Green by Jay Lake

Green is a fantasy melange of girl-power, slavery, color and gender politics, and gods and humans and nonhumans-it’s one of the most layered fantasies I’ve read in a long time. On the surface, Green appears simple: it’s the story of a young girl from her earliest memories as a three year old toddler to her coming of age at fifteen years old.

Green, the character, seems to good to be true. She’s super-smart, she’s beautiful, she is fierce and fiercely determined, she’s stubborn, and she knows (usually) when to keep her thoughts to herself, and when to speak up. However, she’s not perfect. She’s young, she grew up as a sheltered girl in a house full of women teachers, some of them vicious and abusive. She doesn’t always make the right decisions through inexperience, and doesn’t always trust the right people. Her original self becomes undermined with every murder she commits, though she takes personal responsibility for each and every one-even ones that were not her fault. Green’s evolution from a naive, but intelligent, child to a more worldly young adult is fascinating. Her voice is steady throughout her narration, and she keeps her personality intact.

Her world echoes our own, with the Stone Coast, European type country with pale people who Green describes as maggots or maggot-skins, because they’re so much paler than she is. Green herself is a child of a poor peasant in a more southern country that grows rice and has city names reminiscent of India. Both countries, however, are populated by many gods, whose origins are recounted twice in the same folktale (one from women’s point of view, the other from men’s point of view).  Green finds herself in a complicated position. In her adoptive country, she stands out as a foreigner because of her skin tone; in her native country, she stands out because she wasn’t raised with any knowledge of her own culture or language.

Green has many adventures, which are episodic in nature–you can tell when the middle of the story starts, and when it ends–and most of her adventures, although sparked by male desires (she is bought from her father because of the desires of two men: the near immortal Duke in the pseudoEuropean Stone Coast, and another which I won’t tell as it would spoil the later part of the novel) is dominated by other women. There are female relationships galore in Green. Relationships of all types:

  • Mistress Tirell is her teacher/mother figure/abuser in the Pomegranate Court.
  • Dancing Mistress is a Pardine, a cat-like sentient being who teaches Green ninja-style gymnastics, as well as dance steps for the Duke’s amusement.
  • Samma is a girl in the Lily Goddess’ temple who becomes Green’s first lover, along with Jappa.
  • Mother Vajpai, a nun of the Lily Goddess, orders Green to make her first calculated kill.
  • The Lily Goddess orders Green to return to the Stone Coast, and Green serves her will.

There are many more-more than is usual in a female voiced fantasy, and the Bechdel Test passes with flying colors. I don’t want to make this review too much longer. There’s a TON of stuff going on within its pages, and there are more layers than I’m used to seeing.

So, in short, Green is one of those rare bisexual, POC (person of color) lead characters with a sharp, intelligent voice who has many adventures along the way as she grows up. That alone was very cool: how many stories are there of boys making their own independent way through the/a world? Green has her own complications doing that, and those are addressed; her gender and cultural disadvantages.

I was ambivalent with one stretch, when Green finally reaches one of her goals in the first third of the book and realizes her captors were right all along about what sort of life she would have had, had her father not sold her to be a courtesan. But then, Green herself is ambivalent and resentful of it, too. I wish that had been addressed more deeply in the story; but there was a lot of ground to cover within it.

Do I recommend Green? Yes. Is she authentic? She seems so to me.

Caution: there is sex in this book, and torture, and some kink-this is not a YA book!


  1. says

    The cover…I’ve been following the cover debacle of “Liar”, too, and scrutinized Green’s text and compared it to the cover (which is a lovely cover, really). And, although through the text I see Green as a Southeast Asian via India, she could also be more of her world’s version of a Vietnamese, Thai, or something like that, going by the cover. It’s not strictly our world, so she could be a mixture of all of the above, really.

    Green, in her narration, never says *how* dark she is compared to the Stone Coaster population-but she’s dark enough that she sticks out. So, she might be a different skin tone (dark olive) or darker than that-it’s not explicitly said, except as a comparison.

    Green is her name because she chose it herself. :-) She doesn’t have green hair. It’s the lighting in the cover.

  2. says

    Well, read the book and let me know what you think. I’m definitely interested in what everyone who reads Hathor has to say about it.

    Another book that kept popping into my mind as I read “Green” was “Maia” by Richard Adams, about a girl sold into slavery by her stepfather and has erotic(?) adventures thenceforth. I read it when I was in high school, I think, and I still don’t know what to think of it. In both cases, a white male writer tries his hand at writing a young girl destined for sexual slavery. I really don’t want to reread “Maia” (assuming I can find a copy) in order to make the comparison. Has anyone else read “Maia” recently, or remember it well?


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