Jade war is rad.
That said, if you haven’t read Jade City, consider checking out my review on this site, and more importantly go read the book! I make it a point to remove as many spoilers as possible, but some things have changed a lot between the last book and this one, so some spoiling is inevitable. Jade War is in a nutshell, more Jade City with more of pretty much everything from before. This is a good thing.
It’s been a bit over a year since we last found ourselves in the Asian-inspired island country of Kekon, specifically in the capital city of Janloon. Much is the same from the previous book, the two largest guilds, No Peak and the Mountain, have fought to a stalemate after the events of the previous books. At this time, there’s an uneasy armistice, with the civilian population reeling along with the clans after the war, there’s been time to rebuild. Fighting still happens, but it’s nothing on the scale of the previous clan war. This, however, doesn’t mean the war is done by a long shot or that nothing has changed.
Unlike the first book, I have been well aware of this book from the word go. I have personally been incredibly hyped up to read this book. I’ve heard of similar buzz from the people I speak to, and I believe it’s delivered on that hype and more. Fonda Lee has somehow managed to not only improve in her general writing, but also improve on the believability and growth of the characters that make the move from Jade City to Jade War. It’s something I haven’t seen many authors pull off this successfully, and to me, it’s one of the best complements I could give an author.
Since this is the 2nd book in the series, there’s less world building active for Kekon. It’s still the steamy, Asian-inspired island country that I remember fondly from the first book, alive with the people of Kekon. We even learn a bit more about the less-clan influenced side of the country. More importantly though, we get a look at other countries in the world. By now it’s obvious that the world feels similar to ours, except their many nations war puts them in a situation to our world post WWII. First, Espenia, a country one could say is an equivalent to the United States. This country is a melting pot, gets much colder, and is full of a different kind of underworld than Kekon. One far less honorable. We get introduced to two more countries, Uwiwa and Stepenland. Both countries have smaller roles in the story compared to the other two but play no less of a role in how the world changes for No Peak. Also, in her signature descriptive yet smooth writing style Fonda Lee builds these two countries, Uwiwa another island country very similar to my father’s homeland, the Philippines, and Stepenland an obviously Nordic country. The small window that Lee gives to us of these countries acted like a seed that used the information I know of these countries’ real world equivalents to sprout into much larger mental images of the world. While the description of Uwiwa was a bit of an oof, it was something very real to me.
The Uwiwans, Hilo thought, had the cunning look of a race that knew they were dependent on the might and wealth of outsiders and hated themselves for it. They could be the friendliest sort of people during the day, then steal your wallet cut your throat in the middle of the night.“Kaul Hiloshudon” in the novel Jade City by Fonda Lee
I don’t want to get into the minute details of the countries as I find that’s something that is a unique experience that should be experienced for the first time by a reader and then cherished as these details influence the characters through the rest of the book. All countries above play an important role in the story and lives of the characters in the book, even Ygutan (a version the USSR in my opinion) plays an important role. I will however talk a bit about the characters we’re familiar in the book, introduce a few more important ones, but like always I will try to keep it clean.
It’s still a Kaul story, but this time we delve into a few more people in the family now. At this point, Hilo is the Pillar, and has grown into his role much more than we had last met him. He’s still a different kind of leader from Lan, but he’s much more comfortable in leaving responsibilities to those around and under him. He’s still the fire at the center of No Peak, but instead of being a raging flame that threatens to hurt those around him, he is more akin to a smoldering flame: he is much calmer, in many ways much more useful to the clan while still being capable of flaring into an inferno with the right kind and amount of kindling… Shae has gotten used to her role as Weather Man, she has far less issues with the senior Lantern Men and Luckbringers under her, and she has been able to hone her sharp intellect from the previous book into a dangerous weapon to use in the defense of No Peak. This is a tiny bit of a spoiler, but we also get a look at the softer side of both of these characters. Hilo and Shae have both evolved from the last time we saw them while still retaining who they are. Things in the story, however, find a way to change them into something much different than we are familiar with. Speaking of change, Anden plays a much larger role in this story. He’s back from his exile, but then he gets exiled again, this time to Espenia. He still refuses to use jade due to the fear of what kind of monster it will make him and he’s still relatively unsure of himself. The move to Espenia forces a change out of him, and by the time the story ends, he has found who he wants to be, but not without great cost.
