Jade City is the first book in the Green Bone Saga, a mix of urban fantasy, wuxia and gangster sagas.
The first time I started reading this book, I couldn’t get into it. I put it down and considered writing a 2-star DNF review. When I realized I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I decided to try again. It’s surprising how much my experience with a book can change if I read it at the right time; it almost makes me doubt my previous DNFs.
I’m glad I gave it a second chance.
What I liked the most about Jade City were the characters and family dynamics. This story is about the beginning of a war between two clans over magical jade, but more than the action scenes – which were compelling themselves – I was drawn by the relationship between the characters. It helps that there’s not much romance; the focus is mostly on the sometimes-strained bonds between the Kaul siblings.
I also really appreciated how this book subtly subverted many fantasy tropes, especially regarding women’s roles, even though it is set in a sexist world. For example, I think many authors would have fridged a certain side female character to start the war, and I’m so glad Fonda Lee didn’t.
Jade City is told mostly in four PoVs:
🍃Kaul Lan, the Pillar of the No Peak, who is trying to prevent the war. He tries to act like he’s fine and everything is going well, but it really isn’t.
🍃Kaul Hilo, the Horn. He has the mind of a warrior and enough charisma to lead the Fists, but while he understands how people think, he often lacks diplomacy.
🍃Kaul Shae, the younger sister, who decided against her grandfather’s wishes to study in Espenia. She has just returned to Kekon at the beginning of the book. I really like her.
🍃Emery Anden, adopted by the Kaul family. He is queer, biracial, and his family has a history of mental illness; all of this feeds his self-loathing. Probably my least favorite PoV.
🍃there are other chapters following side characters, like Bero, who is one of the most intentionally irritating characters I’ve read about in a while.
I had mixed feelings about the writing and the plot. The first was fine, if not exactly easy to get into – the author decided to name a lot of things after body parts, which means that at some point I had to read the sentence “let me take five of my Fists into the Armpit” and wow did that take me out of the story – and too detailed at times. I often found myself skimming, and this book was longer than it should have been.
Regarding the plot, I found it a bit predictable. For a book that is so heavy on the political intrigue, it has almost no twists, and I saw coming the main one from chapter two.
I love political fantasy, and while I adored the set up here – Kekon as a society is built around its magic system based on jade, and all the intrigue we see here is ultimately tied to jade, which influences everything – I didn’t love the plot itself. Also, the clan’s behavior often reminded me of the mafia, which is probably intentional on the author’s part, but as an Italian, it made me uncomfortable. If this book had been even a bit more similar to it (for example, if it had been set in an Italian-inspired world but with a similar plot) I wouldn’t have been able to finish it.
And while I can say that I mostly loved the journey, was really invested in the characters, and loved the (sometimes too many) details of the worldbuilding, I found the ending somewhat underwhelming and at first I wasn’t completely sure I was going to read the sequel (I am. I need to know).
My rating: ★★★★¼