Book Review: Jade City

Think about history for a moment. Let’s consider how people organize themselves and relate to one another. Let’s think about culture, and that dreaded “g”-word. Forms of government seem to grow from and build on one another, don’t they? They flow from anarchy, to pari-or-matriarchy, to hereditary monarchies, to oligarchies and dictatorships, until they finally branch into modern governments like democracy, communism, etc. etc. Now, I know we’re being super reductive, and all of these systems have likely existed in every era somewhere in the world, but isn’t there a temptation to view that particular progression as a sort of natural order, as an inevitability of history? But of course, that isn’t so. Countries have evolved and backslidden and transformed between these structures in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Progress is not guaranteed. Why would I be thinking about that in 2022? Must be the weather.

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But, I digress. This blog is about books.

Jade City is not a political book. It is a gripping action-packed family saga, but the setting does happen to present an interesting question: what would feudalism look like in the modern era? The central opposing forces are two rival clans of magical warriors – No Peak and The Mountain – who collect tribute from local businesses in exchange for protection and other services, and pull the strings of government. When their rivalry spills blood in the streets, Janloon may burn in the warpath.

Let’s talk about it.

The Basics:

Title: Jade City
Author: Fonda Lee
Genre: Fantasy, Drama (Family Saga), Action, Mystery
Published: Orbit, 2017

Spoiler-Free Summary:

The Kaul siblings – stoic Lan, studious Anden, hotheaded Hilo, and determined Shen – have big shoes to fill. The retired former leader of the No Peak clan is a legend: a war hero who boldly liberated their homeland from foreign imperialists along with the founder of the rival Mountain clan, using jade-powered “green bone” magic. The pressure to live up to that legacy would be enough in peaceful times, but peace is not the Kauls’ lot.

The Mountain is encroaching into their territory: stealing businesses, supporting criminals, and smuggling dangerous magic drugs to other nations. How can the Kauls outmaneuver an enemy who is three steps ahead and holds all the cards?

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Their personal lives will not bow to the war without a fight. Lan is a business leader and politician first and a warrior second. Can he hold his clan together in a time of war? Hilo is the youngest clan-general in living memory. Can he martial his troops without losing his fiancĂ©? Shen has seen another path and wants nothing more than to reject her family’s blood-soaked lifestyle, but how can she do that when her family’s lives are on the line?

Plus, you know, Anden needs to finish school.

Why This Book Is For You:

I adore Jade City’s magic system and worldbuilding. The rules of green bone magic are simple, elegant, and – importantly – incredibly integral to the plot. It is a system with consequence, which sets Jade City apart from its peers. The city of Janloon receives similar treatment: the reader can smell the street food, hear the crash of waves in the harbor, and feel the hum of magic auras as the pulse casually from every jade-infused corner. It is a beautiful world.

Oh, look. It’s a complete trilogy.

Jade city is billed as an action novel – look at the magic! The martial arts! – but its true heart beats with the family dynamics. I could write much about this novel’s well-rounded characters, but I’ll suffice it to say that more than once, several characters surprised me in a good way. The reader can never take for granted that they have everyone figured out until the last page turns.

Ms. Lee writes with a clear-window style that makes it easy to sink into the story, consuming chapter after chapter long after you should have turned the lights out.

It’s a great book. You should read it.

Where Can You Find More?

You can read about Fonda Lee’s work at her web site, or, sneak a peak at her upcoming project over at Tor.

Happy reading.

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