Jade City by Fonda Lee: Review

So I first reviewed this book June 29th 2020 on my ‘Booktube’ account but realised I didn’t have it on here and since I’m reading Jade War & Jade Legacy very soon, I wanted the trifecta of reviews for this series here, my blog. Here is my review of Jade City.

Some information about this book:

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release date: November 7th 2017
  • Page count: 560
  • Series: Green Bone Saga (#1)

The Blurb:

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.

Book Cover
“Nothing good’s coming, when the dogs start disappearing from the streets.”

Jade City is the first book in a trilogy (Green Bone Saga) set in the fictional island country of Kekon. I would compare the capital city, Kanloon, to a modern day China in terms of landscape and social norms but take this with a pinch of salt as I’ve never visited China and can only use my interpretation of the world Fonda has built alongside the media I have seen of China.

So this is a very modern fantasy book. Not quite urban fantasy but not quite epic fantasy. I would definitely say this could fall into the sub-genre of ‘Asian fantasy’ but I know that some authors do not like this title so for now I’ll just list this as fantasy because that is what it is.

This is a gangster story. It focuses on the rising tensions between the Peak and No-Peak clans. The clans are on either side of the island and have differences such as the Peak clan is overseen by a woman while the No-Peak clan is overseen by a man. They have similarities in that they both involve themselves in protection rackets and profiteering and of course the use of Jade.

“Screw you, Hilo,” she snapped. “I can kill my ex-boyfriends myself.”

Jade in this story is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the gem you know of but in this world it also imbues power – imagine a stone that you wear or touch and it gives you magical adrenaline. This jade can be studded into your ears, your chest or other body parts. It can be placed into your weapons like daggers or guns and anyone with Jade is considered to be of a higher social status than someone without any jade and the more jade you have, the more fearsome you are thought to be since you have to take this jade from defeated opponents.

“Sometimes even the most loyal and devoted men make mistakes when they’re forced to make decisions under terrible circumstances.”

Unfortunately for some people the jade does nothing for them and these people are called Stone-eyes. They can’t feel the effect of the jade and so are almost cast down to the bottom of the proverbial food chain since they can’t compete with anyone else. The people who handle, mine or control the jade are called the Green Bones – thus where the name of the series comes from.

This is a unique magic system and I really loved it. It’s something that is easily identifiable like a hard magic system where you know the rules because if someone has jade you know what they can do. I liked the idea that this gem was the most powerful item you could want and that people would literally risk their lives in this story to get it, even going as far as killing others in cold blood for the power they craved or needed. Jade is everywhere and in some cases is even a currency being used over actual money because of its value. Having something like jade as a focal point is great because it shows you how each character reacts to it giving you a wide and diverse range of opinions and follow-up actions.

“A man who wears the crown of a king cannot wear the jade of a warrior. Gold and jade, never together.”

There are a diverse range of characters and their roles which initially took me some time to get my head around. Like in some other Asian inspired fantasy books I’ve read, people have a name, then a title and sometimes even a nickname. This can be confusing because you have to remember who is who but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. There is the student who doesn’t think he is doing well enough, a sister who has been estranged from her family due to her marriage and the pressure of the oldest brother taking control of the clan. There are more characters with their own dynamics for you to get into too. It works really well, the characters are really believable and if you met one of them after reading this book I genuinely feel that I could tell them something that they’ve done from the book because the visuals that Fonda produces are really sublime.

“The clan is my blood, and the Pillar is its master.
On my honor, my life, and my jade.”

I really enjoyed the clan and hierarchy that came with it. It’s interesting and shows a great dynamic between the two clans, the rivalry between the families and the people within. It really focuses on the No-Peak clan who I would say are the protagonist or the “good guys” and the Peak clan as the antagonist although everyone wants to see themselves as the good guys so they both think they’re doing good and for the right reasons, not caring too much for those that get caught in the middle if it means progress is being made.

“Let me take five of my Fists into the Armpit.”

One of the main characters in the book I loved is Bero. He is a young, scrappy, wannabe gangster who is a nobody in Kanloon and has no jade. He wants to become a somebody and plays a small part in the story initially but later on his role really gets more prominent in the story and the whole story is much better for it as he is the catalyst for drama (for the characters) and excitement (for us the readers). He is like a bullet, small but damaging. I found him fascinating and exciting to read about. I found myself rooting for him, wishing him to get jade and get away from enemies and sticky situations. I think that in a world where everyone is very black and white, Bero is the colour red splashing across the canvas. I mentioned him to Fonda on Twitter and she said “wait till you see what he does in Jade War”. I can’t wait to see what he does in JW.

The combat in this book is perfect. I don’t say that lightly but Fonda has nailed it. Fight scenes are really tough to write well and especially when you are dealing with something that has been done before like martial arts. Multiple films have provided great martial arts fight scenes and Fonda has done brilliantly as the fight scenes in this book are understandable, they flow really well and the pacing is on point.

The world that Fonda has built is a key part of this story. It’s the canvas that Jade City sits on and she builds the city of Kanloon and the island of Kekon so that they’re really believable. She doesn’t spend pages describing the city blocks, restaurants, cafes or houses but instead gives you enough to push you in the right direction allowing your own imagination to fill in the gaps meaning that everyone will have their own visual of the world, which is cool.

Rating 5/5 – Jade City is a fantastic story. It brings together what makes fantasy cool and mixes it with a modern, dangerous, compelling and vibrant world where the line between friend and foe are tested. I loved the magic system, the characters are exciting and real, while the stakes are high and ever-growing. I can’t recommend this story enough and can’t wait to see how Jade War is going to blow me away all over again.

You can add this book to your Goodreads TBR here.

You can support an independent bookseller and purchase a copy of this book from The Broken Binding using code BLURB5 to get a discount.


One thought on “Jade City by Fonda Lee: Review

  1. Pingback: Jade War by Fonda Lee: Review | The Oasis

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