by Jay Lake
Review by Steve Sawicki
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765321855
Date: 09 June 2009 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
A young girl is taken from the place of her birth, a poverty stricken collection of huts, by a strange man. She leaves behind the ox, Endurance, that was her only companion and a father she barely knew. She is taken across the sea to the Pomegranate Court, where her education begins; an education consisting of strict teaching, and beatings when she gets the slightest things wrong. As time passes her education broadens; more teachers, more subjects and more beatings. She grows older, forgetting her name, her mother, and pretty much everything except for Endurance and the day her father sold her. She is taught the ways of a courtesan and assassin. Finally, the day comes when she is named Emerald. But the girl who is now becoming a woman has not forgotten the betrayal and the beatings and waits for the right opportunity to have her revenge.
Jay Lake has created an interesting world that, if it is alternate reality or alternate world, is right at the limits of where what we know intersects with the completely different. This lends a feeling of familiarity with the world while allowing for a surprise around every corner. It is a world of magic, gods, religions and beliefs where political intrigue is wrapped in conspiracy and history. Lake creates his universe in a small corner of this world and populates it with intriguing characters that intersect with the protagonist in ways that can not always be delved.
I have to admit that I thought this novel started out too slowly; the life of the girl pre and post capture seemed to drag on a bit in some parts. However, I am willing to give an author some running space if the end result is a satisfying payout. It is in this case.
As the girl, named Emerald but self named Green moves out of her captivity the plot becomes increasingly interesting and complicated, almost as if Lake were making up for having to lay out so much detail in the beginning.
As with many successful novels, this one pivots on the main character who must act or lose everything, and her actions affect not just herself but all of those around her. The political maneuverings and the machinations of former friends and enemies provide constant movement to the action and motivation of those involved. This is a complicated novel on many levels but ultimately a tale of self discovery that is well worth the investment. Excellent work and highly recommended.