ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Jade War by Fonda Lee
Petrik’s rating: 5 of 5 stars
TS’s rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Green Bone Saga (Book #2 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 624 pages (UK paperback edition)
Published: July 25th, 2019 by Orbit (UK) & July 23rd, 2019 by Orbit (US)
Absolutely amazing; Jade War was a brilliantly compelling sequel filled with skillfully-written characterizations and tension-packed action scenes.
I buddy read this novel with four other readers of different ethnicities—TS, Emma, Jenia, and Nils—living in different parts of the world and all of us pretty much agreed that we were both in love with and terrified by the events in Jade War. I find it equally satisfying and astonishing that Lee was able to create a sequel that outshone the stunning quality found in Jade City, which won many readers’ hearts and the World Fantasy Award trophy last year. But Fonda Lee did it spectacularly; Jade War was unbelievably better than the first book. The fantasy genre needs more urban fantasy as refreshing and great as this series.
The story in Jade War takes place sixteen months after the end of Jade City. The official blurb on Goodreads and Amazon did a wonderful job of explaining the premise without spoiling any of the main events; read those if you want to know more about the general plot. Jade War took every factor of importance firmly established in the first book into account and expanded upon them deftly. Jade City took a bit of time—around 100 pages—for me to become comfortable and attached; Jade War flowed naturally with no dull moments from the first page until the last. All scene was necessary and crucial, and the plot points that I loved from the first book—such as a deadly clan war, engaging dialogues, and now, international politics too—not only existed but were improved further. Jade War also follows in the footsteps of the first book by making sure that the main themes of love, family, honor, and duty were evident in the narrative. Fiercer, more ambitious, and bigger in scope; the events that occurred in the first book subtly enhanced the looming tension hanging around behind the shadows of the characters. Lee gradually and continuously escalates the stakes that the characters encounter and the last 150 pages of the book comprised an unputdownable finale that can frankly be described as every single shit hitting the tornado.
“People are born selfish; babies are the most selfish creatures, even though they’re helpless and wouldn’t survive a day on their own. Growing up and losing that selfishness—that’s what civilization is, that’s what sets us above beasts. If someone harms my brother, they harm me—that’s what our clan oaths are about. Those men weren’t your enemies—they were our enemies.”
I don’t know why, but recently I’ve been having quite a bad luck in reading SFF books; it seems that majority of them have awesome actions and original world-building but lack the one feature that matters the most to me: stupendous characterizations. I’ve written more than 300 reviews and I’ve repeated this so many times already, but I simply can’t enjoy a book if I don’t care about the characters. Fortunately, Lee is the type of storyteller that prioritizes her characters and characterizations. I felt truly invested in the characters’ journeys. It was crystal clear that Lee understands and knows her characters really well. Let’s take Hilo for example. Being in his position, it was inevitable that he would have to do some bad stuff and my god he did. Even then, I was still able to understand why he did these things, and the good side of him that genuinely cares about his family compelled me to care about him.
“The clan was not just people and jade and money. It was an idea, a legacy that connected the pats with the present and the future. The family’s strength was a promise.”
Every character’s actions always had weight and comprehensible motivation behind them. Lee has created an exceptionally well-written cast of characters that’s so bloody compelling, complex, tangibly realistic, and easy to get attached to. There wasn’t a single moment where the characters felt like they behaved outside of their personalities, and the internal conflicts they had were all valid and empathizing. These are the kind of things that, in my opinion, separate the good and the great SFF authors from each other and Lee definitely belongs in the latter group. I also need to mention that within the cast of characters, the female characters—Shae and Wen—of this series were hands down some of the best female characters I’ve ever read in fantasy.
“If you’re not sure you’re in love, then you’re not.”
This doesn’t mean that I’m saying that Jade War was only good in characterizations but lacking in tremendous actions and intricate world-building. On the contrary, the existence of the characters and the terrific characterizations served to improve the sense of danger and immersion behind the battles and the fully-realized world-building. Jade War doesn’t take place solely in Kekkon; one look at the maps in this book and you will immediately realize that this is a much larger and ambitious sequel compared to its predecessor. The inclusion of Shotar and Espenia, to name a few, made the series more complex and yet still easily accessible.
“Out of small resentments, spring great wars.”
Lee once again astounded me with her fantastic blend of martial arts and jade magic. The clan wars provoked by each faction led to ignitions of violence that’s doubly gripping and memorable. The action sequences were utterly stylish and breathtaking. I have to give a round of applause to the duel featured in this installment; it was pulse-pounding, full of energy, menace, and ominous atmosphere. The crescent slash left by the clean moon blades detonated a frightening quality that quickened the beating of my heart. I mean it, the duel scene exhibited in this installment and the climax sequences were brimming with vivid imagery and perceptible intensity. Take the last battle in Jade City, increase that threefold and you have a notion of the crushing strength poured into the global jade war. I honestly can’t wait to read how Lee will improve from her cinematic set pieces in the next—and maybe the last—installment of the series.
