Author: Fonda Lee
My rating: 3.6 out of 5
Loyalties and betrayals. Family and responsibilities. War and magic
Three siblings inherit the mantel of their recently retired grandfather. Overshadowed by the legacy of a martyr father who died for their clan’s freedom, and by his grandfather, who successfully led their clan through a war and through numerous years of peace thereafter, Lan struggles to prove to his clan and his enemies that he’s a ruler in his own right. Hilo was practically born to lead his clan’s army, but perhaps their opposing clan is right in suggesting that he’s too aggressive. Shae, the youngest of the three, left her family and clan far behind to study in a foreign university. Returning years later, she can see her clan from a foreigner’s perspective: brutal and medieval, notable only for the magical jade it can provide.
Jade City is a slow build fantasy novel with comprehensive world building and excellent well rounded characters. The general plot is about the No Peak clan being beset by their opposing Mountain clan, who are in a much stronger position, and have been planning their takeover long before Lan & his clan ever had any hint. Lan & Hilo are in over their heads, struggling politically and militarily to hold their clan’s position.
Aside from being a great fantasy with a fantastic mesh of modern-like politics and old world style mafia rulership, set in an Asian type culture, the story spends a lot of time on the characters themselves. The narrative swaps between several points of view – the three Kaul grandchildren and an adopted cousin of theirs. The POV swaps were done smoothly, spending a good amount of time on each character, so the reader gets to know and connect with each one in their own ways.
While the story revolves around samurai like warriors with supernatural abilities running around killing each other and trying to survive a war, the deeper theme here was about family and loyalty. The clan expects a lot from its highest members, leaving them to grapple with the sacrifices the clan demands from them, especially and even more so during the war. Each character faces a sacrifice for the clan, and as they’re pulled further and further along by the plot, they each need to ask themselves how much they’re willing to sacrifice of themselves for their family, for their clan, and what happens when the sacrifice becomes too much.
I enjoyed the magical abilities the warriors used. They required years of training to properly wield their jade, and they lived by a warrior’s code. Most of all, I liked the thorough and comprehensive psychological journey each character faced. They each had to make some hard choices and constantly faced tests of loyalty to their family and clan. It was a very long book. It didn’t have a lot of fast paced action scenes, but the pace moved along nicely.