Yaz is a teenager about to be tested to see if she is worthy of survival in her tribe. The world is harsh - ice as far as the eye can see, where survival is entirely dependent upon a set of standards. Can you contribute? If the answer is no, you are tossed into a pit in the ice that leads to... well, the common tribesman doesn't know. But the assumption is death. A single priest makes that decision as children are lined up before him. If they meet his approval, they pass him by and return to their families. If not, he tosses them into the pit where they disappear forever.
Yaz has always assumed she would be tossed into the pit. She has powers, you see. She's different. And different doesn't cut it out on the ice. Different means you're a burden, a drain to your tribe.
From the outset, the immersion into this section of the Abeth world - started in Book of the Ancestor with Nona - is complete and transfixing. Yaz already feels fully fleshed out, since her voice is so distinct. That's part of Lawrence's magic, really. He makes each character so different and so recognizable. Yaz is no different, and from the very beginning, you feel her acceptance of her fate. Yet you also feel that there is something different about her, something special. The tension builds as she is lined up behind her brother for the testing.
Then, her brother is tossed in after she is allowed to pass by the freaky-ass priest. And suddenly, Yaz instinctively does what no one else has ever had the courage to do. She jumps in after him.
Now, the world below the ice is just as real, just as unique as the world above. No spoilers, but man... the stark difference in culture, survival, magic - everything - is so well done it's almost unfair. Each side character has their own set of ideals, motivations, and faults to bolster the sense of complete immersion into the plot and world.
I was on the fence about how to rate this. The ONE thing I had a complaint about (which honestly just reveals by own stupidity) was that there were times I couldn't follow the magic system. It's a bit more complex than Book of the Ancestor. You still have the marjals, hunskas, gerants, and quantals. Then there is this layer below it, a character who isn't real (well, kind of) and a separate reality where the soul of a city exists, and is angry and mad and trying to kill the soul of another city. And I was left scratching my head, thinking, "Either I'm dumb, or this is confusing." Probably the former.
I have this theory about Mark Lawrence. It's like he approaches a story reminding himself to dumb down his genius so that mere mortals can follow the plot. While I followed most of it, there were times where I had to re-read passages to understand, and then was still confused. But I'm hoping it becomes more clear as the series progresses.
All in all, this is a nearly flawless story with compelling characters, an intriguing world, and one completely bad-ass female lead. She has flaws, but as the quote above suggests, there is beauty in being broken.