Sunday, April 23, 2023

Jade City

Fonda Lee
Completed 4/23/2023, Reviewed 4/23/2023
5 stars

I loved this book.  It’s about the control of the jade trade, a magical stone that is only found on one island.  It’s a fictional Asia-based island that has recently achieved independence.  Although it has a government, the island is basically run by several families, not unlike mafia families.  The family with the main characters is mostly benevolent while its main competition is not as nice, illegally mining jade and dealing in a drug that counters the effects of the stone on those who aren’t born with the gift of using its power.  Reading the author’s notes, this book is a mish-mash of Mario Puzo and other mafia tales along with martial arts movies and other Japanese and Chinese influence.  Despite sounding like there’d be a lot of politics, and there is, I was completely engrossed in it.  I read this nearly 600 page book in six days and loved every minute of it.  This book won the 2018 World Fantasy and Aurora (Canadian SF) Awards and was nominated for several others.  

There are quite a few characters and the third person omniscient POV follows many of them.  The book begins with a street urchin, Bero, attempting to steal jade from a Green Bone, that is someone who has the ability to wear jade and use its powers.  He’s thwarted by Lan, the Pillar of the No Peaks cartel.  He’s the third Pillar since the island gained independence.  His brother Hilo is the Horn, the head of the group, some would say thugs, that keep the peace, handle crime, and fight the Mountain cartel.  Shae is the sister who renounced her jade and family responsibilities and left for the love of a foreigner and to go to college abroad.  She returns to the island at the beginning of the book, looking to live a life apart from the family.  The book begins with an uneasy peace between the No Peaks and the Mountain.  Soon however, there are clashes between the families that escalate to a near-war status.  

There are a few other characters worth mentioning.  Anden is the closeted gay teen, adopted by the Lan’s family as a “cousin”, who is finishing up schooling at the family’s academy.  He’s expected to take his place in the organization upon graduation.  Doru is the advisor to Lan and an original member of the No Peaks.  He fought in the war for independence along side the family’s grandfather, who founded the No Peaks.  Wen Is Hilo’s lover, a stone eye, that is, someone who is not affected by jade.  She refuses to live with Hilo because of her questionable parentage and because she is a stone eye and not a Green Bone.  Finally, Mada is the head of the Mountain cartel.  She is a very complex villain.

I spent a lot of time introducing the characters because the plot is very complex and rich.  I don’t know if I can summarize it better than the blurb in my first paragraph.  But the book is really about the relationships.  They are tense at the beginning of the book, between the families, within the families, and among siblings.  But things escalate about halfway through the book, throwing them all into an all-out turf war.  

Despite this being a gangster story, I really liked the main family of the No Peaks, whose family name (if I remember correctly) is Kaul.  The story is told from their point of view, so of course, we believe them to have higher morals than the Mountain.  They’re still gangsters, but you develop empathy for them as the events progress and tension escalates.  Lan, Shae, and Anden are easy to like.  Hilo takes some effort.  He’s a loose cannon that Lan is constantly reining in.  But by the end, I was fully dragged into the plight of the Kauls.  Needless to say, their characters are very well developed. 

The world building was tremendous, complete with gods, mythology, and of course, the magic jade.  However, the jade magic is not in the forefront of the story.  This is first and foremost a gangster tale.  But the jade magic naturally flows into the story so that by the end, I was fully accepting of it and its place in the book.  The prose was also great, not too flowery, with convincing dialogue and exciting action.

I give this book five stars out of five.  It had me hook, line, and sinker.  Even at nearly 600 pages, I never found it boring.  The pace was perfect with no low points.  And by the end I was as much a part of the family as any one of the characters.  If I was still on medical leave from work, I probably would have finished this in three days instead of six.  This book is the first in the Green Bones Saga, which is a trilogy.  I’m going to try to finish it before the year’s out.  Even if the second book suffers from sophomore slump, I really want to get back in and see what happens to the family.  

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