Book Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

I had a bit of review fatigue so I haven’t written a book review in awhile, but for my first one back I’m tackling “Jade City” by Fonda Lee, the first book in the Green Bone trilogy. I’m also working on simplifying my reviews so they will be less intimidating to write. 

This book was hands down my favorite novel I’ve read all year. It’s a gripping thriller by a fresh new voice, with engaging characters and a bold universe set to the backdrop of martial-arts action and political conflict. “Jade City” is an epic fantasy inspired by Hong Kong culture, gangsters, and Japanese yakuza. The island of Kekon plays host to clans of Green Bone warriors whose magic and power is derived from jade gemstones that are mined exclusively on the island. Only those with Kekonese blood, after years of formal training, can tap into their power; anyone else becomes addicted to fatal effect. Two major clans, No Peak and Mountain, vie for power and territory in shoving matches until inevitably, a fuse is lit and things fall apart. 

The story focuses on the No Peak clan, widely seen as the weaker pair as it struggles with a succession, but with hidden strength of family loyalty. There is Lan, the Pillar, a kindhearted, careful man still under the shadow of the powerful clan patriarch, Kaul Sen, who is famous for his role in liberating Kekon in the Many Nations War, a battle reminiscent of the Vietnam War.

There is Hilo, his hotheaded but well-meaning Horn, who leads Fingers and Fists in skirmishes to protect their assets. Then there’s Shae, just returned from Espenia after a failed romance with an Espenian soldier and fresh with a foreign business-school education, determined to live without jade and on her own two feet. And finally there is Anden, a mixed-race foster child taken in by the clan who has power greater than any of them know, and also great potential for the addiction and madness that claimed his mother’s life. Which road will he take, and is mastery only possible by a purebred Kekonese?

But the people aren’t the only characters in this brilliant book. The island itself is a character, and its people who are trying to figure out their place in peacetime, warriors with magic stones flailing at playing businessmen. It was bound to fall apart in hideous, brutal fashion, as the knot holding everything together unravels at the slightest tug. The geopolitics is very well done. This is a sophisticated, complicated book, an intricate epic of twists and turns and war games. I didn’t want it to end. Gratefully, it is a trilogy, and optioned to be a TV series on Peacock. This is one of those universes that I want to soak up and live in, cheer for and cry for.

On a whim I bought the whole series, even pre-ordered the third book. I don’t regret it. If the first book is anything to go by, this whole series will be an absolutely phenomenal delight. 

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