Lately my experience with books that other people love seems to be not the greatest - I continue to search for books that will knock my socks off and make me want to come back to them, only to be denied. I know it's probably more about me than it is about the books themselves, but still...
Anyway, Jade City looked like a reasonable candidate for sock removing purposes, but for one reason or another failed to quite do the business. It looked like a reasonable candidate, having picked up a Nebula nomination along the way, however the solid and clever world-building proved just a little too mentally chewy for my liking.
The basic premise of Jade City is that it's set in the country of Kekon, which has just come out of a period of war where the jade-enhanced guerrillas who are now involved in two powerful gangs kicked out their foreign overlords. In this scenario, the possession of jade gives some people various powers and drives others crazy, with yet another group being immune to its effects either way. Ownership of this particular kind of jade, only produced in Kekon, means power and there's an added twist in the tale in that a drug has now been produced allowing those who otherwise wouldn't have been able to use jade to do so, including foreigners.
The main element of the story focusses on a particular family whose previous generations had been freedom fighters and who are now a powerful gang running part of the city. Lan is the gang's Pillar, in charge but still in the shadow of his formerly-powerful grandfather, while his brother Hilo is the Horn, a more hot-headed enforcer of his brother's decisions (and often his own). This is all shaping up to be a bit of a sausage fest with the main female characters being the head of the rival gang, Hilo's girlfriend and then a third member of the family, their sister Shae. Years earlier, Shae had set aside her jade and run off elsewhere with a foreigner, only to return years later, full of foreign ideas and education but initially determined not to get involved with either her family or the use of jade again.
There's also a sub-plot involving a young thug who desperately wants jade for himself, despite the fact it will likely drive him crazy, as his paths cross with the family and he's eventually semi-responsible for the death of one of them. I hadn't realised till partway through that this is also the first book of a series and clearly this individual is going to continue to be a pain in everyone's arse in at least the next volume if not longer.
It's clear that the writer has put a lot of work into the world-building for Jade City but for me, at least, there's a fine line between knowing your world and needing to tell the reader a bit too much about it. On more than one occasion, I found myself skimming past explanations of stuff that could have been more deftly handled than with a couple of paragraphs of info-dumping and that definitely affected how I rated this book.
So, once again, I find myself understanding why other people might have loved this book but saying the literary equivalent of: it's not you, it's me.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.
Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.
When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.
Recommended for people who love both The Godfather and kung fu movies.
I found I really had to be in the right mood to get started with this book (and it took me longer than usual to read it). I started it 3 or 4 times before I finally made it beyond the first few pages and discovered what a marvelous world Fonda Lee has created here. So it wasn’t the book at fault, it was my mood.
This is a fantasy world, where jade mined from the country of Kekon has magical qualities and some of the people of the realm have a special sensitivity to the stone. They get extra-special powers when they wear the stones, turning a regular person into someone with extra-strength, super-perception, etc. (they are known in Kekon as Green Bones). It’s real Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuff.
But this is very, very much a book about the two clans who uneasily share the city of Janloon, the No Peak clan and the Mountain clan. And let me tell you, they could give the Mafia a run for their money! It’s all about honour, family, & clan. May the gods help you if you disrespect any of these or if you try to trade loyalties!
The reader comes to know the main members of the No Peak clan intimately. There’s Lan, the Pillar (like the CEO) of the clan; Hilo, the Horn (the enforcer); and Shae, the sister who is trying to forge her own way in the world and separate herself from the gang lifestyle that she grew up with.
This is an extremely well-written, well-realized fantasy world. To my caucasian, North American eyes, this was exotic stuff, but I always knew what Lee was writing about, what she was trying to do. I loved her complex system of magic and the rules that governed it. If you’re sensitive about violence, I would say, “Set this book down and walk away. Jade City is not for you.” That’s one of the reasons why it took me so long to read the book—I could only take so much death & destruction per day.
This author will be at the conference that I’m attending in mid-August and I will definitely be fan-girling.