I really enjoyed Jade City by Fonda Lee. While many reviewers drew parallels to the Godfather, I felt more as if I’d been transported into a somewhat different, contemporary Asian city, such as 1990s Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Bangkok. Years ago in this world, Kekon Island, and its people were in a war fought over the control of bioenergetics jade, a stone that gives the wearer super abilities, such as strength, perception, or making the body lighter. The warriors who wear jade, (called Green Bones) use it for added abilities, especially in combat. The war was settled, and foreign soldiers and overlords were defeated. Two of the heroes of that war founded families that helped control the exportation of bioenergetic jade. In the modern capital city, an added source of tension is the introduction of a drug called “Shine”, that can be used to give the ability to use jade to those who don’t have the natural ability. It also has a cost, addicting those that use it.
The characters are complex, and the source of the magic is intriguingly crafted. There is even a world stage, where events in the city and small island, make a difference, as well as influences the action in the story. The book is compared to the Godfather, and mob based movies and books. It’s also been compared to Wuxia (wooSHya) stories, wandering kung fu masters. Science and magic exist side by side, in this 20th century city. There are also family, and interpersonal relationships that helped pull me into the story, along with the awesome world building.
It is also a multiple viewpoint story, with a family with all the quirks of a real one. Kaul Sen, the grandfather, fought in the liberating guerilla war, where his son Kaul Du died. Kaul Lan, 35, the oldest grandson, is the current Pillar, leader of the clan, competent, cautious, and ambassadorial. Kaul Hilo, is the Fist of the clan, an extroverted, impulsive younger man. And their sister Kaul Shia, has come home from college abroad, with a degree in business, and determined to construct a life for herself away from clan business. A large part of clan business is the regulation of crime, especially the ownership of bioenergetic jade, only legally used by “Green Bones” Kekoneese clan members, whether they are warriors or lawyers, or businessmen. This jade, only found and mined on Kekon island, grants those attuned to it to use powers verging on magical, strength, lightness, perception, healing, to those who are trained to use it. It is only a stone, to the Abukei, indigenous to Kekon. The rest of the world, it is used by special armed forces, with the help of a drug called “Shine.”
The family itself has enough conflict for a novel, but the jade being mined is not all reaching the Kaul clan. The Ayt clan is trying to consolidate all the clans in their own. Violently, for the most part. The island is still not free from the foreign interests that they warred in an earlier generation.
Jade War, is the second title in the trilogy, and is already out.