Featured Author Review: Kalimpura by Jay Lake

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Kalimpura
Jay Lake
Tor Books
First Edition:  January 22, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2677-5

The memory of the divine is like the memory of pain – you know you have experienced it, but you cannot relive the experience.  In the years since, 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.

In the first book of the Green trilogy (Green, 2009), Jay Lake’s young heroine brings about the Kalimpuradeath of one god and the birth of another in her expatriate city, Copper Downs.  In Endurance (2011), she moves among the gods and their priests even as she is mired in the politics and vengeances of forces far less divine but no less threatening.  But in the third and final book of the series, Green is not only touched by the gods, but becomes the subject of their keen focus, and the fallout from their attention threatens to pull her world apart and destroy all that she holds dear.

In Kalimpura, Green returns to the land of her birth, that land that she calls home even though it has failed to keep her twice before.  Having settled most of her accounts in Copper Downs (many of them executed in blood), she still has before her, a mission that is the most personal thus far in her young, but intense life – the release of two hostages taken by the Bittern Court: one, a Sister of the same religious sect as Green (as well as her one time friend and bed partner), and the other, the daughter of Green’s closest friend and only unrequited love.

Led by the ruthless Surali, the Bittern Court had sent a delegation over the sea to Copper Downs in order to meddle in the affairs of the gods, help in the establishment of a puppet government that would benefit their powerful guild from afar, and also to bring the renegade Green back to Selistan in chains.  Once back in her native land, Green was to have been tried for crimes against the guild and against the temple that once had fostered her (not to mention appeasing Surali’s personal vendetta).

Although their plans had been thwarted by Green and her patchwork army of Selistan expatriates, pardine renegades, and followers of the various local deities (as well as intercession by the deities themselves), and they had been forced to flee back to the city of Kalimpura, the Bittern Court continued to manipulate factions in Copper Downs from afar.  The abduction of both acolyte Samma and young Corinthia Anastasia guarantees that Green will follow Surali back to Selistan, despite the trap that will no doubt be set for her upon arrival.

And of course, Green will follow.  Not only is she committed to freeing the hostages, but the Saffron Tower was still a threat to her beloved Lily Goddess and the Blade sisterhood, perhaps even to the titanic deity Desire herself.  Rumors were swirling of a duo of renegades from the Saffron Tower in Kalimpura – a mysterious Red Man of legend and his companion apsara – and Green believes they are her best hope for learning how to break the motivation of the god killers.   But there is another reason why Green intercedes on behalf of the gods.  By doing so, she strengthens her ability to bargain with them, which means she can stand between their will and her family.

Kalimpura is the sharpest of the Green novels, and is a fitting conclusion to this her journey.  As a character, Green has come through her caustic childhood and chaotic youth to become more focused and also more tolerant (motherhood and maturity will do that to you).  However, she is still the Green of old, retaining her impulsiveness, her passion and her razor sharp temper (which still gets her into trouble).  Her violence is just as bloodthirsty as before, but also specific and even more ruthless; she is still not afraid to kill, and to kill brutally, but she also finds herself staying her knife more readily when its target proves arbitrary.  The Green of the other novels would not have been as discriminating.

Also before, Green railed against being a conduit for the gods.  She would move among them, but would always hold them at arm’s length; not an unwilling participant in the divine, but a somewhat aloof one.  (“Starstruck” was never a description to be attributed to Green.)  Now, while she does not embrace her interactions with the gods, she accepts them without looking for ulterior motives or paranoid distrust, and she does not pout when calling upon them – her need is more straightforward and not as grudging.

But the unwanted consequence of being touched by the gods is that it tends to bring notoriety, and Green has always prided herself in her ability to fly under the radar.  So she chafes against this new development in her life:  it’s hard to be discreet when a deity threatens the city where you have landed and you are the only one to stand between the god and its denizens.

 “Someday you may be wise.  You will always be strong.”  One hand gripped her tea tight, and I realized for the first time that her fingers had grown wrinkled and were even becoming gnarled.  Time’s arrow slew us all, no matter how lucky we might otherwise be.  “Be fortunate awhile, and you will be a woman to follow.”

“I don’t want anyone to follow me,” I said truthfully.

“It’s too late for that.”

When I consider the entire arc of Green’s trilogy, from Green to Endurance to Kalimpura, I marvel at how deftly author Jay Lake was able to take a unique character, develop her and spin around her such an involved story in such a well envisioned world, moving all those aspects – character, story and world – in a way that mirrored her own personal growth.  From the rambling, controlled environment of childhood that holds on to faint memories and snippets of remembrances, then explodes into chaotic scrambling for purchase that is youth unbound, to the acceptance of purpose that comes with placing the needs of family and relationships above the needs of self, so we have seen the stories move from frantic and scattered to frantic and focused to focused and purposeful.  It’s been an epic span.

Gods were a greater pain to me than men – I would have sworn to it in that moment.  And may times since, for that matter.  What do any of us know, after all, except what we are shown?  And who can show more than a god?

Still, any time give me a decent curry and a good night’s sleep by preference over a mountaintop and the kingdoms of the world.

I wasn’t sure at the onset on whether I would enjoy three volumes of Green’s journey, but it was not long before I realized Green was more complex and unique than other heroines I had encountered in my reading, especially in high fantasy.  She was beautiful but marred her own beauty in defiance of the future set for her; she was a singularly skilled warrior, yet felt pain and fatigue and despair.  She loved without attachment, killed without hesitation, trusted no one and did not hold hostility as a barrier to respect and even friendship.  She made mistakes, exercised poor judgment, suffered from guilt regardless of circumstance but not did allow that guilt to temper her impulsiveness.  And by the end, I had grown to admire and appreciate the woman I felt I had grown to know.  That is indeed a mark of excellence in storytelling.

There will be no more stories of Green; Jay Lake did too good of a job bringing her story to a conclusion, in a way that was pretty darned close to a perfect circle.  But I sure wouldn’t mind seeing more tales set in this world, from the Stone Coast and the layered development of Copper Downs, or from the arid heat of Selistan and the bustling metropolis of Kalimpura.  Tales of a new generation, perhaps, or following a story from one of the many factions introduced and enduring in either of those great cities?  I could easily rattle off half a dozen possibilities that I wouldn’t mind Lake revisiting if he had the time and inclination.

And perhaps that is the highest recommendation I have – that the possibilities of the story live on in my own imagination, even after the final sentence of the tangible work has been written.   That living presence of a story does not happen often to me, so I must consider it a gift from the author to his readers.  And I, for one, am so very appreciative to Jay Lake for granting the gift of Green, Copper Downs, Kalimpura and a big, placid ox named Endurance to me.

~ Sharon Browning

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