Green is a difficult character to like. It’s very easy to be sympathetic to her plight or fears, but she’s the type that can never get out of her own way. The story is told entirely in her own voice, and for better or worse, the author really got lost in the character. Most of the world revolving around Green remains mysterious, though not always detrimentally so, as she obsesses endlessly on her own problems. But the repetition she brings to those issues doesn’t yield a more thorough understanding. Instead of retracing her life, expanding on key moments, Green treats her life as though it were a list. There’s a lot of What but little of Why. It creates an odd disconnect between the reader’s perception of her and how everyone else sees her. I was thrown on the several occasions she’s exiled from her closest friends for reasons she gives little space to recognizing, much less understanding. Similarly, the other characters flit through the narrative, denied any sense of development within Green’s head. Which fits Green’s character remarkably well. Just isn’t so satisfying to read.
The world, the bits that Green will focus and devote some thought too, are well done. Every place and people have a distinct culture. And I don’t mean just broad strokes, like the “maggots” from the North have stone cities and the desert folk lives in tents. A sense of identity and history are as real as the places. Even someone as uninterested as Green can’t ignore the layered intricacies, how each strata of social life has been imagined, from the mundane to the high celebrations. It’s so easy to see a thousand other stories taking place in this world.
The crux of Green’s struggle is finding individual freedom in a complicated world and retaining some sense of self after a traumatic childhood. The second plays more upon the first as Green clings, desperately, to her past, mistaking childish ignorance with a full identity. It also means, that despite being very well educated, she still thinks in simple, black & white, terms. It leads to eternal disappointment and frustration. Which isn’t totally the fault of Green’s abrasive personality. Her wants are simple and she goes after them with a child’s “well why not just go for it?” common sense. Constantly being slapped down eventually takes a toll, with Green developing (a very adult) ambivalence towards everything except her bells before parlaying that into a death wish. Killing comes fairly easy to her but there’s a high reluctance to use it. Green doesn’t want to be rich, feared, or renowned, just left alone. Normally, I find such qualities in a character tedious on the larger narrative and offensive on principle since I’m attempting to read an entertaining story. But the oppressiveness of authority is so rank in this world, I find myself more sympathetic. There are moments I really wanted her to cut the throat out of every speaking character, even if it wouldn’t fix anything, or make Green feel any better. The inevitable exile seems to indicate Green and I are in synch, emotionally at least. Her steady erosion of sanity is always periphery, which is a shame. It gets to the point Green carries around a wooden bell that reminds her of home and safety as yet another physical attempt to anchor herself mentally. These moments can come across as superficial at first, just a scared girl trying to reclaim heritage or hope or identity. Until the realization dawns she actually doesn’t give a shit about anything else. Her world is just sewing bells to her scarf / dress. Never mind the undead Duke guy. The city can rot. It’s unsettling and funny at the same time.
In the end, I think the first person narration caused more problems than it solved. A lot of the strengths of the novel are given cursory examination while Green’s lifeless voice drones on and on. She’s set up as a witty character but there are few (if any) passages that’ll bring a smile or some fun to the book. I could definitely go for a sequel if it was told in a different way.
(Image credit to somebody else)
(Image credit to somebody else)