Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: Green by Jay Lake

Jay Lake has decided he doesn’t want to be known as that clockpunk guy who wrote Mainspring (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), Escapement (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), and forthcoming Pinion. While his internet following will always recognize him as a prolific blogger and others admire his wonderful short fiction and earlier novels, Trial of Flowers (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) and its sequels, Lake still felt the need to further broaden his horizons to something closer to traditional fantasy. With Green (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) Lake shows readers once again that he one of the most versatile writers in the SFF market.

Green tells the story of a young girl, sold into slavery, who strives to become her own woman. Robbed even of the memory of her name, she is raised to be a royal concubine in a far away land – extensively trained in things like cooking and sewing yet ignorant of recent history and the true daily life of the foreign lands around her. Given the name Emerald and taking the name Green in her own language, she finds herself in the center of a plot to overthrow the Duke and sacrifices everything to become free – while she comes to terms with what real freedom is and what it isn’t.

Green is told entirely from the first-person perspective of Green, so it’s not stretch to say that the success or failure of the novel rests there as well. In this respect, Green succeeds – she is a believable character who I quickly identified with and cared for. Green struggles with her identity as an individual, as foreigner in a far away land, as a slave, and eventually as a killer. She romanticizes her origins and as she matures she struggles with the idea of whether her slavery may have actually been a good thing. As a girl raised to be at the beck and call of a man, she fiercely guards her feminine identity. And through it all, she is a hormonal teenager with a very narrow education who makes bad decisions and becomes sure that she has all the right answers.

In many ways, Green is a novel that fits the YA mold with a strong cross-over appeal to adults. As such, I can see it appealing especially to teenage girls, who I imagine would strongly identify with Green and her struggles to figure out who she is as a person, and to a lesser degree, her sexual identity. Lake dedicates the book to his daughter in a touching and amusing statement that fits the book well and further leads me to believe that while I enjoyed Green, I’m probably not the audience that Green is most directly aimed at.

With all the focus on Green, other aspects fall short in comparison. Secondary characters are decidedly secondary and the plot stretches the limits of credibility at times. In Green’s world, gods and goddesses are real beings who directly touch and interact with the world – while much time is spent in temples and the like, relatively little exploration of these gods is undertaken. This leads to problems with who becomes the main villain of the story – a new god, who is at best confusingly explained, and at worst a poorly inserted antagonist to give Green a purpose.

Lake’s world-building is muted – which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but will likely seem underdone to fans of fantasy and even fans of Lake’s other work which are so wonderfully constructed. The emphasis of the book is correctly placed on Green, but in a nearly 400-page book, a bit more detail would have been appreciated (or a lower page count). The non-human, sentient race of the feline Pardines play an important role, yet remain frustratingly mysterious. As I said above, the emphasis is correctly placed on Green, but I was left wanting more exploration of this interesting race.

Above all else, Green is an addicting read. The plot had issues and the world-building left a bit to be desired, but Green herself is a fascinating character that I connected with, often in spite of her idiotic, teenage decisions. Green is the novel’s success and potential inspiration for teenage girls. 7/10

Related Posts:
Review of Mainspring, Interview with Jay Lake


Benjamin said...

I just finished this book last night and I agree with much of your review, epecially concerning the plot and the worldbuilding. The initial character-driven portion of the story seems a little at odds with the god part later so the story comes out a little uneven.

One thing that seemed to pop out to me was that Green seemed to be a bit of a Mary Sue. A peasant girl who grows up to be a god-slayer? And her explosive temper should have gotten her killed long before the end, but she usually finds a way out of trouble so has no incentive to change. Except for her initial slavery she never experiences any real setbacks.

Basically, I felt the same way you did; it's a good book but it has some weak spots.

Neth said...

yeah, I can see how Green comes across as a Mary Sue, though that aspect didn't bother me as I was reading it.


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