JADE WAR by Fonda Lee (Book Review)
“We have each other and maybe that’s the one thing our enemies don’t.” Hilo’s aura gave a dark pulse, like an angry sigh, but he didn’t move or open his eyes. Shae slumped back and closed her own eyes. “The clan is my blood and the Pillar is its master,” she whispered. “I have a lot of regrets in life, but those oaths aren’t one of them.”
Jade War by Fonda Lee is the second book in the Green Bone Saga, and it’s been one of my most anticipated reads since I read (and completely gushed over) the first book, Jade City. I honestly didn’t think this sequel could surpass its predecessor, but I was wrong. Jade War incorporates all the parts that I loved from the first book, and takes this Godfather-esque tale to another level.
There is much that goes on in this novel; as the saga progresses, all the stakes get higher. The conflict between No Peak clan and The Mountain continues, and the streets of Janloon are strewn with violence; with the growing trend of jade smuggling and illegal distribution, and the valid threat of foreign invasion, the need for the two clans to form peace and work together becomes crucial.
Lee prominently builds upon the themes of clan loyalty, honour, and above all family duty, from the first book, and raises the bar so that these themes are even more fundamental in this sequel. The threats to No Peak clan are far more dangerous and harder to uncover, the ambitions of the Kaul family have grown even further, and the fight for survival is even more intense. Yet Fonda Lee still retains her cinematic writing style, which was something that I adored from the first book. Her prose is so descriptive there is an almost visual noir quality to each scene, and once again I was taken back to my love for gangster films.
However, this book certainly incorporates different types of warfare this time around; the war between the clans and the threat of foreign invasion is not resolved by violence alone. In the first half of the book there is much political warfare that goes on, many manipulations and strategic manoeuvres. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect; it was thrilling to see all these narratives play out. Admittedly there were many plots to follow and I did get a bit confused with who was who in certain chapters, but still, seeing the outcome was always so exciting.
‘The clan was not just people and jade and money. It was an idea, a legacy that connected the past with the present and the future. The family’s strength was a promise.’
Then in the second half, MY GOD, do things become fierce! I can’t give away any details because of spoilers, but let me tell you right now, Fonda Lee bloody knows how to skilfully build up tension. Every interaction and dialogue between characters is laced with veiled meanings, each scene magnifies the threatening atmosphere. Then Lee delivers a duel or fight scene, and you’re seriously on the edge of your seat, you’re biting your nails, closing your eyes, because you cannot handle what may happen next!
So what is it that makes me love this series so much? It is most definitely the characters, and their family dynamics. Again, I can’t help but make comparisons to The Godfather here, because that’s exactly the way the hierarchy of the clan and the Kaul family worked. Hilo, Shae, and their cousin Anden, were once again beloved to me, but now I’m fully attached to Wen, and her brothers Kehn and Tar too. Lee writes some spectacular character development; each character comes to life, they are etched into your heart, and you become part of the Kaul family too because you care just as much!
Let’s take Hilo, for example; he has matured, his time as The Pillar of No Peak has certainly shaped him to become more calculating, and more open to taking advice. That doesn’t mean he has grown soft, though. On the contrary; beneath Hilo’s exterior a volcanic fiery anger burns within him, a need for vengeance is ever present, and he could certainly blow at any given moment. He’s not your shiny hero, he is just a man who will go to any lengths to protect those he loves unconditionally, damning the consequences. Sure, some of the decisions he makes are morally questionable, and sometimes his short-sightedness is frustrating, but you can fully understand the reasoning behind his actions. These are the characters that I truly love, ones that make mistakes but still have good intentions. Have I mentioned how much I love Hilo?!
‘After nearly four years as Pillar his youthful, violent reputation had begun to fade. Now he made no secret of the fact that he was out for blood, and people nodded in understanding.’
Then there are the female characters, Shae and Wen. Both have grown into their roles in the No Peak clan, and have many responsibilities. Gone are the days when either of them felt uncertain about their place in the world, gone are the days when they allowed others to dominate over their actions. I love how strong both of these women have become. And I have to mention here that Shae gets herself into one of the most incredible fight scenes ever!
I also need to mention that the world building really expands in this instalment. We get a glimpse of life outside of Kekon, and the city of Janloon, and travel to the city of Port Massy in Espenia. Through Anden’s character we see the cultural differences between Kekon and Espenia. Whereas Janloon is a city full of clan hierarchy, tradition, and once again honour, Port Massy very much portrays a more Western setting, with its more brazen culture, and its domineering brutish gang of Crews. For Anden, who is thrust into a city where he cannot speak the language or understand the cultural rules, this is the biggest shock of his life, but one that he tries his best to adjust to.
One of the main conflicts present throughout Jade War is progression vs tradition. Should jade be traded freely with the Espenian military and other foreigners? Or like Hilo’s view, should it be sacred to the Kekonese race, and be their decision on where and how much should be distributed? Kekon would economically grow with exportation, but at what cost to the Kekonese culture? This debate was really fascinating, and seeing different sides to the argument, well, it really made me think.
Wow, this review is a lot longer than I intended, but I guess I just had so much to say! Anyway to wrap things up, overall Jade War is the very definition of a sequel done right. Every aspect of the book develops from the first, becomes more complex, whilst still retaining that stellar vivid prose. We really do need more urban fantasy of this standard because Fonda Lee shows us how exhilarating it can be.
ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.
Jade War is due for release 25th July 2019.