Fonda Lee’s Jade City takes the reader deep into the richly envisioned city of Janloon, in the island nation of Kekon, the only location in the world where activated Jade can be mined. This mystical substance gives the wearer enhanced senses and extraordinary powers, but only if they are descended from an ancient bloodline of ‘Green Bones’ – a bloodline steeped in traditions of honour, discipline and familial ties. Until now, anyone without the correct ancestry and training to control the Jade who attempts to use it, ends up hopelessly addicted and can only expect a slow death from illness and insanity. But the arrival of a new drug that could allow anyone, regardless of blood or education, to wield the Jade sparks a change in the streets of Janloon that can only mean war for the entrenched Green Bone clans. Clans whose young leaders already know that Jade is powerful, but on a equal battlefield will have to learn quickly that power comes in many forms.
This is a great example of a well-crafted novel. Lee’s world is so well crafted that you are immediately immersed and don’t find yourself expending time or energy puzzling out its mechanics. In many ways it feels so instantly familiar that you come to an understanding with it without really noticing, and can turn all your focus to the complex interpersonal relationships which drive the story. It is all too easy to get swept along in the flow and lose hours in these pages.
The compelling narrative, while often fantastic, is at its core a very human one. At its heart are the people that are embroiled in this violent and fraught conflict, and their attempts to put aside their own personal problems for the gain of their clan or the good of their fellow humans, though in the end, I felt that the lesson this novel leaves the reader with is that you should not fight your own nature, nor expect the nature of others to change to suit you.
This novel is concise and well rounded, and I wouldn’t let the fact that it is intended to be the first in a trilogy hold you back. Kekon is a country I could happily return to in a year, or even ten. This book will still be waiting patiently on my shelf for whatever stories come along later to join it.
You can read an excerpt from Jade City on the Orbit Books blog here.