Green (Green Universe Series #1)

Green (Green Universe Series #1)

by Jay Lake


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Her exquisite beauty and brilliant mind were not enough to free her from captivity. That took her skills with a knife, plus the power of a goddess.

She was born in poverty, in a dusty village under the equatorial sun. She does not remember her mother, she does not remember her own name—her earliest clear memory is of the day her father sold her to the tall pale man. In the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was taught the ways of a courtesan…and the skills of an assassin…she was named Emerald, the precious jewel of the Undying Duke's collection of beauties. She calls herself Green.

The world she inhabits is one of political power and magic, where Gods meddle in the affairs of mortals. At the center of it is the immortal Duke's city of Copper Downs, which controls all the trade on the Storm Sea. Green has made many enemies, and some secret friends, and she has become a very dangerous woman indeed.

Acclaimed author Jay Lake has created a remarkable character in Green, and evokes a remarkable world in this novel. Green and her struggle to survive and find her own past will live in the reader's mind a long time after the book is closed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765326478
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/15/2011
Series: Green Universe Series , #1
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,145,898
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

JAY LAKE was a prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy, as well as an award-winning editor, a popular raconteur and toastmaster, and an excellent teacher at the many writers' workshops he attended. His novels included Tor's publications Mainspring, Escapement, and Pinion, and the trilogy of novels in his Green cycle - Green, Endurance and Kalimpura. Lake was nominated multiple times for the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the World Fantasy Award. He won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 2004, the year after his first professional stories were published. In 2008 Jay Lake was diagnosed with colon cancer, and in the years after he became known outside the sf genre as a powerful and brutally honest blogger about the progression of his disease. Jay Lake died on June 1, 2014.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


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 ooded. 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. I did not have many words. Even so, I knew that my grandmother was lashed astride the back of Papa’s patient beast. She was so very still and silent that day, except for her bells.

Every woman of our village is given a silk at birth, or at least the finest cloth a family can afford. The length of the bolt is said to foretell the length of her life, though I’ve never known that a money-lender’s sister wrapped in twelve yards of silk lived longer than a decently fed farmwife with a short measure hanging on her sewing frame. The first skill a girl-child learns is to sew a small bell to her silk each day so that when she marries, she will dance with the music of four thousand bells. Every day she sews so that when she dies, her soul will be carried out of this life on the music of twenty-five-thousand bells. The poorest use seed pods or shells, but still these stand as a marker of the moments in our lives.

My silk is long lost now, as are my several attempts since to replace it. Be patient: I will explain how this came to be. Before that, I wish to explain how

I came to be. If you do not understand this day, earliest in my memory like the first bird that ever grew feathers and threw itself from the limb of a tree, then you will understand nothing of me and all that has graced and cursed my life in the years since.

The ox Endurance bore a burden of sound that day. His wooden bell clopped in time to his steps. The thousands of bells on my grandmother’s silk rang like the first rainfall upon the roof of our hut after the long seasons of the sun. Later in my youth, before I returned to Selistan to see the truth of my beginnings for myself, I would revisit this memory and think that perhaps what I heard was her soul rising up from the scorching stones of this world to embrace the cool shadows of the next.

That day, the bells I heard seemed to be tears shed by the tulpas in celebration of her passage.

In my memory, the land rocked as we proceeded, in a way that meant I did not walk. I had eyes only for Endurance and my grandmother. My father drove the ox, so my mother must have carried me. She was alive then. Of her I can recall only the feel of arms as a pressure across the backs of my legs, and the sense of being held too close to the warmth of her skin as I wriggled away from her to look ahead. I hold no other recollection of my mother, none at all.

Her face is forever hidden from me. I have lost so much in this life by racing ahead without ever pausing to turn back and take stock of courses already run.

Still, my unremembered mother did as a parent should do for a child. She walked with a measured tread that followed the slow beat of Endurance’s wooden bell. She held me high enough that I could look into my grandmother’s white-painted eyes.

Her I recall well in that moment. Whatever came before in my young life is lost now to my recollection, but my grandmother must have been important to my smallest self. I drank in the sight of her with a loving eagerness that foretold the starveling years to come.

