Saturday 17 August 2013

Green, by Jay Lake

Green is the first of a trilogy (plus another couple of books set in the same universe) and I had read a favourable review of one of them, so I decided to try it out.  It is a fantasy set in a world at the start of an industrial revolution (primitive guns and some sailing ships with steam engines) although the feel of the culture is medieval. Multiple gods are worshipped, with plenty of evidence that they exist and can wield magical powers. So, in the right circumstances, can some people – both humans and especially the cat-like humanoid pardines.

A three-year old girl living on a marginal farm is sold by her poverty-striken father and carried off to a strange land. She spends the next decade encarcerated in a luxury prison in which she is trained by a number of different Mistresses in everything a noble lady needs to know. It emerges that her owner is the Duke of the city of Copper Downs, who had ruled for four centuries due to a magical form of immortality, and one of his hobbies is to train up promising girls as future consorts. One of the Mistresses has her own agenda and secretly ensures that the girl, who adopts the name Green, is also trained in altogether more violent skills. This suits Green, who has never lost her rebellious anger at having been sold and is determined to resist what is planned for her. The action oscillates between continents as Green tries to find her way in a largely hostile world, dealing with the gods themselves to achieve her aims.

The story is well-written and initially deliberately paced, focusing on building up the personalities of Green and the other major characters. The plot is original with many unexpected twists and turns, and Green is an intriguing heroine. In theory I should have enjoyed it a lot, and I can see why it attracted good reviews, but somehow I never fully engaged with it. Sometimes I find it hard to define exactly why I like – or don't much like – a particular story, and this is one such case. I read it to the end and didn't begrudge the time spent on it, but I don't feel motivated to seek out the sequels.

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