces, and it was something that actually didn’t bother me massively, however just something that felt odd when comparing it to past books.

 I feel like a pretty poor reviewer lately because every review has had some sort of “This book has quickly become one of my favourites”, and really I can only blame the authors for this, not me, but in all honesty this book has gone straight to a top ten place. Spencer ended Dragon Mage incredibly well and left me feeling very fulfilled, however as mentioned this book was meant to be a standalone and since has been expanded into a series and I couldn’t be more ecstatic, I can’t wait to see what happens next. My main hope being that the next book brings us a more confident and happier Aram, Spence has plenty to expand on meaning we should get some amazing stories come out of this world. Buy this book, not only can I almost guarantee you will love it but also it looks so damn good on your bookshelf.

Thank you ML Spencer for making me feel fifteen again.

Book Review – We Ride the Storm

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

I saw a tweet this morning about different types of reviewers, some being very liberal about their five-star reviews and the other being picky about how they rate those books. Now in my The Girl and the Stars review I said I don’t use five-star ratings, and apparently, I’m a liar. Devin Madson’s We Ride with the Storm gets another five-star review.  You know what, I don’t care, and you know why? Because this book was fucking amazing. And if a book is really fucking amazing it gets a five star (If I don’t feel the need to use swear words then it just gets four stars).

Now I’m kind of ashamed of myself because I hadn’t heard of Devin till very recently and I didn’t realise until the interview at the end of WRtS that she had a series before this (The Vengeance Trilogy), a series that I would imagine might enhance certain parts of the book. However, if you’re like me and you’re in the same boat, do not fret, you can read WRtS without needing to read the prior series. However, Devin if you read this by some small chance, I will go back and read them, I promise.

The story tells of the struggles between the Kisian, Chiltaen and Levanti people, this world is based on what seems to be Feudal Japan, taking very strong cultural impressions from all over Asia. Devin has managed to write a world that feels rich with the history and traditions of those people, and she manages to write this world with little need of piling us with tons of unnecessary details. Instead, incorporating the information we need to know into the story and allowing us to feel like we know these people, characters and what drives them while keeping the story going at breakneck speeds. Devin’s writing style was incredible the entire way through the book and really felt unlike anything I’ve read in recent years. As I was scribbling down notes, I wrote it felt like every time I was turning a page, I was waiting for Devin to pop out from wherever she was hiding and slap me in the face, before running off and hiding somewhere new so I wouldn’t know where to expect the next one from. I felt scared and tense for the characters I came to know, I spent chapters holding in my breath without realising, clenching my jaw, I wrote angry sentences about how Devin didn’t want any of us to be happy as she twisted the plot once again. It’s not often a book stresses me as much as WRtS and it should be taken as a massive compliment. I never knew where this book was going to take me, whether that was the storyline Devin was so masterfully crafting. Scenes I couldn’t even try to pretend I could guess what was going to happen next, or just actual scenes that were stunning to read, whether that being for how beautiful the prose were or because of how shocking the scene was. I mean we basically open the book with Devin in detail describing how to cut off a head.

“It’s harder to sever a head than people think. Perhaps, if one were skilled with an axe, it could be done in a single blow – so long as the body was not trying to run away at the time – but out in the grasslands, decapitation is done with a knife. The first incision is easy. Then you drag your serrated blade through the flesh and think you’ll soon be done. I thought so my first time. I thought it would be quick and simple and not involve such thick globs of blob.

Rah e’Toring, We Ride the Storm – Devin Madson

If it wasn’t for the fact it was incredibly illegal, I would think Devin’s been hacking off human heads herself, and to be honest I’m not sure if that stopped her, she knows vastly too much on the subject. On top of this incredible writing, we had then potentially some of the most wonderful chapter structure I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long time. Epic fantasy that tells its story through the POV of multiple characters tends to do similar things, creating nice little cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter (series like the Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones are prime examples of this), leaving you with your favourite character bleeding out on a battlefield while then jumping halfway across the world to maybe two characters you don’t care about, talking politics. Leaving you with a knife in your gut as you try your best not to skim over those next hundred pages, till you finally return and find out what happened. Devin instead writes these beautiful chapters which each tend to have their own crescendo, each picking up quickly till it peaks with something jaw-droppingly exciting before then normally giving you some sort of resolution at the end. You get the knife thrust to the gut, swift battlefield surgery and sent on your merry way all in one chapter and I can’t tell you enough how much I loved that.

