Jade City by Fonda Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Green Bone Saga (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 544 pages (UK Paperback edition)
Published: 7th November 2017 (US) & 9th November 2017 (UK) by Orbit
Incredible, the multiple nominees and awards this book has won are all well deserved.
Jade City is the first book in The Green Bone Saga, and it 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, I’ve been craving a fantastic Asian-inspired fantasy lately, 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 unnecessary paraphrasing of the plot description. Jade City is a brilliantly imagined urban high fantasy. Growing up as an Asian in a Chinese household, it’s practically impossible to not watch Asian gangster or martial arts movies with the family. This novel reminded me a lot of my love for those movies, in an even superior way. On my first read, it did take me a while before I was fully engaged with the narrative. If you’re reading the book for the first time, and at first you feel the same as I did, be patient. Trust me, it’s worth it. The first 31% of the book was 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; the themes of honor, loyalty, wealth, power, greed, and family took the center stage in the narrative, and I can’t get enough of them.
“Sometimes even the most loyal and devoted men make mistakes when they’re forced to make decisions under terrible circumstances.”
There were some parts of the story that did feel slightly predictable, but predictability doesn’t immediately mean it’s a bad thing. A certain level of familiarity in storytelling structure can be a good thing, and it has been achieved here. Jade City has an immersive world-building that’s so distinct in the current fantasy market. Accompanied by a terrific combination of magic and martial arts, Lee’s engaging prose shine; the pacing and momentum building was constantly wonderful. And most importantly, Lee’s characterizations and dialogues were excellent.
“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.”
Fonda Lee’s characterizations were so masterful, and to think this is only the first book of the trilogy. Lan, Hilo, Shae, and Anden are the four main characters, and they’re all flawed, realistic, and easily relatable. Honestly, it’s not just the main characters, ALL the characters felt extremely well-written. During my time of reading Jade City, I didn’t realize when it occurred, but I was so immersed with the book that my perception of reality felt clouded; I forgot I was reading a book. Seriously, the characterizations and prose were that good; everything just clicked with me. Lee did an outstanding job in utilizing her characters to show the importance of honor. The character’s determination to put their family at the top of their priority—setting aside their differences—was admirable. Plus, I have to say that the interactions and relationships that the main characters have with each other were glowing brilliantly. Empathizing characters to care for will always be my utmost priority in my reading experience, and 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 praises I easily hand out. I absolutely look forward to reading Jade War next year!
You can order the book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)
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