Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade City is the intense, smoky first book in the Green Bone adult fantasy saga. Set on the thrumming island country of Kekon, enemy clans No Peak and The Mountain clash in territorial wars whilst harnessing the mysterious power of Jade, a dangerous natural resource, that with the right training grants its Green Bone users enhanced magical abilities. In this world of gang rivalries and intoxicating Jade power, duty and honour to the clan is everything.

Reminiscent of old school, urban, film noir, gangster movies, this novel is truly an immersive experience. It was brooding, tense and evoked a high-stakes energy that I loved. The world-building was developed perfectly, with vivid language that made it easy for me to visualize the setting.

I also thought the characterisation was strong; Lan (the Pillar) esteems honour, peace and family but struggles to assert his authority despite his clear leadership skills. Hilo (the Horn) is the epitome of power and charm but with a bullheadedness that makes him unable to control his emotions. Shae (the Prodigal Daughter?) is calculating and intelligent. Unlike her older brothers, she desires life outside the clan. Other standout characters for me were Anden, Bero and Ayt Mada, the latter being a tenacious villainess that really offered something raw and interesting to the story, especially in the way she challenges the wholly male-centric world of Green Bones and clan honour.

Lee creates a narrative that has compelling political intrigue, quiet cunning and thrilling fight scenes. She appeals to the reader’s curiosity with the mysteriousness of Kekon’s most valued resource. In Jade City, the greener you are, the better and accumulating more Jade by defeating your victims in battle is an enviable flex, but Jade can also have dangerous, life-threatening consequences, when not used correctly. As we read about characters falling into the trap of Jade misuse, it pulls us further into the story as their fates unfold.

I was also intrigued by the presence of the Abukei people; an ethnic minority, native to Kekon who now live as second-class citizens on the island of their heritage. It would be interesting to see if any Abukei characters rise to more prominent roles in the latter books besides housekeeping and Jade-mining, because I love supporting characters who subvert norms.

This book has given me every reason to be excited about Jade War and I’m hopeful that the sequel will deliver even more high stakes conflicts and fiery action. Jade City was an electrifying read and it’s most definitely worth the hype.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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