Now I mention my desire to skim over or just skip over chapters (Don’t shame me, I don’t do it. I’m just tempted). I’ve touched on this in previous reviews, when it does happen it can occasionally be because of the character, I’m now having to read about someone who I can’t get along with. Devin negates this issue of mine really easily by making sure all three main characters are insanely amazing. I would also like to make it clear that Devin wrote every character, no matter how minor to the story as someone important to the reader. Each one was written so you became invested, somehow even becoming emotionally attached to the characters you maybe thought were arseholes, Devin’s ability to write characters incredibly, no matter how big or small is something that truly makes this book great.

I thoroughly loved reading each character’s perspectives, no character felt more important than another, each falling into their parts of the story perfectly and each slowly being entwined together to get it to its ending masterfully. As much as I loved all three characters, I think Miko ended up as my favourite even though she probably started out as my least. Miko is a princess of Kisia, her and her brother, Tanaka, prince of Kisia and potential heir to the throne are stepchildren to the all mighty God Emperor of Kisia. However, both are Okato children, this information hidden away for years to stop any uprising from the troubled north, still fiercely loyal to the Okato’s. Miko even though quite clearly the more capable of the two siblings is looked over due to her being a female, classic historical misogyny. Although, Miko has very different plans for herself and I think quite early on you can guess the sort of storyline that she will follow, however what I wouldn’t have guessed is the gorydamn roller coaster of emotions that Devin would put us through. Her story starting out slowly ends up rampaging in excitement as the book carries on, the last hundred or so pages being a complete emotional maelstrom that truly makes you grit your teeth.

“They tried to kill me four times before I could walk. Seven before I held any memory of the world. Every time thereafter I knew fear, but it was anger that chipped sharp edges into my soul”.

Princess Miko, We Ride the Storm – Devin Madson

The second character is Rah e’Toring, Captain of the Second Swords of the Torin Tribe, part of the nomadic tribes of the Levanti. A people heavily steeped in an honour and code that was incredibly fun to read and potentially is based on the Mongolian people, Devin did a really incredible job of giving us a ton of information on how the Levanti lived without ever needing to sit down and explain it. Rah’s people are exiled from their lands and end up being captured and forced to fight by the Chiltaens, finding out as you go that this was all a lot more complicated than it seemed. Rah started off as my favourite character and held that spot till right at the end, his story is a constant source of gripping excitement, his struggles to return his people to some sort of freedom and a way back to the code that he has been forced to stray from. Devin does as incredible job of communicating this character’s emotions onto the paper and really makes us feel his pain and fear, his love for his people and his concern for the decisions he has taken. I’m glad I don’t have to wait to long to read the second book because Devin really upped her slapping game for the end of this one.

“We are the Swords that hunt so your hands may be clean. We are the Swords that kill so your soul may be light. We are the Swords that die so you may live.”

Rah e’Toring, We Ride the Storm – Devin Madson

Cassandra is the last of our characters, a Chiltaen full time assassin, part time prostitute, full time mental case, or so you think early on. You find out everything she does is to quiet the voices of ‘her’ -a voice in Cassandras head that she wants rid of. Cassandra is caught deeply in the web of Chiltaen politics as she finds herself being bounced between the different sides, all wanting her skills for their own devious ends. Cassandra quite quickly shocks as she’s introduced and is a character you eagerly wait to reappear in the story, but as we go on it turns out there’s so much more to her than the drug fuelled sex fiend that’s portrayed at the beginning. Devin doing a fantastic job of humanising her character and really drawing you in emotionally as you realise her story in fullness. Towards the end I did find her story overshadowed somewhat but only due to how incredible the other two were, Devin left Cassandra’s story in the perfect place and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Devin has achieved something magnificent with We Ride the Storm, I don’t think since Pierce Browns Golden Son have, I felt so much emotion from a book, that emotion being mainly stress, and again I can’t stress (haha) how much this is a compliment. A  book that drives you to madness with how incredibly well done the story is, the sort of book you don’t want to put down at 2am, the sort of book you want to shout in frustration at. This book has quickly entered the list of my all-time favourites and if it wasn’t for the queue of books I currently have and the fact Mike Brooks told me on twitter I had to read his book next, I would have gone straight onto the sequel. I bet this series will feature in some sort of end of year post and I’m positive it will stay my favourite book of 2021 till May…

I already have a signed copy of book three pre-ordered which you can purchase through in case you’re interested, and to be honest I would highly recommend you doing the same. (I am in no way affiliated with The Broken Binding, they are just awesome, you can also get signed copies of Devin’s other books.)

Thanks for reading.

Book Review – The Girl and the Stars

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