This brings me to what I believe one of the largest themes of this book is: change. The last book had plenty of change, from clan leadership to characters coming and going things changed quite a bit by the end of Jady City. That said, much more changes during Jade War. There are quite frankly shocking events that effect almost every main character in the story, and the best part about this is nothing feels forced or fake. Every character has a reason to act the way they do; every situation plays out in a way that is reasonable, believable, and based firmly in reality. It’s no small praise to say that this is largely possible due to Fonda Lee’s incredibly weaving of characters, countries, and clans. It’s not quite a line of dominos, more akin to a game of pachinko, where one event sets off other events but often not in the way people think. The characters can try to change the direction of their lives, but sometimes fate doesn’t give a shit and does what it wants. There is one event that focuses on Shae that made me step back and think for a second, but upon putting myself into the shoes of a Kekonese leader, it makes some sense. Perhaps a special kind of Hilo sense, but still reasonable. Needless to say, every character radically changes from the beginning of the book, and it’s something anyone who loves character development should enjoy.
The themes of family and interdependence from the previous book are still here and very important but as we get introduced to the other countries and the story shifts there, specifically Espenia, we start to see another theme. The theme of community when you’re in a country as a minority. This theme is right up my alley for obvious reasons, and it’s lovingly portrayed in the book. There’s a fantastic sense of community among the Kekonese in Espenia, and I’m saddened to also say that there’s a very real feeling of being discriminated against and outright racism as well. The Kekonese are new to Espenia and like many cultural groups in a melting pot like the US or Espenia, they’ve carved out their own worlds that both interact at the same time and somehow stay mostly insular.
… he imagined it would be possible to survive in Port Massy without actually learning Espenian, by sticking closely with one’s own people.“Emery Anden” in the novel Jade City by Fonda Lee
Anden is my favorite character this time around. As the adopted and then exiled black sheep of the Kaul family, he has arguably the hardest time adjusting to his new role in life. His development is arguably one of the most real I’ve felt this year. He must make a lot of huge changes to adapt to a new culture and eventually to a new way of feeling. The way he ends up feels a tiny bit forced but to be honest the event that pushes his final major decision and change makes perfect sense. Bero is an important who also has a big change in his personality but personally, I think he’s still a dick. He gets to lower lows than he did in Jade City, both in terms of what he does and how he feels about himself as a person. One of these changes largely hints at what’s coming next in Kekon.
Honestly this book is so dense and well written that it’s incredibly difficult to get everything into a review without it becoming a novella itself. I’ve been told that my reviews are bit too long-winded for most (if you agree do let me know) but with a book that is his packed with information it’s hard not to write for days. Like the previous book, Jade War is an Asian Urban/Modern fantasy about family values, loyalty, and finding how live with danger constantly at your throat. Oh, and don’t worry, there’s plenty of fantastically written fight scenes. It feels like they’re much more tragedy and shocking experiences in this book, with a deeper and perhaps more mature expression of love and belonging than in Jade City. That isn’t to say that there isn’t explicit erotic content (so it’s still not for kids) because it’s definitely there. This book is easily my top read so far this year. The book delivered on all my hopes for a sequel to Jade City, and more. Fonda Lee seems to be improving as a writer (or at least I am improving as a reader) and truly look forward to reading the next book in the series.
To put it sweet and simply: read this book. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy something about this book. Perhaps if you have a complete aversion to violence, but that’s most likely it. Five out of Five stars, 100% great reading for nearly anyone. An excellent example of a sequel, fiction title, and character growth across a series.
Jade War comes out July 23rd. I’ve got it pre-ordered and if you’d like to support this blog, consider doing the same by grabbing it here. https://amzn.to/2lrS0fF