The lines upon her face were a map of the ages of woman. Her skin seemed webbed, as if her glittering eyes were spiders waiting to entrap whatever little kisses and pudgy hands might stray too close. I do not suppose she had any teeth left, for her betel-stained lips were collapsed in a pucker that seems to me in memory to have been as familiar as the taste of water. Her nose was long, not so much in the fashion of most of Selistan’s people, and had retained a certain majestic force even in her age. She had no hair left but for some errant wisps, though as most of her scalp was covered by the arch of her belled silk, I suppose this knowledge is itself a memory of a memory.

There must have been a washing, a laying out, a painting of the white and the red. These things I know now from my experience of later years, learned upon the corpses of those I helped prepare for the next life, as well as the corpses of those I have slain with my own hands.

Did my father run his fingers across his mother’s cooling body to do these things?

Did my mother perform that ultimate rite for him?

Did my mother and grandmother live well together in the presence of my father, or did they fight like harridans?

So much has been taken from me. What has been given in return seems hollow next to the brilliance of that moment—the sharpness of the colors painted on my grandmother’s face; the rich, slow echo of Endurance’s bell and the silvery ringing from my grandmother’s silk; the faded tassels on the ox’s great curving horns; the heat that wrapped me like a bright and stifling blanket; the dusty, rotten smell of that day as my father sang his mother’s death song in a toneless, reedy voice that sounded bereft even to my young ears.

That brilliance is reinforced by a skein of later experience, but it also stands alone like the first rock of a reef above the receding tide. I wish that the past were so much more open to me, as it is to the blue-robed men who sit atop the shattered heads of ancient idols in the Dockmarket at Copper Downs. For a few brass taels, they will enter their houses of memory to recount the order and color of festival parades and marching banners in decades long lost to dust.

Distant memory is an art that absorbs its followers, immerses them in the mazes of the mind. I am overtaken by recall of more recent times, of blood and passion and sweaty skin and the most pointed kind of politics. For all that was taken from me in the earliest days of my stolen childhood, those distant memories would still be safe and sane compared with what has passed since, if their return were ever granted to me.

It would bring me the sound of my mother’s voice, which I have lost.

It would bring me the look of my father’s face, which I have lost.

It would bring me the name they called me, which I have lost.

My image of my grandmother is as bright and powerful as sunrise on the ocean. She stands at the beginning of my life. Her funeral marks the emergence of my consciousness of the world around me.

For all that bright and shining focus on my grandmother, she was gone at the beginning of all things. Whoever she might have been to me in the rhythms of ordinary living is buried deep within the impenetrable fog of my infancy. I like to think she held me during the days when my mother must have worked the fields alongside my father. I like to believe she crooned to me songs about the world.

These things are even less than guesses.

My grandmother’s last moments aside, what I hold most in my memory from those first days of my life is Endurance. The ox seemed tall as the sky to me then. He smelled of damp hide and the gentle sweetgrass scent of his dung. He was a hut that followed my father but always cast shade upon me. I would play beneath his shadow, moving as the sun did if he stood for too long, sometimes looking up at the fringe dividing his belly where the fur of each of his sides met and a fold of skin hung downward. The white of his back shaded to gray there, like the line of a storm off the hills, but always spattered with dust and mud.

The ox continually rumbled. Voices within prophesied in some low-toned language of grass and gas and digestion that endlessly fascinated me. Endurance would grunt before he pissed, warning me to scramble away from his great hooves and hunt frogs among the flooded fields until he found a dry place to stand once more. His great brown eyes watched me unblinking as I ran in the rice paddies, climbed the swaying palms and ramified bougainvilleas, hunted snakes in the stinking ditches.

Endurance had the patience of old stone. He always waited for me to return, sometimes snorting and tossing his head if he thought I’d moved too far in my play. The clop of his wooden bell would call me back to him. The ox never lost sight of me unless my father had taken him away for some errand amid the fields or along the village road.

At night I would sit beside the fire in front of our hut and stitch another bell to my silk under the watchful eye of my father. My mother was already gone by then, though I cannot recall the occasion of her death. Endurance’s breath whuffled from the dark of his pen. If I stared into the shadows of the doorway, I could see the fire’s fetch dance in the depths of his brown eyes. They were beacons to call me back at need from the countries of my dreams.

