(Before I begin, I want to give the same warning I’d give to anyone reading its predecessor, Green: TRIGGER WARNING! this book heavily features child trafficking, implied prostitution, physical/emotional/psychological abuse, and some pretty general sexual tones overall.)
Endurance, by Jay Lake.
It’s tragic when you can sense a shift as such, but…these books are going in the wrong direction. I don’t mean story-wise; I’m generally not one to criticize as such. Yet you know what they say about movie sequels? Apply here.
Endurance is the sequel to Green—an unusual book in and of itself in the mainstream fantasy genre for its frank sexual (alright, very and uniquely sexual), furry and BDSM tones—continuing the journey of the titular Green as she struggles to find a place for herself in a world that is just…really unkind to her. In so doing, however, Endurance tragically fails to evolve from its predecessor—it’s marred by similar issues, and fails on its own merits to materialize into anything truly hard-hitting.
But let me be frank: it’s good, and it’s quick, it’s just not great. If you want something to read on a goodly-lengthed airplane flight? This one is your book. The action scenes are well-written and entertaining, and there are still characters (alright, in my case, one character) that will amuse, if also baffle.
We get more of the gods in this book than we got even in the last one—it deals with their machinations (hi, Green!) and desires; along with a very steady dichotomy of male vs. female. Some rather chauvinistic baddies want to turn the world to a male god-dominated bachelor pad, while the female goddesses obviously want to preserve the status quo and keep people on their rightful, equal footing. Factor in restless Pardines, a city that can’t seem to get a sense of itself, and a new divine order for people to grow accustomed to, and my oh my, the troubles do abound.
People in the worlds of Jay Lake—well, they’re not very nice.
But I’m not about to be in describing that world just now either, so, deep breaths everyone. For one thing, while I’m no prude, the sexual quality in these books continues to be just…odd. It’s downright implausible in some of the situations in which it comes up, unnecessary to the extent it goes for (I.E. we’re not advancing plot here), and the language used in its description—well, I’ll give Lake creativity points for the last, at least. Also: Green is horny. All the time. Which is just as well, because apparently so are the female gods she follows. Oh dears.
The delivery of the novel itself is also oddly rendered. Several before me have poked at the POV—and I must lend my voice to that crowd. I can understand reflection. It lends things to a novel—pointed, powerful insights into the character we’re following. Not so, in Green’s case. She bemoans, certainly, but as she herself is not a terribly caring or overly thoughtful character (she’s an impulsive ninja, alright?), her “insights” achieve little more than to tell me what I just read of her actions were obviously poor choices on her part. This does little more than to UNDERCUT the moment of those failures, essentially being someone standing just off to the side of the screen saying: “Well, that was dumb of me. Oh my.” It breaks our involvement IN the action, IN the moment, IN the decision.
What’s more: the whole pregnancy detail. It should be a hell of a game changer. Yet right up until the very end, it only proves a conflicting issue at the most convenient moments. Green is always presented as far above and beyond your average woman—and she’d have to be, because if a real woman did half the things she does quite freely here (flipping over rooftops, knife fights, and leaping through windows, to name a few), there is no way her baby would survive to the happy day. She talks ABOUT the pregnancy as an issue a lot—but practically speaking, it rarely is one. She’s still fighting her way to glory right up until the end.
While Endurance has risen above the pacing issue that Green suffered from—no sudden, three book splits in this puppy—and solid attempts are made to craft some intricate plotting, most of the twists and turns end up being pretty predictable, and pretty much all cured by another high octane fist fight or two. Why are people doing the things they’re doing? Well, that’s still not gone into depth enough. People’s motives, even when explained, are not the most intricate or necessarily sensible or reasonable in and of themselves (and there’s always the: “We sensed these two were assassins, so we sexed the urge to kill out of them!” moment…urgh), and while many of the actions and reactions are all coming back on things that Green has done or caused, given her own impulsive nature, this whole series of events can seem somewhere…frustrating.
It’s always proper to end on a high note, though, and I’ll let Lake have that. What this book does have is spirituality, alongside its action. The spiritual aspect—the creation, destruction, and inherent questions that come along with the divine—is in full bloom here, and now more than ever being used to showcase gender issues. Endurance continues THAT tradition that Green set, and while it does not go into quite the expanded depth on that front that I would like form a sequel, it continues to present a rather in-depth world, which I always appreciate.
With Green, I could say I adored the early bits and came to face palm, a lot, over the later bits. With Endurance, the path is set from the very beginning, and it’s consistent all the way through—but the journey remains an entertaining, but not an overly engaging or substantial one.