The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence
The Girl and the Stars (2020) is the first book in Mark Lawrence’s BOOK OF THE ICE series. It’s about a society that lives in an extremely harsh icy climate. They have a spiritual leader called “the regulator” who looks for children who are “broken” — children who are too weak or who have character traits that will not benefit the survival of their tribes when they become adults. Every few years, to cull the herd, the regulator identifies these kids and has them thrown into a hole in the ice where, presumably, they die.
When Yaz’s brother is assessed by the regulator, he is found lacking and pushed into the hole. Distraught, Yaz jumps in after him. She is surprised when she doesn’t fall to her death. Instead, she’s saved by a group of other broken kids who were tossed down the hole in previous years. They welcome Yaz to their home under the ice, but it appears that her brother is either dead, or was rescued by a different group of survivors. A group with a very different system of habits and morals.
Yaz’s new companions say it would probably be best if her brother was dead, but Yaz is determined to find him. As she searches, Yaz discovers that she has some magical skills and that a lot of things she thought about her world’s history, her society, its leadership, and the “broken” children were wrong. Yaz is determined to return and make some changes in the world above the ice and, fortunately, some of her new friends are like-minded. Unfortunately, some of them are not quite trustworthy and, at first, Yaz has no idea that there’s more going on than she at first perceives.
The setting is the best part of The Girl and the Stars. An underground icy world is … (trying not to say “ so cool”) … an imaginative setting that gives Mark Lawrence a chance to display his creativity. Yaz’s world is the same world that Lawrence’s BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR is set in, but you don’t need to have read those novels to enjoy BOOK OF THE ICE. The characters, so far, are different.
Speaking of characters, I liked Yaz and admired her bravery, love for her brother, and desire to see justice done, but I also thought she was sometimes annoyingly reckless. I wasn’t sure why multiple teenage boys fell instantly in love with her (she’s not that great) and were jealous of each other. I liked some of the other characters well enough, but, despite this being a pretty long book (18.5 hours in audio format), I didn’t get the time to connect with them.
For the most part, the plot of The Girl and the Stars moves quickly. There are lots of twists and turns and, sometimes, the frantic pace and the series of unexpected revelations made my head spin. There was a long stretch in the second half that incorporated too many disparate elements and I found this section unfocused, confusing and, sometimes dull, despite all that was going on. It’s possible that some of these elements are related to the BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR and will work better for readers who are familiar with that trilogy (I only read the first one), but I can’t say for sure. Added to this was the problem (for me) that there isn’t a clear set of rules for what magic can and can’t do in Yaz’s world, making it seem like, when characters get into a situation that seems untenable, magic can conveniently and easily save the day.
The Girl and the Stars ends with a fabulous, tense and visually stunning scene which is, almost literally, a cliffhanger. That scene made me want to continue Yaz’s story in the next book, The Black Rock, which is expected next year. I will probably give it a try.
The audio version of The Girl and the Stars was produced by Penguin Audio and pleasantly narrated by Helen Duff.