Book Review: Jade War (Green Bone Saga #2)

It’s been a minute since I reviewed Jade City, an action-packed crime drama and family saga. Check out that review as well if you like the sound of modern-setting ninja-wizard clans clashing for control of their country. 

Conventional wisdom says that middles are hard to write. Beginnings are exciting, fresh, and new. They draw us in with the shiny appeal of the new world. Endings are tense, and satisfying, as multiple emotional arcs crash together in a climax. Middles are the hard-to-define stuff in between.

I reject conventional wisdom when it comes to trilogies. In the OT Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back is still my favorite. In Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers holds that crown. I’m not sure if I can tell you exactly why I have this penchant for the middle. Perhaps it’s that I am are already familiar with – therefore, invested in – the characters. Maybe the fact that the big dramatic finish is in sight, but still a ways off, allows the story to indulge in unexpected diversions. Maybe I’m a masochist for cliffhangers. Whatever the reason, I enjoy them, and for my money Jade War is an excellent, momentum-building part 2 in a fantastic series. 

The Basics: 

Title: Jade War
Author: Fonda Lee
Genre: Fantasy, Family Saga, Action, Crime Drama
Published: Orbit, 2019

Spoiler-Free Summary: 

A quick refresher: Green bones are a martial caste magically enhanced by wearing jade. Although Kekon nominally has a civilian government, The Clans of Kekon are the true center of power. They exercise modern pseudo-feudalism to control every form of commerce, from mundane to illicit. They defend their power base with magic, steel, and blood. Unlike most high fantasy novels, this series takes place in a nearly-contemporary setting, with technology comparable to the 1940’s or 50’s. 

Jade War builds and expands on the inter-clan conflict of Jade City, pushing beyond the city of Janloon and the Island of Kekon into the wider world. When wars among Kekon’s allies and rivals brings international armies to their doorstep, the bitter rivals The Mountain and No Peak must lay aside their street turf war to deal with new challenges. Soon, the pandora’s box of the jade trade is open, and there is no closing it. Legitimate and illegal routes send jade to every continent, and green bone clans maneuver to control this new market. This sprawling, multi-POV multi-year epic explores the clash of Kekon’s traditional and sometimes very alien values with a rapidly modernizing and globalizing world. Where green bones see a matter of honor, the rest of the world sees barbarism. Where Kekonese see greed and duplicity, the world sees diplomacy and good business. We primarily follow four characters: 

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Hilo, the heir to the throne who was never meant to rule, as he comes into his own and learns to balance his responsibility as clan leader with his growing family. The juxtaposition of the fierce warlord and the loving father is endlessly fascinating. He never lets go his desire to avenge past wrongs.

Wen, Hilo’s wife, who, by virtue of her sex and her inability to use Jade, claws for every scrap of respect. She proves that she deserves it all and more as she finds cunning ways to contribute to the clan. 

Shae, the sister who was initially reluctant to have anything to do with the clan, but is now the second most powerful person in No Peak. She must reconcile her open-minded ideals with the unforgiving realities of running a greed bone clan in a time of war. 

Anden, the cousin in exile. He wants to restore his relationship with his cousins but not at the expense of his values. By setting down roots in the Kekonese diaspora, he must learn that there is more than one way to honor tradition. Not all green bones wield blades. 

Honorable mention goes to Bero, a disenfranchised young man unaffiliated with any clan. He turns to a life of crime under the vigilant eyes and sharp blades of the green bones. His view from the bottom paints the high-minded, self-aggrandizing ideals of our protagonists in a different light. 

Why You Will Love This Book: 

The worldbuilding in the Green Bone Saga is so deep integrated, you sink into the setting. If it wasn’t for the magical wu-xia, it would feel like historical fiction.

Lee does an unrivaled job of presenting every situation from a variety of angles. It’s the literary equivalent of turning off your bathroom light and studying your face as you shine a flashlight from different angles. As the perspective moves, your expression changes from happy, to neutral, to gruesome, and back again. We don’t just hear from green bones, sitting atop the pile. We experience complicated, nuanced storytelling zoomed into a deeply intimate point of view from a variety of angles. This close-ness with the characters grants the globe-trotting intrigue deeper emotional impact than you get from some 600-page epics. 

I cannot say enough good things about this series. I anticipate diving into Jade Legacy sooner than later. 

Where Can You Find More – 

I mean, you could go to Amazon or Goodreads, but why not get your news from the source?

Happy reading, folks.

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