Jade City by Fonda Lee

Rating 8.0/10
An epic, unique and often unforgiving gangster fantasy

I received a review copy of Jade City in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Fonda Lee and Orbit Books.

Although presently at a time of an uneasy peace, the city of Janloon is controlled by two rival groups which are the No Peak Clan and the Mountain Clan. The families that run the clans are powerful and world famous as they mine and control the Jade. Jade is a precious stone that enhances a warriors capabilities in six disciplines: strength, steel, perception, lightness, deflection, and channelling. A "Jade warrior" becomes more formidable and Herculean when they earn and flaunt more of the jewels. There is a great focus on honour and tradition with how jewels can be obtained. When youngsters graduate from the warrior academy they can earn their first Jade but it's mostly obtained by the victor from a deceased rival following a duel or skirmish. These phenomenal powers and the potential have not gone unnoticed by the black market who are trying to get in on the act of distributing the highly sought after stones through unsavoury means to individuals who have not earned them. Interestingly though, for the untrained it is like a drug, overuse and withdrawal can lead to madness and death.

The entire narrative has an Oriental feel to it with a focus on clan life, traditions and martial arts. I'd say this book is a mix of To's - Election, Coppola's - The Godfather and the Jade can give it's wearers powers reminiscent of those seen in Lee's - Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. In fact, I often forgot I was reading a fantasy book as the stunning worldbuilding created a picture to me that all this was happening in a 1980's Hong Kong. Lee has created a world of immense depth. From Gods to complex clan hierarchies, to intricate past character relationships, to the science behind the fighting scenes. Some of the gang titles may seem unfamiliar at first but they never seem confusing and are cleverly caressed into the reader's mind. The hierarchy seems military-like in its presentation and the clans have a Pillar > Weather Man and Horn > Luckbringers and Fists > Fingers > Students.

The real stunning standout element of Jade City is the exceptionally deep and fully realised characters. The Pillar Lan is calm, intelligent and respected but runs his clan in the shadow of his Grandfather. His brother Hilo is the Horn and essentially the street armies general. His soldiers are fiercely loyal even if he flaunts an action first and ask questions later approach. Shae is their sister who is returning following studying abroad at a time after a spat where her family turned her back on her. Finally Anden, the adopted cousin who's currently in his final year at the training academy. How they interact and work together with the threat of an upcoming turf-war is brilliant. There are about eight point of view characters, the above mentioned included but I truly don't think there was a weak character anywhere in this narrative. There is a complexity surrounding this book’s ensemble that is rarely seen in the first book of a series. The character progression is also exquisite as the times change, motives are influenced, and the running of their businesses are affected.

This is the first entry in The Green Bone Saga and I honestly can't wait to see what happens next. I didn't care about anything else whilst I was reading this and I just wanted to see what would become the characters. There are some emotionally shocking moments, some intricate and otherworldly fight scenes, and lots of loyalty, honour and tradition. Jade City is an epic, unique and often unforgiving gangster fantasy narrative intertwined with glimpses of hope and goodness. The haunting nature of the world is also mixed with betrayals and a huge death toll. Recommended.

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