Jay Lake,
(Tor, 2011)

A fantasy with a mesmerizing world and many remarkable characters, Jay Lake's Endurance is the second story that follows the exploits of Green, a highly trained assassin/warrior. She has two main goals in the story: to rescue her closest friend's daughter and to discover and stop a powerful enemy capable of killing gods. All the while, she must keep her troubled past at bay. It's a story that is gritty yet sublime, intimate yet epic. Be aware that there is a fair amount of adult content -- not only in sex and violence, but thematically as well.

Green, who is shown on the cover in stunning artwork by Daniel Dos Santos, is a reluctant hero -- not only because she is a rebellious misfit with loose morals, but because she is well into a pregnancy. Lake does a pretty good job of making Green seem like the ultimate warrior who is frustratingly off her game. Because the story is told in the first person, we get to know her character quite well, and her outward confidence is often a thin shell over her inner insecurities. Her struggle to reconcile her violent ways with upcoming motherhood is quite interesting; her demeanor is decidedly unladylike, but her physical change into a mother brings with it many unsettling thoughts.

One of the most time-consuming and delicate tasks for a fantasy author is to create a setting that is familiar, yet different in interesting and mesmerizing ways. Jay Lake's greatest accomplishment with this novel is this world and the city of Copper Downs; it is very much alive. The gods are tangible beings, and though she tries to avoid them, her fate is closely intertwined with many deities. The description of the underground tunnels is especially captivating. Green's pre-occupation with food brings realism to the story (and evokes the senses of taste and smell) as she constantly craves curried dishes and cardamom rolls.

The characters are varied and original, yet my main complaint is that there are just too many of them crammed into the story. Some of them return from the previous book (which, unfortunately, I have not yet read), and while they have their purpose in this story, it was a little overwhelming to keep track of so many. It was also hard to develop much sentiment for many of them, since my attention could only be stretched so far. Despite this, there were a few stand-outs: the enigmatic twin scholars, Iso and Osi, the disturbing ancient power of Mother Iron, and the deadly avatar, Skinless. Many other characters were interesting, but just made the novel feel more cluttered than really serving a purpose.

While at times bewildering with the amount of characters and sub-plots, Endurance is still a very satisfying book filled with action and mystery. Its lush world and captivating main character will really draw you in; it is truly an original tale.

book review by
Patrick Derksen

1 February 2014

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