There came a certain day in my third summer of life that, like most days there, was hot as only Selistan can be. You northerners do not understand how it is that we can live beneath our greater sun. In the burning lands of the south, the daystar is not just light, but also fire. Its heat falls like rain through air that one could slice with a table knife. That warmth was always on me, a hand pressing down upon my head to wrack my hair with sweat and darken my skin.

I played amid a stand of plantains. Their flowers cascaded in a maroon promise of the sweet, sticky goodness to come. The fat stalks were friends sprung from some green jungle race, come to tell me the secrets of the weather. I had made up my mind to be queen of water, for it was water that ruled over everything in our village. Warm mud was caked upon my feet from my sojourns in the ditches planning the coming of my magical queendom.

Endurance’s bell echoed across the paddy. The clatter had an urgency that I heard without at first understanding. I looked up to see the ox’s ears flattened out. His tail twitched as if he were bedeviled by blackflies. My father stood beside his ox with one hand on the loop of rope that served as a bridle. He was talking to someone dressed as I had never seen before—wrapped entirely in dark cloths with no honest skin exposed to the furnace of our sun except the dead-pale oval of his face. I wore no clothes at all six days out of seven, and my father little more than a rag about his waist. It had never occurred to me that anyone would have so much to hide.

My father called my name. A thousand times I have strained in memory to hear his voice, but it will not come to me. I know it was my name, I know he called it, but the sound and shape of the word are lost to me along with his speaking of it.

Can you imagine what it means to lose your name? Not to set it aside for a profession or temple mystery, but simply to lose it. Many have told me this is not possible, that no one forgets the name she was called at her mother’s breast. Soon enough I will explain to you how this came to be, but for now believe that the loss is as great to me as it seems incredible to you.

Papa turned toward me and cupped his hands to call out. I know my name hung in the air. I know I ran toward my father with my hair trailing behind me to be tugged by the sun and wind. It was the end of my life I ran toward, and the beginning.

Laughing I went, covered in the dust and mud of our land, a child of sun-scorched Selistan. My father continued to hold Endurance’s lead as the ox tossed his head and snorted with anger.

Close by, I could see the stranger was a man. I had never seen a stranger before, and so I thought that perhaps all strangers were men. He was taller than Papa. His face was pale as the maggots that squirmed in our midden pile. His hair peeking out from behind his swaddling was the color of rotting straw, his eyes the inside of a lime.

The stranger knelt to take my jaw in a strong grip and bend my chin upward. I struggled, and must have said something, for I was never a reticent child. He ignored my outburst in favor of tilting my face back and forth. He then grasped me by the shoulder and turned me around to trace my spine with a rough knuckle.

When I was released, I spun back hot with indignant pride. The maggot man ignored me, talking to my father in low tones with a muddied voice, as if our words did not quite fit his mouth. There was some small argument; then the maggot man slid a silk bag into my father’s hand, closing his fingers over the burden.

Papa knelt in turn to kiss my forehead. He placed my hand in the maggot man’s grasp, where the silk had so lately slid free. He turned and walked quickly away, leading Endurance. The ox, ever a mild-mannered beast, bucked twice and shook his head, snorting to call me back.

"My bells," I cried as I was tugged away by the maggot man’s strong hand. So the belled silk was lost to me, along with everything else to which I had been born.

That is the last of what I remember of that time in my life, before all changed: a white ox, a wooden bell, and my father forever turned away from me.

