Incredible, the multiple nominees and awards this book has won are all well deserved.
Jade City, the first book in The Green Bone Saga series is also Fonda Lee’s adult fantasy debut. Ever since I knew about the existence of this novel, it has always been a book I wanted to read. As usual, the unbeatable TBR pile delayed me and I was so sure that I won’t be getting into this one until next year. However, after seeing the non-stop praises that Fonda Lee and the book constantly received, as an Asian and avid adult fantasy reader I knew that I couldn’t delay this any longer. I’m really happy that I gave this a read now because lately, I’ve been craving a fantastic Asian-inspired fantasy and Jade City delivered a spectacular Asian-inspired urban fantasy debut.
“Any old horse will run when it’s whipped, but only fast enough to avoid the whipping,” Hilo said. “Racehorses, though, they run because they look at the horse on their left, they look at the one on their right, and they think, No way am I second to these fuckers.”
If you want to know what the general plot of the book is about, read the synopsis on Goodreads or Amazon, it’s completely spoiler-free and I won’t be bothering you with my dumb and unnecessary paraphrasing of the plot description. Jade City is a brilliantly imagined urban fantasy. Growing up as an Asian in a Chinese household, it’s practically impossible not to watch a gangster or martial arts movies. This novel reminds me a lot of my love towards those movies. It did take me a while before I was fully engaged with the narrative; if you’re reading the book and at first you feels the same as I did, be patient. Trust me, it’s worth it. The first 31% of the book was just the calm before the storm. Once the story went past the first interlude, the storm of blood and tension compelled me to continue reading non-stop. I immensely enjoyed reading Jade City, it was a fantastic read where honor, loyalty, wealth, greed, and family took the center stage of the story.
“Sometimes even the most loyal and devoted men make mistakes when they’re forced to make decisions under terrible circumstances.”
As for predictability, I won’t lie that there were some parts of the storyline which was quite predictable, but did it diminish the quality of the book? Absolutely not. Jade City contains a lot of factors that made the book received so many praises. Originality in world-building? Checked. Freaking badass combination of magic and martial arts in the action sequences? Checked. Wonderful pacing and momentum building? Checked. High-quality prose? Also checked. But among everything, the single most dominant factor that ties every great element in this book into something more was the amazing characterizations.
“Sometimes, Andy, the people you think you can count on, they let you down in a bad way, and that’s hard to take. But for the most part, you give a man something to live up to, you tell him he can be more than he is now, more than other people think he’ll ever be, and he’ll try his godsdamned best to make it true.”
The characterizations were masterful. The four main characters: Lan, Hilo, Shae, and Anden were flawed, realistic, easy to relate to, and extremely well-written. I didn’t even realize when because I was so immersed with the book but somewhere along the way of my reading journey, my perception of reality has been clouded due to the strength that the characterizations hold. Seriously, everything just clicked because the characters’ personality was so well fleshed out. Their honor, their determination to put their family at the top of their priority despite their differences; the interactions and relationships that the main characters have with each other were glowing with a brilliant aura. As always, I put characters at the top of everything in my reading experience and clearly, the characterizations in Jade City were simply stupendous.
“Expectations are a funny thing,” Wen said. “When you’re born with them, you resent them, fight against them. When you’ve never been given any, you feel the lack of them your whole life.”
Jade City deflected the notion I had that somehow the book won’t live up to my high expectation, but it managed to not only live up to it but exceeded it. Fonda Lee channeled palpable tensions into the deadly political machinations, the descent into the bloody conflicts, the typhoon of battles, and the dynamic interactions between characters; they were a sheer joy to read. With Jade City, Fonda Lee has created an adult fantasy debut that is up there with The Lies of Locke Lamora in quality and magnificence, and that’s not a praise I easily hand out. I absolutely look forward to reading Jade War next year!
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