Review: The Girl and the Mountain
The other day I was admiring the long stretch of Mark Lawrence books on my bookshelves, and I realized just how many great stories this guy has pumped out for us in the last decade. He’s currently working on closing out his fifth trilogy–that’s pretty impressive, given the timeline–and so much of what he’s brought to the table has just been awesome. If you haven’t checked his books out yet (EBR Archive), you should.
However, I have to admit that I felt somewhat trepidatious (an adjective that WordPress’s spellchecker apparently doesn’t recognize) in approaching this next book. The first book in the series, while entertaining, had a few aspects to it that made me worry about the evolution of the story to come. Where it might go. How it might tackle the perspectives it was trying to bring together.
And I’m afraid that my concerns ended up being quite justified.
THE GIRL AND THE MOUNTAIN continues the story of Yaz of the Ictha as she learns more about those that live upon and rule over the icy expanse of the planet of Abeth. THE GIRL AND THE STARS left Yaz at an interesting spot, ascending from the world beneath the ice and returning to those with which her journey had begun: the priests of the Black Rock. But the more she learns about Abeth, its history, and its peoples, the deeper the secrets seem to be. We’ve known for some time about the icy planet and the channel of green growth around it’s equator, perpetuated by the light- and heat-focusing properties of its single moon. The magical story we’ve already ingested in THE BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR (EBR Archive). In this book, the concepts at the core of both the science fictional and fantastical elements of this world come together, and the result is a whirlwind of fast-paced adventure… but decidedly less than I’d hoped it would be.
In addition to Yaz, two secondary characters from STARS get POV time: Thurin and Quell. If you’ll remember, Thurin was born beneath the ice and has only recently been released from control by one of the most powerful demons living there. He has control over water, and with little lead time, is able to lift himself up the ice-well through which Yaz returned to the surface. Quell, is Yaz’s old boyfriend, from before any of this had begun. In general, the two of these boys were characterized just as well as the author’s characters usually are. Their motivations in this case revolve around Yaz and her quest to reach the green strip of land at Abeth’s belt. Nearly all of their POV comes during the first half of the book, while the story builds toward a climax within the Black Rock. And while their stories are well-told and constantly on the move, I never really felt like these storylines were ever “their” stories. They felt more like perspectives that needed to be told in order to build Yaz’s storyline and elucidate more science-fictional aspects of the world. Likely some of the disconnect for me came from the lack of character connection that I felt Yaz had with each of them, or anyone for that matter. I mentioned this aspect of the story in my review of STARS. So, while there are plenty of pieces of the story that are elucidated in the first half of the book, I never really felt like any of it got off the ground.
If you love Lawrence's characters, you'll love this fantasy book that is more concerned with its science fiction than much else.
Almost exactly midway through the book, the story takes a big turn, and the characters move away from the Black Rock. Yaz and her friends launch out across the ice in search of the green land. They spend a lot of time crossing that ice. A LOT of time. And while I was hoping that this time would tend to bring the characters together and form some of the bonds that I felt were missing from both the first half of this book and the first book in the series, instead they seemed to grow even more distant from one another. Perhaps I just felt like that because the second half of the book is told almost exclusively from Yaz’s POV again, and this happens to be how she battles the vicious weather conditions. Still, her characterization is well done. If anything, her character is what kept me reading, even if the connection I had to her story was timid.
The largest difficulty I had with the story was the blending of all of the science fiction elements with the fantasy world that I expect. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that Yaz is just a young girl that lives in a barren wasteland and has absolutely zero reference or ability to discern any of the science fiction aspects of the world that is evolving around her. The story seemed to race from one piece of science fictional world-building to the next, and with each interaction I became more and more aware of the fact that this story just wasn’t working for me.
It’s not a bad story. No chance. Several times as I was reading, I stepped back and looked at it from a structural point of view. It’s pretty much impossible to look at the story and say that there wasn’t enough in it, or that the pieces didn’t make sense or lead from one to the other. Looking back, I think my break from this story came about because Yaz’s story–her drive to save her brother and then to find the green land–doesn’t interact very much with the larger narrative that is evolving around her. There’s overlap, sure, but the impact I kept looking for was missing in large measure. Though there was a lot of science fiction in it.
In the end, if you’ve fallen in love with the characters from the first book or with Lawrence’s characters in general, then it’s likely you’re going to enjoy things this time around. His characterization, as usual, is on point, and he’s telling a story that is bigger than they are. It just lacked that *moxie* I look for in a story.
However, the place where the story ends… could spell good things for book #3. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Won’t we?
- Recommended Age: 15+, for violence
- Language: Moderate and very seldom
- Violence: A few grisly deaths, creature violence
- Sex: Nope