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The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence
4.75
Book Name: The Girl and the Stars
Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher(s): Ace (US) HarperVoyager (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Dark Fantasy
Release Date: April 21, 2020 (US) April 30, 2020 (UK)

“In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole into which broken children are thrown.”

The Girl and the Stars (US cover)When I first saw the cover of the US edition of Mark Lawrence’s new book, The Girl and the Stars, I had to read it. The front cover is truly beautiful, with undertones of mystery and wonder.

The Girl and the Stars centers around those deemed unfit for the brutality of the ice, to be thrown-into a deep, dark pit, never to return. It remains brutally honest to the overall tone of desperate hope, up against impossibly dire circumstances of impending disaster, with the protagonist trying to beat against a tide that is ever-threatening to collapse, destroying all possibilities of a brighter tomorrow.

The basic plot of the novel is a girl from the Ictha tribe, Yaz, who faces a day of selection, where she will either remain on the ice with her people or thrown into a dark pit, an unfit asset for her tribe’s survival. It’s a harsh world, but the tribes have long accepted this harsh way of life. Where even the very air could mean life or death, the weak are a factor that cannot be tolerated, at any cost. Lawrence grants us a few chapters to get familiar with what’s going on in, the tribe’s traditions, basic life and some relationships, before accelerating into the main storyline.

Yaz is the loving big sister to Zeen, but she is so much more than that. Without giving too much away, Yaz is a keen observer of the world around her, fully capable of surviving in the severe reality she resides in. Although, Yaz is not exempt of some qualities that could land her into the pit. In fact, she has to rely, at times, on others in order to not appear weak for selection. One of those that she relies on is Quell, who fully embellishes the “stuff” one needs to survive. In fact, Quell is described as “mix of kindness and bravery with which he tackled the world.”

As well, Yaz is not a girl that simply wishes to become a wife, she wants more. She comes-off as a feminist figure, not wanting to settle for being nothing more then living as her mother had lived, baring children:

The Girl and the Stars (cover)“Yaz thought that maybe the first sign that she was broken wasn’t the weakness but that she had always wanted more. She had seen the life that her mother lived, the same lived by her mother’s mother in turn and on and on back along the path of years.”

Without giving too much away, Lawrence delivers on this promise with one of the most profound, female characters I had ever read in a fantasy novel.

Aside from Yaz, her brother Zeen, while being quick on his feet and a nimble climber, is seen as weak by the rest of the tribe and acts as a foil to Yaz’s survival in this ruthless world. While Yaz had already lost one of her brothers to the harsh world she lives in, she is deeply worried about how her younger brother will do with the upcoming selection at Black Rock.

Also, there’s a variety of different characters that nicely balance against the “happy-go-lucky” Quell and the calculating Yaz, but I don’t want to go into depth of these characters in case of spoiling it for you. Again, I applaud Mr. Lawrence on being able to deliver flawed characters that are believable. Many of the side characters nicely contribute to the overall plot and each one is unique, from one being shy, to another deeply flawed as the “black sheep.” There’s even two characters that are exceptional in their sexuality.

Of course, Lawrence doesn’t disappoint with his action sequences. Every scene is finely-tuned, fast-paced and doesn’t meander too long or leave one confused on what’s taking place. During one particular scene, I was honestly terrified and disturbed by what was going down, for Lawrence’s novel truly caters to the “grimdark” elements limited to the genre. Aside from top-notch action scenes, he has created an exclusive, vividly realized world that has sharp teeth, ever-threatening the cast of characters. Heck, some of the worldbuilding caters to the sci-fi genre as well, but doesn’t pull you out of the fantasy-based world in the slightest. And the magic used was really wonderful and fascinating, in the manner of it being a mix between soft and being a hard-based magic system, and did not act as a deus ex machina to simply forward the plot.

Lawrence’s The Girl and the Stars is an intriguing, dark fantasy novel with an overarching theme that reminds me of a book I might had read for my Postcolonial theory course at UCF. In simpler terms, without diving into Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Homi K. Bhabha theories on how a society is manipulated and forever changed for the benefit of the colonizer, it can easily be explored as a literary exploration of a colonized society. In other words, I feel, the novel showcases a culture being manipulated for the benefit of the powerful. Delving deep enough, I feel I could identify Said’s Orientalism: “power and discourse is possessed entirely by the Colonizer,” but I won’t bore you too much with the theoretical blather acquired from my studies.

The ending of The Girl and the Stars was exhilarating and will leave one eagerly anticipating the next installment. If you are familiar with Lawrence’s work, you should already have a general idea of how the first installment will end. It remains true to the typical dark fantasy formula, providing a female protagonist that is proactive throughout the narrative, as well as an ancient setting typically lacking in the fantasy genre.  

My only grievance is I want more of this brutal world he has created, to learn more about the magic, the history, the different forces at work, and the antagonist and protagonist alike. On that note I have to ask this of the author: Mr. Lawrence, is there any chance you can write longer books? And I only ask that because I want more of these fantastical worlds and characters you had created. Joking aside, I am eagerly anticipating the next installment in his The Book of the Ice trilogy and I have a feeling you will too, upon completing The Girl and the Stars.

Ultimately, at the core of Mark Lawrence’s new trilogy, resides the theme of survival against a primal, hostile world. While Goethe’s words ring true for the protagonist’s efforts to maintain sound order: “Kindness is the golden thread that holds society together,” this society Lawrence’s has created is ever-threatened to collapse into animalistic disorder. That, with every action taken by the main protagonist and her allies, the cruel threat of failure is ever present. To survive, one cannot be alone, although there is no guarantee of success in the endeavor against those who desire to rule by harsher, crueler means. Jack London’s wise words: “Kill or be killed…” holds true as well.

“Abeth’s ice might stretch for untold miles, but there was, in all that emptiness, no room for an individual.”

Can Yaz and her friends survive? You have to read The Girl and the Stars and find out for yourself.

Again, I like to thank Mark for allowing me to review his newest novel, as well as thank the publicist of The Girl and the Stars, Alexis, for sending me an ARC for review. The Girl and the Stars is out now!

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