Book Review: JADE CITY by Fonda Lee

jade city


Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

 

Color me impressed with my first encounter with Fonda Lee’s writing!

In Jade City, Lee does an incredible job creating a world that is wholly believable. She manages to flesh out the geography, culture, politics, commerce, international relations and religion of Kekon and its surrounds, without ever resorting to infodumping.

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Then she adds a dash of magic. In this world, jade can be used to amplify a person’s energy, focusing it into superhuman powers. Green Bone warriors train in martial arts with a twist, incorporating feats of Lightness, Strength, Deflection, Channeling and Perception. The result looked in my mind a bit like the fighting seen in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Against this lush backdrop Lee has painted for us is what is essentially a gangster family saga, with lots of East Asian influence. The Clan of No Peak is led by the Kaul family, while the Mountain Clan answers to a ruthless woman named Ayt Mada. Each group takes tribute from areas of the city of Janloon that it considers its own territory, in exchange for protection and endorsement. Each controls a significant portion of the nation’s most valuable commodity of jade. The characters on all sides of the conflict are pretty great, which is not to say they’re all good people.

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The most compelling relationships for me were the ones among the Kaul siblings. Lan, Hilo and Shae are as different as can be, but family still holds an implacable bond to the Kekonese, no matter how one might try to escape it.

“Screw you, Hilo,” she snapped. “I can kill my ex-boyfriends myself.”

If forced to come up with something I didn’t appreciate about this book, the only thing I can think of is my confusion over the apparent lack of cell phones. By all appearances Janloon is a modern place, with luxury vehicles and airports – but every time they use a phone, they need to first locate a landline, even when contacting one another with new developments can literally be a matter of life and death. This is as far as can be from a big deal for me, but it did pull me from the story long enough to stop and wonder.

Jade City is an adult fantasy novel with a bit of sex and a fair share of violence. It is the first installment of a planned trilogy, and tells of what amounts to the opening salvo in a larger war to come. I look forward to finding out what happens next with the clans of Kekon.

“All he knew now was that remorse had a natural limit. After a certain amount of time, it finished eating a person hollow and had to alchemize into anger that could be turned outward lest it consume its host entirely.”

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