I have morphed into an internet shopper. It’s a symptom of the age of technology. Well, that and the fact that I don’t own a car. I do my commuting by bus and metro, on my own two feet, or by hitching a ride with friends. Ergo, I don’t usually shop in brick-and-mortar bookstores. When I actually do go to a bookstore, I can easily get caught up in the wonder of ‘so many new books in one place!’
Let’s recap: physical bookstores are dangerous. I am liable to pick up any pretty book that catches my eye and wander to the cash register with it. I’m not so likely to do that online. In fact, when I shop online I usually search for books I’ve heard about from fellow bloggers (thanks for all the amazing suggestions, by the way!). BUT. I went to a bookstore the other day and actually touched real books, and Green is the one I came away with, despite having never heard of it before that day, and having no recommendation beyond a blurb by Mary Robinette Kowal on the back cover. You’ll remember Ms. Kowal from the insanely awesome Shades of Milk and Honey. Yes, that one.
She was born in poverty, in a dusty village under the equatorial sun. She does not remember her mother, she does not remember her own name—her earliest clear memory is of the day her father sold her to the tall pale man. In the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was taught the ways of a courtesan…and the skills of an assassin…she was named Emerald, the precious jewel of the Undying Duke’s collection of beauties.
She calls herself Green.
The world she inhabits is one of political power and magic, where Gods meddle in the affairs of mortals. At the center of it is the immortal Duke’s city of Copper Downs, which controls all the trade on the Storm Sea. Green has made many enemies, and some secret friends, and she has become a very dangerous woman indeed.
Acclaimed author Jay Lake has created a remarkable character in Green, and evokes a remarkable world in this novel. Green and her struggle to survive and find her own past will live in the reader’s mind for a long time after closing the book.
I haven’t read truly enjoyable first-person narrative in a while. I tend to have a hard time with it – the unreliable narrator issue, flashback scenes and narrowed focus put me off. [insert obvious question: but don’t I read a LOT of YA novels? And aren’t they KNOWN for first person?] Part of the reason I bought this book was that the first two pages were compelling, and Green’s voice was authentic. I felt the dust and the heat, I heard the bells. I could see the scene – almost be a part of it through Green’s eyes – in a way that I haven’t since my experience with the first chapter of Alex Bracken’s Brightly Woven. It had slight shadings of Memoirs of a Geisha, the tiniest of flavors from The Good Earth – mostly in a descriptive sense.
But even as Green succeeded as a first person account of a girl being raised as a courtesan and trained on the side as a fighter, it was uneven in other respects. The book captured a lot of the uncertainty of finding yourself, finding a goal to live for and a way to move forward that happens as a teenager. What it didn’t do was convince me that Green had any emotional connection to other characters (and I know she was meant to). Secondary characters were perforce slighted in stage time, and felt like flimsy paper stand-ins for real people.
The book also contained a lot of ‘mature content.’ Let me be clear: GREEN IS NOT A YA NOVEL. There’s sex, violence, violence AND sex, among other things. Regardless of the moral compass of each character and/or the specific reader, such content can work in a novel, or it can seem out of place and weird. In Green, it worked part of the time, and in other parts felt like a teenage boy’s favorite skeezy dream. I was unimpressed.
Let’s review: Green was really interesting. I read fantasy and science fiction a lot, and yet I haven’t read something like this in a long time, if ever. I read it the whole way through, even though I objected strongly to certain material, and felt that portions of the novel lagged. I contemplated it for days to find out why I reacted negatively sometimes, and why other pieces spoke to me so clearly. In the end, I’d dub it a book I ‘like,’ but not one that I will return to.
Recommended for: those who like their stories a with a touch of the exotic and a strong lashing of dark content, enthusiasts of god/goddess myths in literature, and fans of a strong first-person narrator in an epic fantasy tale.