Friday, August 23, 2013

REPOSTING LOST REVIEW Ninth Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon.

KALIMPURA (Green Universe #3)
Tor Books
$27.99 hardcover, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: This sequel to Green and Endurance takes Green back to the city of Kalimpura and the service of the Lily Goddess.

Green is hounded by the gods of Copper Downs and the gods of Kalimpura, who have laid claim to her and her children. She never wanted to be a conduit for the supernatural, but when she killed the Immortal Duke and created the Ox God with the power she released, she came to their notice.

Now she has sworn to retrieve the two girls taken hostage by the Bittern Court, one of Kalimpura’s rival guilds. But the Temple of the Lily Goddess is playing politics with her life.

My Review: That's a fine summary, as far as it goes; but it doesn't touch on the fact that Green, our first-person narrator, spends her entire coming-of-age in thrall to capricious, unkind gods and goddesses who can barely be arsed to help her stay alive, and will at the drop of a hat turn on her to harm her for mysterious (sometimes not so mysterious) reasons.

Yay religion.

There are three things I liked about this book: First, I love the world that Lake builds. I mean, I don't necessarily love *the*world*, but the world-building yields results that feel real to me. I find the fact that Green really inhabits that world, really notices and attends to it, an effective device for a character who is a species of assassin. It makes perfect sense that she would be vigilant and attentive and well-informed. So is James Bond, for many of the same reasons. It's believable that Green says this to us:
For all the imposing glory of the frontage of the Temple of the Silver Lily, the rear facing was as anonymously crowded and busy as the back of any other substantial institution. Carters, beggars, small tradesmen--a steady traffic passed in the alley behind. We slipped into the stream, walking briskly with our heads turned down. Most of the servants in this city or any other walked briskly. A shuffling step would have cried out that we wished not to be recognized.
Swiftly we merged into the crowded streets beyond, losing ourselves away from the Blood Fountain with its swarm of angry Street Guildsmen. After about six blocks, I pulled the limping {fellow traveler} into someone's walled garden to rest a short while beneath the shade of a papaya tree. It was a shame about the latch on their gate, which I was forced to cut through with the god-blooded dagger.
I feel the alley traffic jostling me; hear the angry crowd noises, see Green testing gates surreptitiously, finding one her extraordinary dagger can be used in the ordinariest of ways, to cut the latchstring on; strain with her in supporting a lamed companion in an effort to escape unnoticed from people who wish to harm both of them. It's an economical passage typical of many that make Lake's imaginary city of Kalimpura such a layered and believable place.

At multiple points in the series, but most notably in this last book of three, Green passes casual comments that can stop you in your tracks if you're paying attention. She muses that the Prince of the City's thugs would, in a city that wished its streets to be policed, be a watch; here in Kalimpura, it suits the rich and powerful that the streets not be policed. Green also notes that her struggles against the enemies of the Lily Blades (her order of assassins) are those of a have-not against haves; she muses that the poor hide from the powerful and administer their own forms of justice exactly as the powerful do among themselves, as well as attempting to on the powerless. How pefectly observed, and apt for us in the twenty-first century "land of the free," too.

Again, it makes sense that an assassin would think these thoughts, or at least a top-ranking and powerful one would. She has to have a clear picture of the ground in order to negotiate its twists and curves successfully, not getting herself killed.

And this is all a succinct evocation of Green's state of mind, hypervigilant, as well as an expression of the reason she's so very good at her killing. She does not miss a trick, her eye is sharp and her grasp of what she needs to do to survive this godless passage is firm. Her self-directed wryness is catnip to me, too.

As Green is in a religious order, and in direct communication with her goddess (a fact that many in power in her order and her world find extremely threatening), she finds herself needing to put religion in a place, a slot, in her world-view, with borders and limits:
The memory of the divine is like the memory of pain--you know you have experienced it, but you cannot relive the experience...I have come to realize this protects us all from the sharp edges with which the world is filled. Every day dawns like shattered glass, then passes to depart on bladed wings, which only the ignorant and the lucky survive unscathed.
Yes, indeed, this is true. Anytime the divine touches a human being, the consequences are dire. Look at the fates of all the prophets! But also, and tellingly, Green equates the experience of divine communication with pain. It causes her pain, it gives her pain, it spreads pain in the world. When a particularly terrible problem needs solving, Green summons the sea from its bed and smashes the problem, causing much death, bringing much pain to the survivors, and wracking her with guilt.

But it accomplished her purposes, and nothing else would have. So the guilt and pain are, of necessity, borne and worn away. Like all pain, Green's pain wears her edges down, sharpens her inner blades and polishes her outer ones, and carves her a new shape.

This is called adulthood. She achieves it. She survives the process, where many do not. They succumb to addiction and fantasy and apathy. Green does not. She accepts that her future won't look like her past or her plans, and moves into it without undue drama.

Note the word "undue." She fights and kicks against the demands of the universe, like we all do, but she doesn't give way and fill the skies with her whining. Goodness knows she has a right to. She chooses instead to get on with the work in front of her.

And that is the third thing I truly appreciate about this trilogy, and this volume in the trilogy. A story where someone comes of age is common as pig tracks. (My mother's memorably sniffy dismissal of my almost-third wife.) I love the fact that this woman comes into her full growth by embracing her own power and choosing not to rely on anyone or anything outside herself. I love that she loves her children, her companions, and her world enough to do what needs doing despite the fact that some people can never forgive her or understand what she has done.

In the end, I love the fact that this novel, likely Jay Lake's last published in his lifetime, expresses better than any I've read in a long, long time the simple truth that, "In the end, so is the beginning. In the beginning, so is the end:"
The first thing I can remember in this life is my father driving his white ox, Endurance, to the sky burial platforms. His back was before me as we walked along a dusty road. All things were dusty in the country of my birth, unless they were flooded. A ditch yawned at each side to beckon me toward play. The fields beyond were drained of water and filled with stubble, though I could not now say which of the harvest seasons it was.
Though I would come to change the fate of cities and of gods, then I was merely a small, grubby child in a small, grubby corner of the world.
And so does the time spent with Green, and Jay Lake, end where Green begins. Hail, and farewell. You and your creations have enriched me. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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