“All that mortals could do was accept the lot they were given, and yet still fight to better their own fate and that of their loved ones.”
I’m gratified and impressed by the gangster fantasy I’ve read this year; Priest of Lies by Peter McLean is included in one of my favorite reads of the year so far and now Jade War joins the list. Jade War is urban fantasy at its best and Lee has cemented The Green Bone Saga as one of my favorite ongoing series with a groundbreaking impact. Do not miss reading this incredible book at all costs; The No Peak Clan awaits your enlistment in the Jade War. If you haven’t read Jade City yet, what are you waiting for? On my honor, my life, and my jade, this is a magnificent example of urban fantasy of the highest tier. The clan is my blood, and the Pillar is its master; let the gods recognize me as a clan loyalist who has stamped Jade War as one of the best book published in 2019.
Jade War is a magnificient sequel that brilliantly showcases the immense potential of urban fantasy, without resorting to typical mythological elements.
The author mentioned in the acknowledgements about the “seemingly impossible task of following up the biggest, most ambitious novel” she’s ever written with “an even bigger and more ambitious novel”. If that’s the case, Fonda Lee has then achieved the seemingly impossible as the second novel in The Green Bone Saga excelled over the first in every possible way. From the plotting to the worldbuilding to the characters, every component worked so well in the sequel that it gave me sheer joy reading Jade War.
In the first book, Jade City, the narrative was centred mainly on the feuding two most powerful clans of Kekon and the setting focussed within the city of Janloon. Since then, we’ve heard of the larger countries and continents outside of Kekon, such as Espenia and Ygutan but it was merely spoken of by the characters. As all good sequels should, this novel expands the worldbuilding by bringing the reader to the further shores of Espenia, to the city of Port Massy – the world’s largest trade centre – where the use or ownership of jade by civilians is illegal, a stark contrast to the culture amongst the Kekonese. The city settings of both Janloon and Port Massy are also equally incongruous. Janloon (which already sounded so much like Kowloon) is redolent of everything that is Hong Kong, while Port Massy evokes New York City.
Against this evocative backdrop, the story of the Kaul family was brought to life with masterful characterisation. Hilo, Shae, Anden, Wen, Kehn and Tar – all so lovingly crafted that they feel so alive and so real. Every single one of these characters is convincingly portrayed, through their thoughts, emotions and actions. There were so much growth and development in each one of these characters that it was so satisfying to read. Hilo has even become one of my favourite fictional male characters. He inspired the same feeling I got while reading about Kaladin from The Stormlight Archive, which is saying A LOT given that the latter is my all-time favourite. He still has that smouldering yet disarming demeanour, a dangerous edge and violent tendency, but he is unfailingly protective of his family and loved ones. And he will do whatever it takes, no matter the cost, to keep his family safe and his clan together. His is the type of leadership that inspires undying loyalty as he takes the pain to interact with everyone personally. In my opinion, he also has the most compelling character arc in the trilogy to date, followed very closely by Anden, Wen and Shae. Speaking of Wen and Shae, these two female characters couldn’t be more different in terms of their jade abilities, but both are equally smart, competent and courageous. Wen, especially, simply amazes me with her bravery. She has so much heart and fierce compassion.
Having the benefit of growing up watching HK gangster movies enhanced my experience of reading these books. The scenes easily translated into vivid images in my head, especially when aided by the cinematic quality of Fonda Lee’s writing. Together with the well-conceived plot and superb pacing of the narrative, Jade War was exceedingly engrossing. The last quarter of the book ratchets up the intensity even further as the subplots unravelled into the proverbial shit hits the fan. There were many great highlights in this novel, from the badass fight/action scenes (again, so reminiscent of Mistborn, especially of the later era) to the poignant and heartbreaking, and a shockingly contentious one; like prime-time drama skillfully rendered in prose form.
I adore stories which have such strong emphasis and powerful takes on familial love, clans and honour codes, and this trilogy has it in spades. Adding in the magically endowed kungfu abilities, and more crucially, compelling characterisation, Jade War was easily one of my favourites and best urban fantasy books I’ve ever read. I think even non-fantasy readers can appreciate this trilogy, especially for fans of gangster stories like The Godfather. The Green Bones can simply be viewed as super soldiers, albeit with more power than strength, speed and ability; you know, like deflecting bullets, and snapping spines or stopping hearts with just the right touch. I seriously and wholeheartedly recommend The Green Bone Saga.
Official release date: July 25th, 2019 (UK) and July 23rd, 2019 (US)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.