Mark’s books always felt more than just books to me. They felt like wonderful gifts. They felt like magic. At times powerful, at times soothing. At times dark, at times holy. And the best thing about them is the knowing that more will come. And the wonder of them as they shine clearer and brighter with every new story as he gains yet more craft and skill. The cold fact that one day there will be no more I confine in a windowless cell in the back of my mind. Some truths are just too dark, too painful to hold onto for long. I want to soak in an everlasting deluge of these tales. And I have no need for that darkness to show how dazzling this newest book baby is, anyhow. It comes with the light of a million stars and may well outshine all that came before. For trust me on this. This. Book. Is. Truly. Precious.
I remember a time when we were wondering with Mark whether male readers would even enjoy Red Sister. Crazy, right? And another when we were yet to learn if avid fantasy readers or younger readers, who haven’t lived through the 80’s would like One Word Kill. With The Girl and the Stars though? For the first time I am not concerned about anything. Everyone will love this story. And you know what? You know how in all Mark’s books the characters are superior to the plot? For the first time I dare say this might not be the case. There’s no need to be alarmed. The characters are awesome. Again, just like in Red Sister, we’ll have a larger cast. But the plot in this trilogy… the plot is a lot stronger than usual. Stronger and faster paced. An adrenalin-fuelled rollercoaster that will blow your mind. Mark sometimes jokingly calls me a “special effects junkie” and I can honestly say this book satisfied all such cravings of mine.
It is comical now to think back to when Mark first mentioned that he was thinking about writing a trilogy about the ice tribes of Abeth. I wasn’t enthusiastic. It sounded boring. I mean, what can happen on the ice, right? There’s nothing there. And it’s cold. Very cold. I didn’t like the sound of it and was kind of hoping that he might come up with a better idea later. How wrong I was. When will I ever learn?
It was a Wednesday evening, in April, two years ago, when he started messaging me again about this new “girl-based book” that is set on the ice. Oh, here we go again, I thought, and in a vain attempt to divert him I asked how the new Jalan book he started was coming along. But he was clearly too excited to be side-tracked that easily. “I’m just mulling over what I might do there,” he said. “I don’t want to do another school/formal training setting.” Maybe it could be about someone in a royal household, I suggested, desperately trying to come up with something that sounded interesting to me. At least more interesting than the ice. But he quickly dismissed it by saying: “I’m not a big fan of castle writing.” Instead he said that he wanted to set it “in the ice tunnels and the cities of the Missing”.
“I am toying with the idea of a romance element,” he confided with a smiley. And that the people of the ice tribes “would be “pure” in that they (or most of them) survive because of their racial mix being optimal for the hardships of the ice”, and any children who show signs of not possessing this pureness wouldn’t survive …. “so they abandon any such children … ritually throw them down a particular ice hole.”
Needless to say, that finally shut me up. All my resistance melted and all I could do was to encourage him on. Due to spoilers I won’t repeat here the things he said, but by the end of it I was very excited. I wanted to know more. But he just left me there with a “That’s all I have. I made most of it up as I told you about it.”
Eight days later I received the first chapter of what originally was titled The Missing, and I fell in love.
No. I’m not allowed to share the first chapter. But… but… wait! I’m allowed to share the first few lines of the prologue and it is my favourite opening of ANY BOOKS EVER! In fact, I’ve been struggling with this cruelness for the best of two years now. Every single time I see a “what’s your favourite book opening?” kind of post in Facebook groups or on other discussion boards, I feel this powerful urge of shouting it from the rooftops, but not being allowed to. So, this is a historical moment for me. Finally. Finally.
*wipes a teardrop away*
*drumrolls and fanfare*
*curtains roll up*
“The Girl and the Stars
Many babies have killed, but it is very rare that the victim is not their mother.
When the father handed his infant to the priestess to speak its fortune the child stopped screaming and in its place she began to howl, filling the silence left behind.
Omens are difficult and open to interpretation but if the oracle that touches your new-born dies moments later, frothing at the mouth, it is hard even with a mother’s love to think it a good sign.
In such cases a second opinion is often sought.”
You might want to read that again to fully process it. And if you’re like me, someone who writes or just enjoys good writing you will appreciate this as a one-minute masterclass. A shocking first sentence that grabs you by the heart. A story that feels like a myth. Like a legend. Epic. There’s intrigue there. Darkness. Death. Horror. Love. And even humour. And this all just with four sentences. I read it so many times during these two years and it still blows me away.
Next spring winter will return in earnest. And you will have those four sentences followed up by Mark’s best story yet.
For now, I will leave you here with this blurb below the photograph, in case my writing didn’t intrigue you enough. Hear it from the master himself 😊
“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.”