by Jay Lake
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765321855
Date: 09 June 2009 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
From Copper Downs goes Federo, dapper and enterprising, assigned to scour the world for girl children who promise adult beauty. He finds the title character, so young she barely knows her own name and her father only as Papa, in a hot land of obvious kinship to Sri Lanka or India. Her best friend is the family ox, Endurance. But all this she must leave behind when Federo gives Papa a bag of coin and takes her by the hand to lead her down the road to a port and a ship and in due time a house in Copper Downs. It's all very new to her, as are the women who take her in hand, beat the few words of her native tongue out of her, and begin to school her in the ways of a lady of station. One woman in particular, the Dancing Mistress, a catlike pardine, seems to take a special interest in her, training her in the skills of falling and climbing, negotiating roofs and sewers. These are the skills of an assassin, and we are confident that she will come to use them.
Once she hits puberty, the man who owns the house of her training, the Factor, appears to judge her and name her Emerald. She will do for his needs, and if only she could accept her fate she could have a long and prosperous future. But she is an independent sort. She is not Emerald, but Green! Soon the mistress of the house lies dead at her hand and she is in hiding, discovering a plot that--if she had been less rash--might have been able to use her to get at the Duke. Yet all is not lost, and soon, still but a child, she is fleeing chaos back to the land of her birth where she will discover the Lily Goddess, friends, and a path back to Copper Downs.
As a character, Green is well done. The reader cares about her. But she is more than a character, for Lake is concerned here with the continuity of memory, the links between past, present, and future, and she is from the start a powerful icon of that concern.
If the novel has a weakness, it lies in the nature of the magic that Green must deploy at a key point in the tale. To be specific would be to spoil it, but I can say that it evoked from me a loud, "Oh, c'mon!" If only things were that simple!