Green


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Jay Lake has done a wonderful job with Green. I have been slowly adding his works to my towering list of authors to read, and I am glad I had the opportunity to immerse myself in this tale.

We follow a girl of no name and no future as she is sold to an educated stranger. Raised as courtesan by cruel mistresses, she is trained in all arts for the eventuality that she will serve the undying Duke of Copper Downs.

Where does the word “Green” come in? Part of the mystery surrounding the book’s title is so important, that I won’t spoil the surprise. It’s well worth finding out for yourself and is wrapped up in what I would offer as part one of three in this novel.

I was easily reminded of Memoirs of Geisha with the detailed narrative, which only strengthened my love for Lake’s prose, as Memoirs is one of my favorite books of all time. Yet our young and unlikely protagonist is not nearly as eloquent and in control of herself as Golden’s heroine which makes it that much more fun to read.

It was almost like I was reading a cross between a possible path for Arya from George R.R. Martin’s, Song of Ice and Fire series and that of Golden’s poor Japanese girl, Chiyo. Like Mary Robinette Kowal wrote in her review of the piece,

I kept feeling like I’d read it before while absolutely knowing I hadn’t.

Bingo. It has some of the best elements of stories that I truly love and enough new things to keep me engaged. Like an old friend, you remember the person and are delighted at how much they’ve grown or changed as the years pass.

I only have two criticisms. One of which is aimed at the marketing department of the publisher.

I like to say I don’t ever judge a book by its cover, however I’ve proven time and time again that unless the book is specifically recommended, I will judge. This particular piece of art gracing this cover would pass. It’s interesting enough that it would have caught my eye had I been looking for something without recommendation. Yet…

I have been keeping up with the growing controversy of publishers that select poorly representative cover art for new novels. It’s not the cruelly drawn space ships or weird art that after finishing a book and reengaging with the cover do you ask yourself, “Where did that happen?” It’s selling the work by offering up a protagonist that looks nothing like the protagonist.

Justine Larbalestier had issue with a recent work. Her publisher decided to market her book with a white protagonist, when clearly Justine’s focus was that of woman of African American descent. Hoping to get more white girls to pick up the book, the publishers marketed how they saw fit. Justine rants here.

The same could be said for Jay’s front cover. I know, I touted it as a pretty piece of art. Which it is. Yet, Jay writes that his protag is a woman who has deep color to her skin. While the girl in his cover has slight Asian overtones, I kept feeling guilty that had this book not been on my recommended and must read list, I would have fallen into the consumer trap that I so wanted to avoid. I would have been secretly contributing to the reasoning publishers give their authors. Anyone who tells you covers don’t matter on impulse buys, doesn’t know anything about marketing.

I don’t want to make a huge stink about it, but it’s something I’ve been trying to be conscious of. I defaulted to reading a white character, because of who I am, but I feel I was also egged on by a cover that showed me what our heroine was supposed to look like. It actually threw me out of the book for a moment.

It does matter.

The only other thing I’ll offer regarding this piece is that I thought the ending was a bit exhausting. I really loved the ideas Lake put forth and there is some substantial build-up to what I would consider the third climax in the book. My issue is in regards to the sheer amount of new characters that are introduced. It takes careful reading at this stage in the novel to keep everyone straight, and at the breakneck pace I wanted to read, I found that I had to slow down and really sort through what was what and who was who.

In a nutshell, if you are looking for a high fantasy, literary kick-ass feminine narrative, chalk full of engaging surprises, this is the book for you.

For you wussy readers out there, it does contain skillful violence and the sex scenes are ala Alfred Hitchcock; acts are described in brief to leave more to the reader’s imagination. Just how I like ‘em.

4 out of 5 stars on this one.

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