Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

‘All he knew now was that remorse had a natural limit. After a certain amount of time, it finished eating a person hollow and had to alchemize into anger that could be turned outward lest it consume its host entirely.’

Since I was a child, there was something that always appealed to me about the idea of families as clans. Likely due to my mother, who was always someone who watched documentaries or told me stories about the Kennedies, the fashionable Gucci’s or the Versace family and of course her favourite of them all, the Corleone family from her favourite film, The Godfather. So let me tell you that when I say I loved Jade City, I mean it on a very personal level.

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.

So this is where I show my ass. I’ve had a copy of Jade City for two years now. There was an event at Worldcon 2019 in Dublin that I was invited to attend with my best friend. I was super new to blogging and SFF so I was absolutely losing it with anxiety. And Fonda Lee was going to be there! I bought her book and due to a shitty job, a worrying family illness and just me as a person, I obviously never got to it. But Fonda Lee, she was an incredible person and so very cool so I just wanted to say that this being finally read has cemented that day in my heart.

This a story of two clans but we are following the lives of the siblings of one family, the Kaul siblings of the No Peak clan. Two brothers and a sister, all hold privileged positions as the ruling clan of Janloon. The Jade City to outsiders. We have Lan, the eldest and wisest of the Kauls. He is the Pillar. His brother, rash and bloody fisted Hilo, the Horn. The man on the streets and the quickest to act. And finally, the estranged Shae. The girl who rejected her family, her background and her chance at being Weather Man, the source of all the Pillar’s info, only to return in disgrace.

Now it’s no secret I love family and sibling dynamics in SFF. Of all kinds, found and by blood. This book has taken all I know and love only to show how to do it best. Fonda Lee is a master at characters. I loved each of the siblings and have since debated why each one is my favourite. I love Lan for my sheer ability to relate to him as the eldest of three. Hilo, I love how he may act without thinking but at the heart of it, he is so tied to his emotions that he expresses his love for his family, his friends and his spouse openly with pride. And of course Shae, the complex and layered woman she is but ultimately is made of just as much strength as her brothers. This is the messy, intricate sage you look for in mob movies and never quite find.

I need to talk about the world and the jade. I found the world building very immersive, it had that urban, sprawling familiarity I find so easy to picture with fictional cities but it also had this entire part to it that just blew me away. Jade might be a substance that can power you, enhance your abilities and senses but it’s not just something anyone can pick up. There is something genetic to it and there is many levels of training needed to be able to handle it. Even those who have been handling it for years can succumb to ‘the itches’, a painful craving and rejection of jade from the body. I like magic with consequences and a power or magic system with rules (either simple or complex) appeals to my orderly tidy brain. I honestly think this system is so creative that it’s galling how few have read this book. It’s something so new and done with a level of planning but it’s also raw, vibrant and totally unpredictable. And yet, that’s a hard thing to manage.

I know this is a shorter, less nuanced review. But I loved this book, it reignited so many old loves I had and honestly had me so ready for the rest of the series immediately. As of writing this, I just received Jade War in the post and once I conquer Iron Widow, I’ll be jumping in. Thank you as always for checking in, happy reading and please Fonda Lee, accept my apology for not reading this years ago. Also a photo before I found green hair was truly my hair.

★★★★★/5

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