Excerpted from Green by Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Copyright © 2009 by Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Published in June 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Green 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 72 reviews.
Montreve More than 1 year ago
A critic who reviewed this book stated that it was akin to Carey's Kushiel Series. Of course, after reading that I couldn't get my hands on it fast enough. The plot was easy enough to follow, with a false climatic part (or so I thought), that was really a build up for the true climax. The characters were likeable, however I never fell in love with them. The descriptions were .... Almost there. It is hard to explain. It is kind of like trying to watch a TV show with really bad reception. You get the basic idea, but I felt like it lacked on last nudge, one last description, to really solidify the image in my head. Despite that, I find that this book was a fairly decent read. I did finish it, after all. I'll probably read another one of Lake's books. I think that maybe I expected too much because I am such a huge fan of Carey's lush world and descriptions in the Kushiel series. I think that if you didn't go in with really high expectations (as I did) you would be perfectly happy with this book.
Lynx379 More than 1 year ago
I'm all for a book about assassins but. . . i have to say that i was really disapointed in this book. Green is supposed to be a strong person and an assassin but she can't even kill someone who beat her brutally for years and another who tried to rape her without crying and vomiting over their deaths and then saying a prayer for them. I had high hopes for a strong heroine in this story but Green seemed more like a weak character full of bluster. She talked big, but didn't back it up most of the time. Despite what she said, she was constantly getting pushed around. She was full of anger but wasn't directing it in the right places. She just didn't have any redeeming qualities. I felt this way about all of the characters. The characters didn't have much depth and they weren't really likable at all. In fact, i detested the majority of the characters because they seemed nice, if somewhat mysterious at first, and then turned cruel and vicious the next second. It was a long and droning story which could have been broken up into more than one book. I just couldn't get through the book because i couldn't stand to watch this protagonist who was supposed to be strong, beat herself up (literally, she cut her own face) and to tolerate others, (in some cases her own "friends") to beat her up too. With that being said, the book  had the potential in the beginning to go somewhere great, but instead it progressively got worse. I sadly, wouldn't recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Green is a great character. At times I felt like this book was more a character sketch than a story, as it dragged in some spots. I nearly gave up a time or two. I liked the resonance of the book, and how things tied together in the end.
Travis Johnston More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader and I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of fantasy novels.
Queensowntalia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the vibrant, beautifully told story of a young girl sold into slavery and how she reacts to the oppression as she grows. It's got a touch of Jacqueline Carey's 'Kushiel' series to it (minus 90% of the sex) - besides the initial story with young Green being raised to be a noblelady, there's a certain sense of elegant sensuality paired with a strong and strong-minded female protagonist. Green is very well drawn - conflicted, confused in some ways, and despite years and distance, to some degree interminably bound to her past - a past that lingers in her mind, a ghost of what she'd lost. There's some good world building here - some interesting cultural details that really catch the imagination. I'm particularly fond of the bell-sewing custom Green's home country has. It feels real. Gods and goddesses in this universe are indeed very real - if not always what you expect or desire. This coupled with a underlying spiritual theme running through the book helped lead to an ending with a full-circle sort of tang to it that was very satisfying. Interesting protagonist, fun world building. A most enjoyable read.
willowsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I REALLY enjoyed the first half of this book--Girl's education in a foreign land by the mistresses, which is slowly revealed to her to be training for her eventual status as a well-bred concubine (if she's lucky) was fascinating. Her strength and fortitude against such overwhelming indoctrination was very believable, and truly enamored me to her character. Although I found the second half of the novel interesting as well, the story of Green/Neckbreaker was not as fascinating for me. However, Lake's characterizations and vision kept the novel fresh, and I would definitely consider this a re-read for me.
TerryWeyna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jay Lake is a versatile author within the field of fantastic fiction. He has written Mainspring and Escapement, novels generally classified as steampunk; and Trial of Flowers and the forthcoming Trial of Madness, described as ¿decadent urban fantasy¿ on the cover of the former, but generally categorized as New Weird by those of us who believe in that subgenre; and the science fictional Rocket Science. In 2004, Lake won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and he has been nominated for Hugo and World Fantasy Awards on several occasions. Now he turns to fantasy with the engaging Green ¿ the first of his books I¿ve read, even though I have almost everything he has authored so far on my shelves.One of the most vivid images in Green ¿ a book full of vivid images ¿ is that of the ox, Endurance. This patient beast is a potent symbol of