Hello again, traveler! 💚 (Green heart this time around, for the Green Bone Saga!) Guess who’s now at university? Me! It feels like just yesterday that I graduated from high school!
Today, we’ll be discussing one of my favorite reads of the summer: Fonda Lee’s phenomenal adult fantasy debut, Jade City. It’s a recipient of the World Fantasy Award and Aurora Award, as well as a finalist for the Nebula, Locus, Audie, Sunburst, and Seiun Awards. Quite well-deserving, if you ask me.
The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.
The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion — but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.
When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.
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- Asian author
- Asian-coded world and characters
- Gay main character
- Addiction (allegory)
- Body horror
- Drug use
- Gun violence
- Self-harm (mentioned)
- Sexual abuse of minor
- Sexual content
- Suicide (mentioned)
- Violence (graphic)
tl;dr: Do I recommend this book?
MY RATING: ★★★★★
Help. This book was so good that I disintegrated on the spot.
The Compass Rose Collides
Reading Jade City, I was reminded of the interview in the appendix of — of all books — Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Meyer wanted to make a novel about an East-meets-West fusion through her retelling of Cinderella in a city called “New Beijing.” If you follow me online, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of Cinder. (One of the most popular videos on my Booktube Channel is a video explaining all my least favorite parts of the novel. 🙈) I was skeptical about books that claimed to be an “East-meets-West fusion.”
Then I read Jade City. It blew me out of the water. (No reference intended. 😭)
This is how you craft an East-meets-West fusion. This is how you write a book. Fonda Lee’s adult fantasy debut will influence my writing style and reading choices from here on out for reasons I’ll get into below.
*Heath Ledger’s Joker voice*: Have you ever read a book that changed you?
Love Letters to Eastern Cinema
I was raised on Hong Kong action flicks and Asian high-fantasy alike. My mom is a Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen stan, and she always made sure that us kids watched every new release from Hong Kong’s action cinema. Heck, we had an Ip Man marathon just last week. Moreover, my mom always made sure we had a healthy dose of wuxia in our systems.
Dazzling fight scenes and world-shattering plots filled my young mind. Even today, my family keeps up with the infamously long Chinese historical fantasy dramas on every streaming service.
Jade City is the grown-up, spine-splitting, action-packed, heart-wrenching, freaking impeccable culmination of all the great media of my childhood. Lee describes Jade City as a “wuxia gangster saga.” Never before has a three-line pitch hit the mark so impeccably. I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it again: if a book makes me emit guttural noises while reading it, then it’s a dang good book.
A Metropolis of Diamonds and Dirt
Y’all know how important worldbuilding is to me, whether in the highest degrees of spellbinding fantasy or grounded retellings set in the roaring twenties. The city of Janloon (and the island of Kekon as a whole — I’m telling you, islands make the best settings for stories) was the perfect setting for such a high-octane plot. With each description, I could hear the hum of the metropolis; see the light reflecting off the skyscrapers; catch the scent of Hilo’s favorite food. (It’s crispy squid balls. 🦑)
I’d probably perish from the pressure, but I want to be a Green Bone, capable of wielding jade and channeling magic. I want to crane my neck at all the infinite buildings. I want to attend the Kaul Dushuron Academy and receive a dot of jade on my student bangle.
Maybe I’d join the Mountain Clan, led by a cutthroat woman who killed her own father to gain power. (And I really love cutthroat women.) More likely, I would join the No Peak Clan, a group with equal parts order and chaos.
The Sprawling Streets’ Citizens
A world is nothing without its characters. Jade City primarily follows the members of the Few books with such expansive casts that make me feel so close to each character. Fonda Lee is a master of getting into a character’s psyche.
Bero is the cousin you shake your head at but still love (or at least worry about) at the end of the day. Wen should be my girlfriend. 😋 Anden is a scene-stealer and probably my favorite character in the novel.
I Adore Anden Emery
This warrants him having his own paragraph! Maybe it’s because, like Anden Emery, I’m teetering between age eighteen and up, high school and what comes after. Also, I will mention, Anden casually queer, and in way thatks a part of who he is, and not the central focus of his emotional arc, so yay! but I felt particularly connected with him. (To an extent. Y’all who have read the book from start to finish, you know the cutting-off point of his character.) The change from his first appearance to his last is something to behold.
But the Kaul siblings. The Kaul Siblings. They are the lifeblood of their clan, No Peak (a name which I shouted almost every time I came across it in the book), and the triad of the beating hearts that make Jade City what it is.
The (Mostly) Unbeatable Trio
The title of this book review is a subtle nod to Lan, the eldest of the Kaul trio. (If you know, you know. 😭) He’s the leader of the No Peak Clan — the brave, level-headed, fierce anchor that holds both his family and his organization together. Everyone looks up to him, which can put him under a lot of pressure. And at times, he can fall into trouble and bite off more than he can chew.
But that’s something you’d expect more from the middle child of the Kaul family: Hilo. He’s brash and bold. He would do anything for his clan, his family, and the love of his life, Maik Wen (same). Hill thinks more with his fists than with his mind and sometimes puts himself into harm’s way for the greater good. Though he’s capable of some truly magnificent strategy and conniving. Ultimately, he wants to do the right thing.
So does Wen, the prodigal daughter of the seemingly unbreakable Kauls. She’s headstrong, with an intellect that enamored me for chapters at a time. To pursue her own path, she left the clan, gave up her jade powers, and went abroad for her education. But now she’s back at Janloon. Regardless of what she chooses, she aims to carve out her own destiny.
The siblings’ bond carries the entire book. They make Jade City a magnum opus.
I still have to read the sequel. I wonder what’s in store for Janloon and the No Peak Clan.
Shout-out to the friend who says I’ll change my mind about Bero in Jade War! 🤧
Thank you so much for reading my review of Jade City! I’ll see you in the next one, traveler.
Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Their Stories: a much-overdue TBR!
Let’s connect across the Net! 💖