“The Clan Is My Blood, And The Pillar Is Its Master!”
Some books fail to live up to their hype. Some take a while to get going before eventually showing their hand, while others grip from the opening page and refuse to let up until the final words of the epilogue. Jade City most definitely falls into the latter category.
Fonda Lee’s sweeping fantasy epic can best be summarized as a heady blend of wuxia, The Godfather and Peaky Blinders. The ensuing result is a breathless 500+ page book with plenty of twists, turns and wonderful worldbuilding.
Fantasy and sci-fi are notoriously difficult to write, given the amount of worldbuilding and exposition needed to build up the larger world around the characters, but Fonda Lee’s world is not only simple to understand, it’s also cleverly crafted to take advantage of modernity, seamlessly weaving that in with magic in a way that feels organic and natural to the world itself.
This world, fronted by the bustling metropolis of Janloon, is separated into two powerful crime syndicates – the No Peak Clan and the Mountain Clan – that have divided the island of Kekon up and currently occupy a very loose and tenuous peace treaty.
The Kaul family is one of these crime syndicates, and helps oversee the production of a rare magical jade that grants those with the correct training and heritage, superhuman abilities. Given the technological prowess of Janloon, the ancient ways of honorable jade-wearing warriors doing battle are kept to the shadows while the clans operate in commerce, construction and finance.
When one of the clan members makes a grave error and wanders into enemy territory, alongside a former Kaul member stumbling upon shocking secrets regarding their rival Mountain claim, this sets off a chain of events that escalates into open violence and all out war, the result of which will leave Janloon changed forever.
To give much more away about the story would be a disservice to the narrative but suffice to say, this one has some pretty shocking revelations. There’s also a great balance between drama and action too, and it’s helped along by Fonda Lee’s background in martial arts. Asa result of this authenticity, the fights are well described and, more importantly, richly detailed and well-defined.
Each chapter is just about long enough too, with a mixture of long and short chapters to build up tension or help with worldbuilding and exposition. This is helped along further by Fonda Lee’s talent for switching up character perspectives at the perfect time. Some chapters even see the POV change midway through said chapters, helping to make this feel much more like a novelized movie than a more conventional fantasy romp.
The characters themselves are an absolute joy to read through. Whether it be Ayt Madashi at the Mountain Clan and her cold, calculated tactics, or Lan’s steely resolve and growing inner conflict, each character we come across plays a crucial part in the tale and you never feel like one character outweighs another.
Unlike fantasy epics akin to A Song of Ice and Fire, where certain characters are a bit of a chore to read through, Jade City doesn’t have that issue and each clan member (on both sides of the conflict) serves a very specific purpose to drive the narrative forward.
Jade City is a cleverly written, audaciously constructed urban fantasy romp. It’s a book that’s somehow both epic and complicated, while devilishly simple and grounded. This is a must-read and if the sequels are as good as this, The Green Bones Saga looks like it’s going to be a stand-out trilogy in the fantasy genre.
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Verdict - 9.5/10