Book Description:


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.

Jade City, Fonda Lee’s third book and the first installment of The Green Bone Saga trilogy, was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel and is also one of this year’s finalists for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. Its secondary fantasy world is richly drawn and detailed, and the themes of family and legacy are seamlessly woven into the challenges the main characters face as the grandchildren of the founder of one of the city’s two major clans. Though these are strongly done, I did consider not finishing the book a few times due to the slow pacing—but when I reached the end, I realized I’d unexpectedly become rather attached to the main protagonists.

The highlight of Jade City is its fantastic setting, which comes to life through both larger aspects and smaller touches such as the holidays and food. The fictional world is partially inspired by late twentieth century Asian history and has technology that is roughly equivalent to that of the 1970s, such as telephones, automobiles, planes, and televisions. It’s primarily centered on a single city on an island, yet it still gives a sense of there being much more to this world than this one area. It’s a land with vibrant history tied to religious traditions: Kekon has a large jade deposit, said to bring the people closer to the gods who left it there long ago. This jade gives some people of the island powers, and with the proper training they can master kung-fu-like abilities such as moving quickly, deflecting bullets, and making gravity-defying leaps. It’s largely because of these Green Bone warriors that the Kekonese people were able to defeat the foreigners who had colonized their island. After the fight for independence was over, two influential war heroes had a disagreement about whether or not to open their island up to the world and divided into two clans.

Jade City is largely a family saga about the youngest Kauls, the grandchildren of one of these men: how they navigate the violence and danger resulting from the life their grandfather built, how they respond to the changing times, and how they deal with the threat of war with the other major clan in their city. There’s a focus on legacy, as the first leaders of these clans no longer have control over them and the next generation may take them in directions of which they would not approve. In the case of the Kaul family, they have always been expected to take on certain roles that may or may not be a good fit for them, and they are all fascinating characters who deal with their parts in different ways.

Lan, the oldest, is now the Pillar of the clan like his grandfather once was, and his elderly grandfather never lets him forget that he’s not the man his deceased father was. He’s a thoughtful person who made a good peacetime Pillar but may not have the ruthlessness required to successfully lead the clan if it comes to war, and he struggles with finding the line between compassion and strength as the head of the clan. Lan was immediately my favorite character since I particularly enjoy reading about reflective people trying to do their best in difficult circumstances, especially when they’re in a role that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to them.

Hilo, his younger brother, is their war leader and their grandfather has always been hardest on him even though he’s the one who seems most devoted to the clan. He’s a hot-tempered, emotional, passionate person who is a great fighter but can be too impulsive. Though Hilo is the most predictable of the characters, I also thought he was the most fleshed out of all and had some interesting complexity when it came to leading. He’s excellent at looking at those under his leadership as individuals and inspiring loyalty, but he doesn’t seem to be able to care enough to apply the same principles to individuals when it might be in his best interest to try to be diplomatic.

Shae, their sister, was always their grandfather’s favorite and was expected to head the business side of the clan, but after graduating from the academy, she left the country with a foreign man. She returns to her homeland at the beginning of the novel after having completed business school and broken up with her boyfriend, but she’s determined to forge her own path without jade or the help of the Kaul family name. Shae’s view shows the difficulties that women face in becoming Green Bone warriors: though there are some women in the clan, they often have to work harder to achieve their goals. After having finished Jade City, I found Shae’s story to be the one I’m most looking forward to continuing in the next book since it ends up going in some interesting directions, and she also proves to be rather sharp.

Anden, the youngest, is usually referred to as the Kaul sibling’s cousin, and Lan took him into the family after his parents died. He’s nearing the end of training at the academy and has a natural mastery of jade, but he has concerns that having his mother’s affinity for being a Green Bone warrior means he also inherited the same difficulties with handling jade that led to her death. Of the four main perspectives, Anden’s is the most heartfelt. He feels like an outsider in many ways since he was not born into the Kaul family plus he’s biracial and gay, and the other students remind him frequently that his father was not Kekonese.

The characters have flaws but they also make decisions that seem reasonable given their circumstances and personalities, and there are consequences including bad things happening to main characters. Though it’s mainly focused on the Kaul family, there are occasionally other viewpoints, and there are also some intriguing glimpses of some of those who do not get much page time or their own perspectives. I’m particularly interested in learning more about the Pillar of the other major clan since she is coldblooded and ruthless but also has explanations for her actions that make sense.

While the world is amazing and the main characters are well developed, I found the writing and plot to be weaker aspects of the novel. The plot hinges around the introduction of the drug shine, which allows even those without Kekonese blood to use jade, and focuses on the threat of conflict with the other clan. There are some great scenes involving fights, politicking, and talking—but there are also some rather dull parts involving fights, politicking, and talking. The narrative is filled with flashbacks and explanations showing every little relevant detail and thought without leaving much to the imagination, which does show a clear picture but also doesn’t leave much room for subtlety. Although I did find the history interesting and especially enjoyed the brief interludes about the gods and heroes of old, there are also times it provided too much information such as the rules of playing a sport that wasn’t relevant other than to let us know that sporting events existed. In addition to being a little too straightforward at times, the narrative was also sometimes a little stilted with short sentences. However, the prose did occasionally contain some nicely phrased lines, and I did think that the dialogue was smooth and natural.

As a whole, I thought Jade City seemed like a lengthy prologue as it introduced the world and characters and got various players into place, and I did consider putting it and starting another book on multiple occasions. However, I did finish it—and once I reached the end, I found myself far more invested in these characters than I’d initially thought and eager to continue their stories in Jade War (scheduled for release in 2019).

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Jade City