The Girl and the Mountain (2021) is the second installment in Mark Lawrence’s BOOK OF THE ICE series. It follows The Girl and the Stars, which you need to read first. There will be a few spoilers for that book in this review.
The Girl and the Stars introduced an icy world inhabited by tribes that follow a spiritual leader who, every few years, chooses each tribes’ weakest children and throws them into a hole in the ice where they, presumably, die. But when our hero, Yaz, jumps in after her brother, she discovers a new world below the ice where the children who’ve been disposed of have built their own civilization. When she realizes that the priest has been lying to her people and figures out some of the truth, she is determined to get back to the world above the ice, expose the scheme, and search for the narrow swath of green land that is rumored to exist near the planet’s equator.
Book two, The Girl and the Mountain, begins with a detailed “the story so far” summary of the first book, which is really helpful because that first book is pretty complicated with lots of characters and plot. Then it picks up right where the first book ended, in the middle of a spectacular and harrowing movie-worthy scene in which Yaz and her friends are attempting to climb back out of the very deep hole in the ice.
Once they finally reach the surface, they discover that things are even worse than they had imagined. The priests of the black rock have powers they didn’t anticipate, their plans are more dastardly than previously suspected, someone they thought was an ally has betrayed them, and there appears to be a war on the horizon.
Yaz has a lot more to learn about their evil operation as well as her own powers. She and her friends endure numerous uncomfortable and dangerous situations in this installment. They face long miles of travelling in a bitterly cold frozen wasteland, lack of shelter, starvation, long miles of travelling in a bitterly cold frozen wasteland, floods, monsters, other kinds of enemies, and long miles of travelling in a bitterly cold frozen wasteland. Fortunately, these friends are smart, brave, and loyal, and they have some powers of their own. Unfortunately, not all of them will survive.
I mentioned in my review of The Girl and the Stars that the underground icy setting was a strength of this story. I was worried that I wouldn’t like it as much once our heroes returned to the world above, but I shouldn’t have feared. Lawrence provides plenty of stunning scenery in this sequel. He also broadens the story satisfactorily (especially for a middle book) and answers a lot (and I mean a lot) of questions about this world’s history, how things work, and what future dangers they face.
The Girl and the Mountain was more focused than The Girl and the Stars but I continue to have a slight issue with the feeling that anything can happen (such as with the magic, the arc of the story, or with people who should be dead not staying dead) and, therefore, some events seem to come out of nowhere. That makes me feel ungrounded. This may be a personality deficit of mine, but when I read speculative fiction, I like to know what the rules are, I like there to be limits that I’m aware of, and I prefer that sudden changes in the direction of the story be foreshadowed somehow. In other words, I don’t like the head-spinning feeling of “where did that come from?”
BOOK OF THE ICE is connected to Lawrence’s BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR series. The characters are different and you don’t need to read those earlier books, but I felt, having read only the first one, Red Sister, that I was missing a bit of background that I wish I’d had for The Girl and the Mountain. I suspect the additional context would enhance the experience and may even explain away the complaints I mentioned in the previous paragraph. (If any readers agree or disagree, please let me know in the comments.)
Like its predecessor, The Girl and the Mountain ends with an unsettling cliffhanger. I’m looking forward to the next BOOK OF THE ICE novel. Assuming they survive, what will Yaz and her friends learn about the green land? Will they be seen as immigrants, refugees, or invaders? Will they have to fight for a life off the ice? What are the ethics of this situation? Can they save their world from the destruction that seems imminent? I hope we’ll find out in the next book, The Girl and the Moon, which is expected next April. I’ll be reading Penguin Audio’s edition. Helen Duff’s narration is a little bit flat in its delivery, but she has a lovely voice.