‘Jade War’ [The Green Bone Saga #2] by Fonda Lee – Book Review

Family is duty. Honor is everything.

Family is duty. Honor is everything. And for the characters in Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Trilogy, that phrase is perhaps no more apt that in this second book, Jade War. After the astonishingly good work done to establish the world and feuds in Jade City, this second volume is decidedly more expansive, boasting nearly 600 pages and chock full of character, plot and worldbuilding.

Nowhere else is that more evident than in the first pages before you actually get to the story itself. In Jade City, we were introduced to the Island of Kekon through a handy city map, dividing up the territories. This time around, Kekon is but a dot on a much larger, expansive world, with notably more countries, divisions and situations ready to explode at a moment’s notice.

In many ways, Jade War is a victim of its own success, buckling under the weight of expectation and not quite living up to the taut, well-paced and gripping first novel that many (including yours truly) fell in love with. Instead, the pace here is far more slow and methodical, and the war that this book depicts is more of a guerilla effort, almost teasing a cold war that never quite materializes, as the two clans in Kekon wrestle for control – no matter the cost.

The first 120 pages of so exclusively settle on the fall-out from the devastating clan war between Ayt Madashi’s Mountain Clan and Kaul Hilo’s No Peak clan. The latter is spread out across different areas, with disgraced, exiled Anden off on the other side of the world in Espenia, trying to carve out a new life for himself. Meanwhile, Hilo continues his efforts to expand the No Peak influence back home, contemplating striking up deals with shady, nefarious crooks and politicians both sides of the world, challenged to go against his long-held beliefs about Jade and foreigner influence.

Hilo is joined by his trusty Weather Man, Shae, who ends up with the best character journey of the entire novel. She’s still entangled in both politics and fighting, but this time also has a romance thrown in too, which helps to add crucial depth to her persona. This depth can also be extended to Hilo’s wife Wen, the Stone-Eye who is no longer just a pretty face and mother. Instead, she’s far more active in the story and by the end, becomes integral to the way Jade Legacy is likely to pan out.

Jade War is a long read and the first half of the novel is packed full of exposition that works to catch up with all our characters, establish what they’ve been up to, before looking out at that wider world and the conflict to come. As a result, this novel lacks the same immediacy that Jade City had, especially as it built up to that shocking death.

In fact, it’s not until around 300 pages in where things really start to pick up and get spicy, with a one-on-one duel that completely changes the dynamic of the world from there on out. But even then, the book struggles to find its footing at times, with a few “interludes” that work as giant info dumps about the world and don’t add too much to the story.

While all this is going on, the outside world is thrown into disarray by the growing influence of jade trading, while a war between neighbouring countries Shotar and Ygutan over the disputed oortoko region threatens to cause further chaos. Only, the latter is mostly told to us through different characters and news reports on TVs. Given there’s a separate thread involving Beko and Mudt, the two crooks we finished the first book on, it would have been nice to see how this war actually played out from someone on the battlefield.

There’s an awful lot going on in Jade War though, and the second half of this book in particular is excellent. It’s a pity then that the first half falters as much as it does. There are a litany of time jumps, big exposition dumps and the title itself is a little deceptive on reflection, especially those expecting a genuine war – because you won’t get that here!

Despite these issues, Jade War is still an enjoyable read, chock full of geopolitical issues, tense set-pieces and some genuinely great confrontations between characters. The ending certainly leaves the door wide open for the third book, which promises to bring this epic trilogy to a bombastic conclusion.

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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