“‘Heaven help me, Shae,’ he whispered into her ear. ‘I’m going to kill them all.’”
Reading Jade City by Fonda Lee feels like watching a movie on a giant screen in an empty theater, the silence filled by roaring action and raw emotion. When the movie ends and the lights turn on, you’re surprised that you’re alone, that the characters weren’t living their lives right in front of you just a moment before. I’ve heard people say that you should write your book like it’s a film playing in your mind that seamlessly transitions from scene to scene. Jade City is a perfect example of one such cinematic book.
The novel revolves around the rivalry between the two major clans that control Janloon (Jade City): No Peak, led by the Kaul family, and Mountain, their cunning opposition. Although the protagonists are Kauls and I loved them, I couldn’t help but admire Mountain in some ways. Ayt Mada, their leader, has more foresight for the country of Kekon than any of the Kauls. As a calculating and enthralling character, she’s hard to resist.
That’s part of the beauty of Jade City. The entangled economics, politics, and alliances are thrilling to read about. Janloon is a city of moving parts. The urban world Fonda Lee has created is outstanding. There are so many little cultural touches that bring it to life: idioms, religious superstitions, and honorific suffixes are a few.
The fiercely loyal Kauls are fascinating and realistic characters. Lan strives to live up to his grandfather’s expectations and his late father’s legacy. Hilo is violent and hot-tempered, but his love for the clan runs deep. Shae, in search of herself, tries to find a balance between loyalty to her difficult family and independence from the archaic Green Bone society. Anden feels like a foreigner in his own country, haunted by his parents’ history as he struggles to control his untamed jade powers. They are a messy family, their relationships with each other rife with tension and unresolved bitterness. But their bonds with one another, each unique and complicated in their own way, prove strong enough to survive the war on their hands. Even the side characters are given distinct personalities and developed well without sacrificing the quality of the main characters’ storylines.
The plot is so clean and well-paced, though it is intricate and full of twists. I never felt confused or lost, even as the story got more complicated. The writing style fits the plot perfectly. It’s not flowery or especially poetic, but it describes everything from the action scenes to the quiet ones very well. The words just flow like they’re supposed to:
“Kaul Sen sagged and sat down on the stairs, his limbs folding like a rickety chair frame, his robe draping over his bony shoulders and knees like a sheet.”
Jade City is a satisfying and riveting masterpiece of urban fantasy. It’s bloody and fast-paced, which could distance the reader, but Fonda Lee kept me close to the characters the whole time. Everything is polished to perfection, from the fierce action scenes to the intricate worldbuilding and cold-blooded politics of Janloon. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys intense, plot-driven adult fantasy.