This review is a long time coming, but I got to Jade City a bit late. I was introduced to the book by a cousin after talking about how I wanted to see a more Asian take on the modern/urban fantasy setting, as well everything I had seen up to that point hadn’t scratched an itch I was looking for. Jade City scratches those itches and opened a wonderful and deep world to me by introducing No Peak and the Kauls.
I’ll admit that I am largely ignorant of hype and buzz around a book’s release, I generally use the same cousin to learn this information from. I’m the kind of person that reads what they like when they like it with disdain towards marketing pushes or general buzz. I blame it on almost a decade of community manager experience and seeing how the sausage is made. That said, I do regret not experiencing Jade City when it was first released. The unique universe and people of Kekon are both familiar and warm to me, while still being foreign enough that I was able to learn many things that surprised me. It’s the first book in a long while to actively get me truly emotionally invested, I’ll go into why in a bit.
Fonda Lee’s writing style is a great, modern, smooth style of writing. Her writing flows cleanly from paragraph to paragraph, with entire pages passing in a matter of moments if you’re not paying close attention. She includes excellent examples of the feeling a scene or situation can give you, from an extra humid night that makes you feel how sticky the air is, to the deep seated fear someone feels when they are forced to encounter something they’ve been fearing all of their lives. Somehow, despite all this excellent detail, things never feel like they’re becoming bogged down. There were points where I would sometimes absorb the more minute details and not actively remember reading them until I would go back and review the page or chapter. The fights were written just as we, Fonda Lee’s experience with martial arts shows through her clean and concise fight scenes. It just built a scene in my mind that stuck with me until the end of the scene. I might have the benefit of being part-Asian and as such having a close familiarity with the situations, people, and locations in the book, but I feel like anyone can appreciate this level of detail.
If you want to know more about the story, well it’s mostly a Kaul story, bro. The story is set slightly before our current modern time and centers around Kekon, an island country with Asian influences that was recently occupied by a foreign power and modernized seemingly against its will. I know, sounds like any number of island Asian countries in our current world. The difference is this country, while ostensibly being governed by a publicly elected government complete with a non-legislative royal family, is actually controlled by the clans. No Peak and the Mountain are the two largest clans that rule over the country and were once allies during their foreign occupation. However, many years have passed and now the original clans two generations removed, and hostility is flickering at the edges of clan society.
The clan is my blood, and the Pillar its master.Fonda Lee, Jade City
The clans operate by and large like a modern large Asian mafia organization, with one head that controls everything with the support of a few key individuals that then filter down to the foot soldiers. The heads are known as Pillars, their two close advisors are the Weather Man, in control of the finances and day to day dealings of the clan with their army of Luckbringers, and the Horn, which is the clan’s military leader who in turn lead Fists who then in turn lead the Fingers. The focus of the story is on the No Peak clan, lead by the Kaul family. This family has three children, Lan, Hilo, and Shae. At the start of the book, Lan is the Pillar, Hilo is the Horn, and Shae, having gone against her family’s wishes, has left the country with a foreign lover. Through several events that happen through the book, we’re introduced to more characters like Anden and Bero, the thief. Without giving anything away, we see the relationships within and without the clan and the dynamic of the world that was originally presented to use change radically. By the end of the book so much has radically changed that it leaves you wanting to know what’s going to happen in the future of No Peak and Kekon at large.
The key point of interest in this book and country is jade, a unique mineral only found on Kekon. While similar in color and shape to the jade that we know, the jade in Kekon allows people who are properly trained and of the right bloodlines to call upon supernatural powers to do things like deflect thrown knives or bullets, steel against blows, or gain lightness that allows one to move with unnatural speed. The country exports a small amount of its overall mined jade with the clans controlling most of the jade in the world. Jade, family fealty, and personal honor are the key themes in this story with all characters, be they No Peak, Mountain, or other working around the rules set within this warrior society in order to pursue their own interests. Sometimes these cultural norms are violated by certain characters, often with disastrous results. These themes are explored in detail and are well portrayed with character’s motivations clearly influencing their actions, and in some cases real human emotion can be felt when a character does something that isn’t strictly logical but it’s the best they can think of at the time.
The largest reoccurring theme in the book to me is the theme of family, and interdependence. Since this is an Asian story written by an Asian person in a fictional Asian country about Asian people, this makes sense. Collectivity is a core feature in many Asian countries and fealty and loyalty to one’s family (or clan, as it were) is something that is still felt today.
Each of the main character is wonderfully fleshed out and realized, with real growth coming to each character through the course of the story. My favorite character is probably Hilo, the hot-headed younger brother of the Pillar, Lan, and Horn of No Peak. As the world forcibly changes around him, he realizes that he must learn how to be less of a fighter and more of a thinker lest he and his clan crumble to ruins. His evolution as a person is incredibly believable and comes from such a realistic and grounded place that I swear I know someone who has been forced in to similar (albeit less dangerous) situations that have caused similar results to occur. His dynamic with this younger sister, Shae, is something that is very real to me, having a younger sister of my own. There is one character, Bero, that doesn’t get as fleshed out as the others, but his actions are an important turning point for the story, especially regarding the Kaul family. Since this is the first in a trilogy, I know that we’ll be seeing more of him, as he’s left in as much of a cliffhanger as everyone else is by the end of the book.
I’ve left a lot out of this review both because I don’t want to spoil anything because this book has so much going for it that it’s difficult to jam in here. So, taking things down to brass tacks, Jade City is an Asian Urban/Modern Fantasy about family values and martial arts anime magic. If you like thrilling plotlines, intriguing mystery, raw action, and a bit of tragedy, this book is for you. Even if you aren’t really a huge fan of these things, I’d encourage you to give an excerpt of preview of the book a try. One note though is that this book is absolutely not for kids as it’s got some graphic and well-written erotic content in there. To nearly anyone else though, I recommend this book. If it was my top read of 2018 and its sequel is coming out very soon this year and I can’t explain to you how much I was looking forward to reading it (past tense because well, I have already read it. It’s better than I had thought.)
Five outta five, 100% stars. An excellent example of fiction title.