Published by Orbit books, November 2017
Source: Review copy
FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their 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.
When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.
Last weekend I found myself on a three hour train journey down to London to visit GollanzFest, so cast around through the TBR pile for something to read. It’s a splendid problem having a wide range of things to choose from, and with some gentle prompting from @gambit589 (which basically involved emails which went JADE CITY! JADE CITY!), I started (somewhat unsurprisingly) Jade City, by Fonda Lee.
Oh, what a splendid choice. Described as “a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Godfather with magic and kung fu”, it’s all that and more. The magic system is both delightfully simple (jade gives its owner magical powers – the more jade the stronger the powers) and wonderfully complex. The worldbuilding is top-notch, giving Kekon a deep and well-considered culture which sets it apart – it feels like a mishmash of a variety of different places – Hong Kong spring to mind, but with other far eastern islands layered on top, creating a unique, new-yet-familiar setting.
Similarly, the characters draw on the familiar – Yakuza, the Triads, and yes, The Godfather, but with its own unique polish. The level of detail in the world presented is fantastic – from the food, religion, clan power structures to the cars and weaponry – moon blades, and talon knives, jade giving the wearer powers, but too muc in the wrong hands bringing the dreaded (and deadly) itches. The powers that Jade confers, giving us some splendid kung fu sequences. It’s all too easy to see how Jade City would rock on the big screen.
All this worldbuilding would be for nothing if there wasn’t a rock-solid story to back it up. Jade City delivers on every front. Rival families at war over control of the city. Anden, a young student reaching the end of his studies in how to control his jade powers. City lowlife trying to get by in a city ruled by the clans. It’s all here, every layer of society.
Huge thanks to Nazia @gambit589 for the review copy.