16 November, 2011

'Green' by Jay Lake

I picked up Green because its description reminded me of Kushiel's Dart, one of my favorite fantasy books of all time. Upon reading the first chapter inside the bookstore, the narrative voice was so compelling I had to bring it home with me to keep reading. It's this voice that carried me through the entire book, start to finish.

The book Green is the story of the girl Green, who gives herself the name after almost a decade of namelessness. Sold by her father, taken far away from her home, she spends the formative years of her childhood in the same house learning how to be a lady. Cooking, music, dance, history, religion, writing; yet she is never told why she learns, or to what use her knowledge (and she) will eventually be put. When the answer to that question finally comes, rather than accept it, Green rebels, and flees. But stories tend to come full circle, and her unfinished business in the city of her captivity eventually draws her back to finish what she started when she ran.

There are a lot of threads in this story. The language is beautiful, first of all, the imagery so vivid I could see each place, each face, distinctly as I read about them. Green's drive to avenge the wrongs done to her in her past is compelling, but her self-destructiveness is even more interesting to me because it dogs her throughout her travels; even when she is on the cusp of taking vows to join the Lily Blades (a kind of assassin's guild) who have given her a home both physically and emotionally for over a year, she can't make up her mind to commit to them or not. I was utterly gripped by Green as a character; her predicaments felt real and her emotions were always vivid and true. Lake has a killer grasp of Green's voice that never wavers no matter what happens to her.

And boy, does a lot happen to her. I think the book is well set-up because by starting with Green's earliest memory (a simple but beautiful scene of her father's ox, Endurance, carrying the body of her grandmother to be buried) as the reader we can really appreciate how far she goes and how much she changes over the course of the book. Again, I have to mention Lake's descriptions and his creativity in describing the ships, the cities, the buildings and the people Green encounters on her travels. It's an interesting contrast too, because after spending most of her life inside one house (and as the reader, spending half the book there with her) once she goes free she sees and does so much as if to make up for lost time. And while at first I worried about how all the plot threads would tie together, the climax of the book is the culmination of everything Green has done up til that point, and it is both believable and satisfying.

I do enjoy when fantasy books create religions and go into somewhat detailed description of how they work. In this way Green reminds me of the Kushiel books again, telling the legend of the gods' dispersion, showing the inner workings of some of the temples. I admit I didn't entirely understand how the pardines' magic ties into godhood, but I went through the last few chapters quickly (couldn't put it down, actually) so that may bear a rereading.

Also, I have to say I really enjoyed the approach to sex and romance. Raised among the company of women, intended to be a plaything and object of desire for men, it seems completely logical both to Green herself and to the reader that she would rather turn to women for love than men. But it makes even further sense that Green wouldn't be looking for a lasting romance; she simply has too much to do. But I did enjoy her relationship with the Dancing Mistress, to whom Green's attachment is possibly the most deeply emotional regard she possesses for another person. It makes me excited to see how things might progress for her when it comes to falling in love in the future. And positive portrayal of gay and lesbian relationships can only ever be a huge plus for me, especially in genre fiction.

In sum, Green is set in an incredibly vivid world with a protagonist whose personality leaps off the page. Goodreads says a sequel was published just this month, titled Endurance, and I can't wait to read it.

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