Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee

37578998For something that took me more than a month to complete, this was surprisingly fun. It’s just that the writing leaned into the aspect I didn’t like in Jade City even more than in the first book – giving you far more details than you actually need to understand the story – and that’s how we got a 600-page sequel that was at the same time far too long and far too short for what it was trying to do.

I’ll try to explain what went wrong, which I can sum up as “I’ve never read a book in which the pacing was so bad“. The scenes themselves are slow, often full of paragraphs and paragraphs of useless infodumps; I skimmed most of the non-dialogue parts in the second half and still didn’t struggle at all with understanding the story. (It was more fun that way, actually.)
Why far too short, then? Because in this book, the sense of passage of time goes completely out of the window after 30%. There are enormous time jumps between chapters, and you’re not told that so much time has passed until, for example, the book tells you that the character who was pregnant a few chapters ago is also pregnant now… with another child. Where did that year go?

Which is how I started focusing on odd details, one of them being the unusual amount of pregnancies in this book. I joked that this book, sequel to Jade City, should really have been called Pregnancity: every single relevant female character but the villain (and even a few of the not relevant ones) gets pregnant in this book, some of them multiple times, for a total of six pregnancies. I guess that’s what happens when you put too many straight people on an island.

The only major gay character, the token self-loathing gay cousin, is away in another country, and queer women don’t seem to exist. I won’t tell you that this book is bad because it has none, but I do wish there had been less overwhelming heterosexuality and more female characters in general (…all of them can get pregnant because there are only a few relevant ones to begin with).
Now that I got my complaints out of the way, let’s talk about what I liked.

Jade War is an ambitious sequel. A lot of things about it didn’t work for me, but something I never lost was my interest in it, or my attachment to the characters. I loved reading about these complicated family dynamics, seeing how far the character would go for each other and for what they believe in – sometimes, maybe too far; there were a few scenes that surprised me that way, and yet they made so much sense. I’ve always been interested in stories about families and stories about loyalty and its limits, and this is both, so it’s perfect.
Also, can we talk about how refreshing it is to read an adult book in which sibling relationships are the backbone of the story? We’re lucky if even YA novels remember that siblings are a thing.
I might not have been there for the politics and the overly-detailed worldbuilding, but I was always there for the quieter scenes, the ones in which I saw the characters interact. There was always tension, and it always felt personal and real. I loved all of them.

(Also, not to be predictable, but I’m really fascinated by Ayt Mada and would love to have her PoV.)

Once I stopped forcing myself to wade through the text walls, the plot also turned out to be really engaging, complex and surprising, and this time I also loved the ending.
So, will I continue the series? It depends on how long the third book will be and how willing I’ll be to get into something just to skim it, but I really do want to know what happens. I even have some theories:

Spoiler-y theories

Since Jade City had a plot-relevant near-lethal duel halfway through involving Lan, and Jade War had a plot-relevant near-lethal duel halfway through involving Shae, it only makes sense that Jade Legacy will have a plot-relevant duel halfway through involving Hilo, only I have a hunch that this time it will actually be lethal for him. I don’t know who the opponent is, I just hope it’s not Bero.

My rating: ★★★

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

34606064Jade 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