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Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade City

by Fonda Lee

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199985,077 (3.89)15



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With a powerful family of complex characters — including my favorite, Kaul Shaelinsan — Jade City beckons readers to secret family meetings and public battles between warring clans. With magical jade at stake, winning the battle for control of a city has never been more important, or more dangerous. Fonda Lee’s first adult novel is a fast-hitting, tantalizing, sometimes unsettling, and always insightful book with a wealth of power at its core. A modern-day epic.

(From my blurb)
  sussura | Sep 29, 2018 |
Oh this was so good!!!!

I love fantasy, and I love love love epic fantasies in different worlds with complex politics and magic. But I get tired of reading the same old knights-and-swords medieval Europe cyphers time and again; it seems like epic fantasy can't break out of that medieval setting. So the fact that "Jade City" takes place in a MODERN fantasy world was something that drew me in immediately. I love seeing a mixture of magic and cars, mysterious weapons and machine guns and "Jade City" strikes a perfect balance between the mythology of fantasy and the products of modernity.

The plot is complex and I loved it. The worldbuilding is first-rate, everything makes sense within the story's framework, and the characters come across as realistic. They make mistakes, they overestimate themselves, they can be cruel and vicious but they all act with the same internal logic that holds the story and its setting together. The politics and history are fascinating and though you can tell that most of the nations that we're introduced to are stand-ins for real nations, it never feels awkward or forced.

I loved the interludes of in-world mythology/religious stories and I felt they really helped the plot. I am a huge fan of multiple POVs and this book pulls that off very very well. The POVs are all important and each character's voice comes through. No one sounds the same. The writing is incredibly good and the fight scenes are EPIC! Nothing ever feels recycled or redundant, characters and events earn their places in the narrative. I noticed a few Chekov's guns stashed throughout that hadn't gone off by the end of the book but as it is the first in a series, that's to be expected.

This was my first book by Fonda Lee and I'm super excited for the sequel!! ( )
  ElleGato | Sep 24, 2018 |
A third of the way into Jade City, I found myself feeling sick to my stomach with fear. One of Kaul siblings, the leaders of one of Janloon’s biggest magically enhanced gang families, has just been challenged by the champion of a rival and needs to respond with overwhelming force, even though they could be killed in the process and the outcome is far from certain. Other characters object, but are overruled – in the brutal logic of the world the Kauls live in, this is all they can do, even if their death risks bringing down their entire family. The ten or so Kindle pages for this to resolve were some of the longest reading of my life.

That’s the magic that Fonda Lee brings to Jade City, an epic fantasy set in a modernised world where ancient families wield magic powers through training to control a particular type of jade found only on their island home. Most of the main characters in this book come from the aforementioned Kaul family, who lead the No Peak clan: there’s young Pillar (leader) Lan, trying to establish himself while dealing with forces still loyal to his retired, ill grandfather; his aggressive younger brother and Horn (general) Hilo, whose skill in developing individual relationships does not extend to a general understanding of politics; his estranged sister Shae, who has just returned to Janloon after following a boyfriend abroad to study two years previously and is trying to stay out of the family business; and adoptive youngest “cousin” Anden, still in his last year of school and attempting to overcome prejudice both from being mixed-race and from his mother’s highly stigmatised death from jade overexposure. The clan as a whole are dealing with an increasingly strong and belligerent rival, the Mountain clan, whose quiet machinations to control the production of jade and of a new drug which allows foreigners to harness its power are just beginning to be felt.

While “20th-century-analogue Asian City undergoing a post-war economic miracle” is hardly a common setting for epic fantasy, the level of detail in the world of Jade City, and the sense of complex history and culture behind the characters and their actions, more than justifies the label. As noted above, one of the book’s greatest strengths is how gripping it is – its been a while since a book made me this viscerally fearful for the people in it – and the narrative goes along at a strong pace from start to finish. The other impressive aspect is how successfully Fonda Lee’s characters encouraged me to think like them. Without spoiling anything at all in the plot, there is a point around halfway through where an opportunity is taken by one character when I felt strongly (and I’m sure this was intended) that this person wasn’t suitable and another character should have had it instead. Instead of glossing over that discrepancy, or resolving it in the second character’s favour in some messy pyrrhic victory later down the line (which is what I expected to happen), the apparent unfairness is quickly raised and just as soon dismissed in text by another character, who makes it clear why, in the world of Janloon, things had to turn out in a particular way. Most characters are very morally grey, but in a way where it’s clear they’re always trying to do “good” – it’s just that all of their actions are so tied up in a causal web of obligations and expected behaviour and far-reaching consequences that “good” sometimes ends up being “do an honourable murder”. It’s such a testament to Fonda Lee’s skills that these constraints don’t feel artificial in context, and I always believed the characters were acting in the ways they felt they had to act, even when as a reader I didn’t agree with their logic.

