Yaz is a fantastic character who undergoes a huge transition from adolescence to adulthood over the course of the story. Not only is she faced with an impossible task of saving her brother, she is forced to quickly adapt to a world even more dangerous than the one above and alien to her imagination while at the same time figuring out and nurturing her gift - the ability to control and wield the power of 'stars', magical stones embedded in the ice.
'...she would fight to the end, just as all her clan did, even if their eyes were no longer turned her way, even if none of them ever knew what end she fell to. She would not surrender, not go gentle into her fate.'
Her internal struggle is just as interesting as the external battle against the savage Tainted who seek to thwart her every move to save her brother. She is filled with self-doubt but is ever resilient. No matter how many times she is knocked down, she picks herself back up and keeps on fighting, exerting a strength of will that is nothing less than inspiring.
There is a host of great characters that surround Yaz, each unique and with interesting stories to tell. Among these include: the ice-weaving and tragic Thurin who has never seen the sky; the ancient and charming Erris who remembers a world before the ice; and the resolute and lovesick Quell who would do anything to save the one he loves. My favourite though is the deadly and not-so-innocent Maya:
'It seemed to Yaz that rather than the gerants with their seven-foot iron greatswords, it might be a small girl with murder in her heart and impressive marjal shadow-work that was the deadliest thing under the ice. At least the deadliest thing with a pulse.'
The world that Lawrence has created beneath the ice is mesmerising, from star-filled caverns haunted by demons to tunnels burrowed by giant coal-eating worms to ancient ruins patrolled by crab-like constructs. The latter reminded me a lot of the Dwemer ruins in Bethesda's videogame, Skyrim, more specifically Blackreach, with its strange architecture and endless mysteries. I became an archaeologist whenever Yaz's quest led her there. I believe we have barely scratched the surface of what this world hides and hope for further adventures into its depths in subsequent books.
'I have heard that if you go far enough to the south you will find that Abeth still wears a green girdle, a belt around the world where the ice has yet to reach.'
The Girl and the Stars takes place in the same world as the Book of the Ancestor trilogy. They share a lot in common in terms of history and magic but feel like two entirely separate worlds. Whereas Nona's story takes place along the green Corridor of Abeth, Yaz's plays out above and beneath the ice that covers the rest of the world. One thing that particularly interested me is the sharp contrast in the treatment of those with the blood and abilities of the four original tribes of men that arrived on Abeth: the physically-strong Gerants, the lightning-quick Hunska, the shadow-weaving Marjal and the magically-powerful Quantal. Whereas they are celebrated and endlessly sought after for their talents in the Book of the Ancestor, here they are treated as outcasts, deemed too weak to survive on the ice and exiled below to join the rest of the Broken. This contrast further highlights Lawrence's ability to create real lived-in worlds tainted by prejudices that stain our own.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book with its compelling cast of characters, engaging plot and enchanting world. I have come to expect nothing less from a book written by Mark Lawrence. He continues to be one of my favourite writers. I look forward to seeing what more this new trilogy has to offer.
5 / 5