Jade City by Fonda Lee (Book Review)
‘No Peak defends and avenges our own. You wrong any of us, you wrong us all. You seek to war with us, and we will return it a hundredfold. No one will take from us what is ours!’
Jade City by Fonda Lee is the first book in the Green Bone saga. It’s been hailed as ‘Godfather-esque’, with a healthy mix of Asian inspired fantasy and Kung Fu. Well, hello! You have my interest, and yes I think I need this book in my life now! I’m so ecstatic to say that the book lived up to this description, as all these elements shone through beautifully in the narrative.
Jade City is set in Janloon, the capital city of Kekon. It’s a city where jade is predominantly mined and traded. Two clans – No Peak, run by the Kaul family, and Mountain, run by the Ayts – not only control the city but also monopolise the jade industry. There is much rivalry between these clans and both are on the brink of war. Of course there are so many more layers to this story, so much history and conflict, but the beauty of this book is to discover it all as you read, so my lips are sealed.
Firstly, let me say, the magic system is outstanding in this novel. You all know I’m a fan of multi-layered use of magic, one that has rules and limitations. Well, Fonda Lee delivers here! People who use jade gain heightened abilities; speed, strength, deflection and perceptions of people’s auras. However, not everyone can safely use jade; only the Kekonese – the Green Bone – can use jade after proper training at an academy, and even then they must build up a tolerance to it.
Some people are immune to jade completely and therefore are able to mine it and handle it safely. Unfortunately, there are others who are not immune, and if they come into contact with jade they get a taste for its powers and instantly become addicted. The need to wield jade again continuously taunts them and slowly drives them into insanity. Again, there is so much more to this, but as it’s central to the book, I won’t be saying anymore here. Trust me, it’s fascinating, and you’re going to want to inhale it all in!
Lee is an absolute master at creating diverse, realistic and memorable characters. I pretty much loved every one of them. There were many POV, and it was brilliant to discover the backstory of each one, and the contrasting views they all had. My favourites were the three siblings, Lan, Hilo, Shae and their cousin, Anden.
Lan, the calm, calculating, just, and diplomatic elder son is the Pillar (leader) of the No Peak clan. He’s a character to really feel sympathy for because duty, honour and loyalty really pull him apart inside. His younger brother, Hilo, is The Horn, who basically enforces the clan’s law on the streets and deals with crimes and businesses. He’s very hot-headed, but his devotion to his family and clan is unquestionable.
Their sister, Shae, has an inner conflict that really made me root for her. She is intelligent, strong, and all she wants is to assert her own independence in a culture that continuously judges her. Lastly, Anden is a character I really felt for. His scenes largely revolve around his training at the academy, and bring a lot of insight into the use of jade. His past is a tragic one, and his vulnerability and innocence make him so endearing.
Although the three siblings have contrasting personalities, I felt they all balanced each other out. If like me, you’ve seen The Godfather film a hundred times (I had an older brother who was a tad obsessed with it!) then you’ll picture the family dynamic perfectly here.
‘A dam that had been straining under hairline fractures had burst inside her yesterday, and instead of feeling appalled she’d welcomed the final destruction, had revelled in it, in the sweet power of jade and the frenzy of violent retribution.’
I wouldn’t describe this book as fast paced, but it really doesn’t need to be. At no point did I feel the story lagged or became boring, because the Asian cultural details, which included honour and respect, the hierarchy of the clans, and the family structures were undoubtedly captivating. Lee’s writing is truly exceptional throughout; each chapter played out like a scene from a gangster film in my head. I could picture everything so vividly, and some scenes had a real sultry atmospheric feel to them.
That’s not to say the book has no action at all. On the contrary, there are quite a few intense fight scenes. These are thrilling, not only because we get a deeper insight into how jade can be used, but also because moon blades are used, guns are used, and… drum roll please… some badass KUNG FU fighting! Growing up I watched a lot of Bruce Lee movies, so I’ve always had a soft spot for martial arts, and loved that it was incorporated here. Lee’s first-hand experience of martial arts really comes across in these scenes, and I hope we get more of it!
Overall Jade City was an absolute pleasure to read. I feel like I need so many more Asian-inspired adult fantasy books in my life. Fonda Lee is certainly an author who’s on my radar now, and I can’t wait to discover where she takes this story next in the sequel, Jade War.