Lawrence as always, does not disappoint. Read Melisande Aquilina's book review of ‘The Girl and the Mountain’
"Starvation is a much swifter process when you’re cold, but nobody dies truly thin on the ice. Starvation simply opens a gate for the wind to come through. It’s the wind that wields the knife.”
Genre: Epic Fantasy
In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole in which broken children are thrown. This is normal, we are told impassively. It has always been so and is what must be. The world of Abeth is merciless, harsh and cold, and only the strongest survive. It is a world almost totally covered in ice, where the sun is dying and warmth is hard to come by. You must be tough, hardy and willing to completely trust your community to survive the harsh dark landscape of Abeth. No one survives alone.
The Girl and the Mountain is the second book in the Book of the Ice trilogy, following The Girl and the Stars (2020).
If you are not new to Mark Lawrence, you might have already read about this world in the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, however you do not need to have read that previous trilogy to understand this one. There are of course, some Easter eggs to enjoy if you have read it.
Yaz is on the cusp of adulthood. To be declared an adult by the tribe, she has to go through a rite of passage where she is acknowledged by one of the Black Rock priests. The children who are deemed ‘different’ and rejected are pushed in the Pit of the Missing, a vast sheer hole in the ice, and never seen or heard from again. The Girl and the Stars delved into what happened when Yaz found herself in the Pit, why children were abandoned there, and explored the reasons why society accepted such a brutal betrayal of all they were taught and believed in.
While The Girl and the Stars presented us with only one narrator and one point of view, in The Girl and the Mountain, Lawrence weaves the story using three different voices and perspectives. This is one of the instruments he uses to give the reader a broader viewpoint, not only of the plot itself, but also about the world of Abeth and its hidden history. While the main female character is still Yaz, we also see the action unfold from the perspective of the two people who are romantically interested in her – Quell, her childhood friend and the young man she thought she’d eventually build a future with, and Thurin, whom she met in the Pit of the Missing and who like her, commands mysterious powers. The Girl and the Mountain answers a number of questions about the unknown mysteries and powers presented to us in the first book of the trilogy. It can also be seen as a coming of age story, where the adolescent main characters are now able to question authority and face forces which they had believed were entrenched in their culture.
Even though it may seem so, the book does not fall in the Young Adult category, since many of the tropes usually associated with YA are missing and the narrator’s tone of voice is impetuous, stark, almost dry, when describing such things. Romantic feelings are barely mentioned, must less dwelt upon. When you are battling for survival, the cruel realities of life leave no room for frivolities, and the Ice tribes are a hard bitten, strong people, whose narrow perception of reality is a driving force aiding them to face any hardship.
Some things are difficult to face, especially when one’s survival is at stake, and yet Lawrence shows us how it is the interlacing connections between individuals which hold everything together. Friendship, frailty, doubt, trust, all these themes are subtly explored in a jam-packed adventure highlighted by masterful world-building.
The gorgeousness of the prose is as palpable as the extreme setting described. I was shocked at how realistic the ice, the cold, the cramped search for warmth and sustenance, felt. Lawrence entrances the readers, drawing them into the story completely. There is a dark, foreboding quality to the tale that easily lurks in every sentence thanks to the claustrophobic tunnels that seem alive with menace, the ever-present weight of hundreds of millions of tons of frozen water pressing down on every side and the never-ending drip, drip, drip of water.
The plot itself seems to be divided in two in this book. The first part deals with Yaz’s terrifying experience in the Mountain of the Black Rock, while the second part, which was my favourite, explores what happens when Yaz and her friends finally encounter the world outside their community. When they go out of their comfort zone and discover that there are other realities, different languages, cultures, ways to live and a whole new spate of incredible secrets related to their world, which they had known nothing about.
The fierce, icy landscape, the history and culture of the ice tribes, the Tainted, and the world beneath the ice, all feel extremely realistic. I also liked how the book dived into the action and plot right away, unveiling background information alongside the fast-paced bloodshed and fight for survival. The secrets of the Missing, a race preceding humanity whose technology litters the underground ruins and whose menacing automatons pose a real threat to the main characters, are also something I’d love to learn more about.
Needless be said, the focus on the worldbuilding does not inhibit the evolution of the main characters, who are inherently marked through their experiences, their travels, and their losses. The reader sometimes almost feels as claustrophobic and trapped as the characters do, in their icy prisons, the black caves and the situation itself, where hunted and terrified, they still cannot help but hope for a better future, not only for them, but for everyone they hold dear.
Lawrence as always, does not disappoint. And I cannot help but look forward to what must be a brilliant conclusion to the trilogy in the third book, The Girl and the Moon, which was published earlier on this year.