If I had to guess which of my audiobooks I have listened to the most I’d have to say it’s probably Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor series – I like putting them on when I’m not sure what to listen to next. So believe me when I say I know this world pretty well. But I had a lot of questions.
A lot of mysteries about the world Abeth were sadly not solved by the end of Holy Sister and I feared I would be stuck with my half-baked ideas as to how this world worked.
They revealed that we would be getting another book, not in this series but set in the same universe, we’d get to learn more – surely some of my questions would be answered! Well I’ve read it…and let me tell you…
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
I’ll be honest humans. This book did not answer most of my questions. If anything I have more questions now than I did before. It’s possible I need to read this again to glean more nuggets of Abeth information – but after a first pass I’m one big question mark.
But…in a good way!
I suppose I was being a little naive to expect this book to unravel all of the ideas built up in the previous trilogy. In fact, I think a book that solved all of those problems would probably be quite boring. What Lawrence does instead is give a little insight into the lives of the people who live in the more deadly parts of Abeth – we’re not in the comfortable convent anymore, this is the ice and things are far deadlier.
That increased threat from the environment does mean that there is less…thinking time in this book? One of the characteristics of the Book of the Ancestor trilogy is problem solving. Lawrence sets up an issue for his character’s to deal with and some chapters later they have a clever solution. In The Girl and the Stars, the problems are more immediate ‘oh no we are about to die’ problems and so the thinking time and the time for well-considered plotting isn’t there. That’s not necessarily either a good or a bad thing, it’s just worth noting that this book felt much more action focussed than the other books set on Abeth. That’ll either float your boat or it won’t – who am I to say?
One thing that did concern me going into this book was how the summary seemed to hint at a society that threw children with disabilities down a hole. Now…that’s an accurate description of the society in question, but should we be labelling this book ableist? I’m obviously not the best person to speak to this as a fairly able-bodied human – but I thought it would be remiss to not bring it up. What assuaged my concerns a little was that Lawrence focuses more on the idea that the ice tribes root out those who have access to the various bloods (will make more sense to those who have read the previous books but essentially it’s those with magic powers). While there are also people with disabilities removed from the tribes and put in the aforementioned hole, the focus on the book is much more about the magic part. So…not perfect but not as bad as it could have been by a long shot. It feels much more…historical (?) as well, harkening back to something Spartan – though perhaps that was my ancient history brain seeping through. I’ll be keeping an eye out for some ownvoices reviews to see what other people may have thought.
The plot of this book starts out fairly simple, a girl goes down the hole, worldview is turned on end, etc. etc. But as the book goes on things got…weirder. Now some of the elements of the story will be familiar to readers of the previous trilogy – but often they’re slightly skewed, this is a different perspective on the same phenomena. But then there are some elements that come out of nowhere – hence me leaving the book with more questions than when I started. It’s broadening the world but not necessarily broadening the reader’s understanding of the world. I still feel like Lawrence knows what’s happening – but he certainly hasn’t told us yet! I think I got a little lost towards the end, things were perhaps a tad too complicated for me – but if this is being added to my ‘reread/listen’ pile then I’ll be sure to have a better understanding sooner or later!
Final thought – do you need to have read the previous trilogy to read this – no. But I think it’d be a good place to go next! I’d certainly recommend reading both at some point but the order probably doesn’t matter too much.
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
The Girl and the Stars is out April 30th
What say you? Will you be picking this up? Let me know in the comments below!