Review: JADE CITY by Fonda Lee

Publisher: Orbit Books
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Page Count: 498
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

51ogdapicrl._sx321_bo1204203200_In the city of Janloon, on the island nation of Kekon, the true ruling power doesn’t rest with the government, but with two rival clans, the Mountain and No Peak. Although these two clans fight over everything from territory to patronage, they share one crucial thing in common: their members are Green Bones, people born with the ability to tap into the energy emitted by Kekon jade and use that energy to wield a range of abilities, from enhanced strength to the ability to cut off another’s life energy. The true struggle between the two clans is over the control of the jade supply, both within the city and with other nations.  From the streets to the board room, battles are fought on a daily basis.  For years the two clans have been on a relatively even footing, but recently the No Peak clan has sensed a shift.   The Mountain is planning something.  And if No Peak can’t figure out the move and counter it in time, it could mean the end of No Peak.

One of the first things that struck me about JADE CITY was the absolutely masterful pacing. Every chapter switches to follow a different character, but the trick is that the chapters almost never happen in parallel. Unlike some books, which follow one character, then next chapter tell you “meanwhile, at the exact same time, this is what was happening with another character,” in JADE CITY the momentum is always forward.  It is always showing you the next thing to happen, the ramifications of actions, driving towards impending doom or anticipated success. This is a book that FLOWS, particularly in the first half of the book. The early chapters almost feel like a story baton passing – one chapter will end with character X meeting character Y, and the next chapter will follow character Y.  This continual drive to the next action beat stopped an intricate family crime drama from ever feeling truly bogged down, and kept me continuously surprised at how much I would read in one sitting.

As for the characters, they are all well-crafted, realized people.  Almost all the chapters are from various members of the Kahl family, the ruling family of the No Peak clan.  What was particularly great was, when switching between different characters, we could see how one characters intent could be utterly lost on another character, who perceives the actions through old grudges or paranoia.  This utterly human miscommunication leads to some real tragedy, but also adds depths to the family drama.

I was also in love with the setting, which manages to evoke the feeling of a Chinese city in the 1950s.  Until shortly before I read the book, I had mistakenly believed that this would take place in a pseudo-medieval era, full of swords and carts and the usual classical trappings.  Instead you have televisions and planes, telephones and cars.  Kekon is a country with history, one that is deftly woven into the fabric of the narrative.  Events from decades past have shaped how the city of Janloon operates today.  Kekon feels like a real place I could visit, a truly impressive feat.

JADE CITY is a multifaceted crime family drama with fantasy elements.  The magic is almost a MacGuffin, something that drives and enhances the conflict, without ever truly being the sole focus.  This is a story about power, who is controlling it, and what happens to those who lose it.  I became utterly invested in the characters and felt my heart break as I realized the inevitability of certain outcomes, particularly at the end of the book.  The author makes you care about the people, and that’s the most important thing I ask for in my reads.  The next book, JADE WAR, will open up the conflict to the nations surrounding Kekon, countries that were hinted at, but largely stayed off screen for JADE CITY.  I look forward to seeing what is next in store for this island nation, and how they will weather the increasing attention being given to that highly coveted resource of jade.

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