Green¿s childhood, an exercise in endurance that seems impossible for a mere child. That huge ox, with its bell, is called to mind again and again by Green, and so, too, for the reader, even long after finishing the book.Green is nameless when the book begins. She is a mere child of three years, sold by her father to a man who barely speaks her language, and taken across the sea to a house that seems to be dedicated to her upbringing. She is tutored harshly during her childhood by a series of mistresses, learning all the arts of being a lady. The teaching is anything but ladylike, however, and Green is beaten regularly for the slightest mistake. She grows to excel at everything she is taught: cooking, horseback riding, music appreciation, sewing, and many other aspects of gracious living. She also grows to be extraordinarily beautiful, her dusky skin a rarity in the country that is now hers. She is an exotic bloom, ready to be plucked by the Duke for whom she has been grown when she reaches physical maturity. When Green completes the bulk of her training, she is examined exactly as if she were a prize cow and named ¿Emerald.¿ It becomes extremely clear now, if one did not quite understand it earlier, that she is a slave, if one who has been taught much. Once she begins to menstruate, her future will be sealed.What most of Green¿s mistresses do not know is that Green has been tutored by her Dancing Mistress (a member of a species that seems to be much like intelligent, human-sized cats, whose presence on the planet is not fully explained) not only in the art of dance, but also in the art of self-defense. These mysterious lessons, which take place by night, often in the underground tunnels that constitute a world of their own beneath the city, encourage Green¿s rebelliousness, making her aware that there may be possibilities that do not involve being a courtesan to the Duke until her beauty wanes.When the day arrives, Green takes action. Lake writes beautifully of this young girl¿s act, chosen freely, that decides her future. The story builds deliciously to this point, and the climax completely fulfills the promise of Green¿s character.Perhaps it is because this first portion of the book has been written so very well that everything that happens thereafter seems anticlimactic. Although Green¿s story has just begun ¿ her rebellious act occurs only one-third of the way through the book ¿ it feels to the reader as if the story is over, even though Green is only 12 or 13 years old.The story is not over, though, and if Lake does not ever really regain the tension he built up in the first part of the book, he continues to tell a wonderful story. Green returns to the land of her birth, discovering hurtful truths and trying to find a way for herself. She lands in the cult of the Lily Goddess, a group of women who maintain the law in their city in the most brutal fashion. Here Green learns not just defense, but offense as well, in essence completing her training for a task she never knew would fall to her ¿ a task involving the making and killing of gods in the land to which she was stolen.I greatly en
GraemeW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book, but thought it started stronger than it ended. At the beginning of the book, you absolutely care about the main character, but I felt as though the middle of the book dragged, and although the action picked up towards the end of the book, I'm not sure that was enough to sustain my interest.
Januaryhat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book in an afternoon, put it aside, thought "meh" and completely forgot about it. I only remembered it existed when the library's overdue-book notice arrived. The premise is promising: a young girl sold by her father, transplanted to a foreign country, shaped to be a noble woman/courtesan and, secretly, a weapon. The story had several elements I usually love -- a strong-willed female main character, several interesting settings, (no bog-standard fantasyland here), clashes of cultures and expectations -- but nothing sparkled. I'm even tempted to describe the result as "bland". Green, the first-person narrator tells the story as an adult reflecting on her childhood. Unfortunately, Lake does not manage to pull the voice off: the distant Green waxes quite wondrously lyrical, but never comes truly alive. Meanwhile, the plot fizzles from one event to the next, ending in a *pop* rather than a bang. Chopped up, this book might contain several diverting short stories. Glued together as a novel, it did not work for me. (Though it has got a very pretty cover!) Overall, not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon, but not something to seek out.
noneofthis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Man. This book sounded much better than it actually was. While the plotline featured such nicely grim conflicts as child slavery and political intrigue and cults of assassin/prostitutes, the writing was weak, rather flowery, and undercut the interesting conflicts at every turn. I did love the cover, though.I might recommended this to young-adult readers seeking books featuring GBLT characters, but it wasn't good enough for me to recommend as a fantasy novel on its own merits.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LOVED EVERY LINE. Wonderful story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She walked in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looking forward to others
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book!
love_coffee_and_books More than 1 year ago
I just couldn't get all the way into this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found Green's story quite compelling. A strong, realistic hero with a well-rounded sense of humanity. A very well-written first person account.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thout me was lock out
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Adventure fighting romance all presented in unconventional wsy