This is a book which takes a lot of its narrative cues and setup from media I associate too much with shitty masculinity to ever watch – things like the Godfather, and similar TV shows that former male “friends” loved to quote to each other over dinner when they wanted to exclude me from conversation. It doesn’t shy away from showing a highly patriarchal society, albeit one where women can break in when they show themselves to be overwhelmingly more competent and/or ruthless than their male counterparts. Again, this was handled well, with casual misogyny (and racism, and occasional homophobia) present among the characters but not at all condoned by the text, and no mentions of sexual violence or lingering descriptions of the particular victimisation of women in the war between the gangs (although as most of the Green Bones trained for fighting are men, and there’s a pretty significant body count involved, the fighting clearly does have gendered impacts). This is hardly a comfort read to begin with, so I didn’t mind reading about discrimination alongside transnational drug trading and arms races and the like – but if you like your fantasy to include a critical mass of unquestioned fighting women at all levels, this isn’t the book to give you that.

In short, this book is excellent and well worth your time if you enjoy morally ambiguous character driven epic fantasy, even if the list of influences leaves you a bit cold. I’m eagerly awaiting the next volume of this unusual series. ( )
  Arifel | Sep 22, 2018 |

I didn't like this as much as I had hoped. It's basically a story about brutal gang warfare in a world where some people are particularly sensitive to jade, which gives them psychic powers; and yet the technology is jarringly similar to that of our 21st-century world, and to be honest I didn't care very much for any of the characters or sympathise with what they were trying to do. ( )
  nwhyte | May 21, 2018 |
"Jade City is a mob novel, set in a world where jade enhances warriors’ senses and fighting abilities—at least, for those who aren’t either immune to jade’s properties, or are so sensitive that jade drives them mad or kills them. On the island nation of Kekon, a generation ago jade-wielding warriors known as Green Bones defended their people against foreign invaders, but as the tide of peace and progress has marched on, now the most prominent clans—descendants of war heroes—are more concerned with defending their profits. The world is changing, and the jade export business is booming, as foreign militaries seek ways to harness the power of jade. The addictive drug known as shine can counteract the worst problems of jade sensitivity, but it comes with its own issues, not least of which are health-related.
Jade City focuses on the adult children of the No Peak clan, one of the two largest clans in Kekon’s bustling capital city. No Peak are being targeted for takeover by the other largest clan, the Mountain clan, whose ruthless Pillar (leader) has a vision for the future of Kekon and Kekonese jade that breaks with some of the traditions of the past. Kaul Lan, the Pillar of No Peak, is a sensitive and compassionate leader, whose aging and bitter war-hero grandfather recently stood aside so that he could inherit the role.
Lan isn’t suited for the role of a wartime Pillar, and that’s what the conflict will become: a war fought in the streets and in boardrooms over loyalty and patronage and cold hard cash. His charismatic younger brother Kaul Hilo is the clan’s Horn, leader of its street fighters, its Fists and Fingers, a competitive and aggressive young man who believes strongly in family and tradition, and who is in love with a stone-blind (immune to jade) woman from an unlucky family. The youngest sibling, their sister Kaul Shae, has only just returned to Kekon after two years abroad: she left her family and her jade behind for a relationship with an Espenian military officer and an education in the Republic of Espenia. She is determined to make her own way, to wear no jade, and to not use her family’s connections to forge her career. (Her feelings towards her family are rather ambivalent, and justly so, considering how they reacted to her relationship with a foreigner.) And their adopted cousin, adolescent Anden Emery, is a student at the Kaul Du Academy, in training to learn how to wield jade. He feels keenly that he’s an outsider: half-foreign, with a mother both incredibly powerful and so sensitive to jade that she eventually died of the reaction known as the “Itches,” adopted into the Kaul family but not really feeling as though he’s one of them, and queer in a society where same-gender attraction is seen as unlucky. The circumstances that they each find themselves in put them under incredible pressure. They’re caught by conflicting imperatives: tradition, duty, honour, family, reputation, and personal inclination all at different times pull them in different directions.
Stylistically, Jade City feels as though it mixes The Legend of Korra with Gangs of New York and a generous helping of Hong Kong action cinema. Lee builds a vivid, densely believable world, and a vivid, densely believable city: Kekon’s cars and televisions, its economic boom and history of conflict, exist in productive tension with its traditions and its clans, its jade and the code known as aisho, its gambling dens and restaurants and boardrooms. A deep attention to detail gives us a view of a society—and people within that society—not all quite yet at home with the changes that have occurred. Shae and Wen, Hilo’s lover, let us see that despite some changes, patriarchal ways of thinking (and hypocrisy) have a deep hold on Kekonese life and on No Peak clan, but we also see that a great deal of change has occurred since their grandfather’s heyday. Lee’s characters are vibrantly human, who have the virtues of their flaws, and the flaws of their virtues.
Excellently-paced and brilliantly constructed, Jade City glitters with life. It’s immensely compelling—and very satisfying as a mob narrative—and I really hope Fonda Lee writes more in this world." Liz Bourke review on Tor.com 2017 ( )
1 vote BDartnall | Feb 8, 2018 |
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"Jade is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. It has been mined, traded, stolen, and killed for--and for centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their magical abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion. Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation"--Amazon.com.… (more)

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