The Girl and the Stars: The underground icy setting is the best part

The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe 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.

Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence

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.

Published in April 2020. In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole into which broken children are thrown. On Abeth the vastness of the ice holds no room for individuals. Survival together is barely possible. No one survives alone. To resist the cold, to endure the months of night when even the air itself begins to freeze, requires a special breed. Variation is dangerous, difference is fatal. And Yaz is not the same. Yaz is torn from the only life she’s ever known, away from her family, from the boy she thought she would spend her days with, and has to carve out a new path for herself in a world whose existence she never suspected. A world full of difference and mystery and danger. Yaz learns that Abeth is older and stranger than she had ever imagined. She learns that her weaknesses are another kind of strength. And she learns to challenge the cruel arithmetic of survival that has always governed her people. Only when it’s darkest you can see the stars.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. Paul Connelly /

    The Book of the Ancestor is the only Lawrence I’ve read. While I enjoyed it very much, it was also frustrating because it felt like with just a little more effort, Lawrence could’ve added much more depth to the characters. They hardly ever talk about anything that isn’t plot-focused. Nona and Clera are the only ones whose back-story is given more than a paragraph. Without going overboard, the author could have done a little more to make them real people. But his choice seemed to be to stick with the (often frantic) action sequences and plot developments instead.

    • We are in agreement, Paul. It had crossed my mind to wonder if it’s just young women that he struggles to portray with depth, but the male side characters were similarly shallow.

      However, I read all of Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy. These are much shorter books and the characters (mostly male) are much better portrayed in a lot fewer pages. So, I know he can do better. I wonder if the difference is that the male characters in that trilogy are living in the late 80s and are the same age (and type, I suspect) that Mark Lawrence was in the late 80s…

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