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2 December 2021

#Review - Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee

Cover design
by Lisa Marie Pomilio
Jade Legacy (The Green Bone Saga, 3)
Fonda Lee
Orbit, 2 December 2021
Available as; PB, 716pp, audio, e
Source: Advance copy kindly provided by the publisher
ISBN(PB): 9780356510590

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of Jade Legacy to consider for review.

I seem to be reading a lot of books this Autumn that end, or at least pause, series. I'm not sure which Jade Legacy does - it certainly rounds off The Green Bone Saga in a satisfying way (that is with conflict, reconciliation, drama, heartbreak and loss) but in doing that it brings onto the stage a whole new generation of the Kaul family. And it's a book that covers such a long period - twenty years or so - in which so much happens that it's conspicouosly more than "just" a conclusion to the series. This book left me asking so many questions about what might come next!

Taking the three books together - the others are Jade City and Jade War - I'm impressed by the sheer scale of Fonda Lee's storytelling. Through all those books, her fantasy world has just hummed with life. Their focus is on the island of Kekon, a place inspired by South East Asian cultures and set in a wider world with enough echoes overall of our own to seem achingly familiar. That familiarity means that the key fantasy idea - of "bioenergetic" jade which imbues its wearers with almost superhero level powers, if they can learn to control them - just seems, well, everyday, and the politics and culture and codes and jealousies that arise from this idea appear as natural consequences of it.

What particularly comes across in Jade Legacy though is that this world isn't static, it's not just a background for the protagonists, it is evolving, technologically, politically and culturally. 

In technology, we start to see changes as camcorders and videogames appear; as Green Bones who get in a spot of bother on nighttime Janloon streets no longer need a phone box to report back to base, but can use a cellphone; as computers and then flat screen TVs are mentioned. 

In politics, the dominant power in this world, the Republic of Espenia, has been in a state of "Slow War" with a rival nation but is now stepping back form that (while leaving a good few small but hot wars to be fought by private contractors).

And in culture, the Kekonese-Espenian community is finally winning a degree of acceptance for its traditions, such as the use of jade for healing. One of the things these books, and especially Jade Legacy, do so well is to explore the cultural challenges faced by this minority community - placed as they are between the cultural milieu of Kekon with its Green Bones clans such as the Kauls' No Peak, and that of the self-proclaimedly "modern" Espenia which still has its criminal gangs or "Crews", many of them rather highly connected, and its religious fanatics devoted to Truthtelling. The rich layering of detail allows many aspects of this to be explored, from the family whose daughter, ensconced in a powerful Government job, chillily disrespects the Kauls' envoy, to the Kekonese-Espenian gang boss who earns opprobrium from his own community and from the Espenians.

Technology, politics, and culture. But there is much more here. The heart of Jade Legacy is, I think family, and love. New characters come onto the scene - such as Niko, son of murdered clan leader Lan, adopted son of the current leader Hilo, Lan's brother - and old ones mature and develop - it was wonderful to see Shae again and to find some of her wounds healing, even as she suffered new ones. But they all have to face the same choices, none more so perhaps than Hilo. Hilo and his wife Wen saw their relationship severely tested in Jade War, and much of this book circles around whether they can rebuild it: the emotional hurt and physical wounds went very deep. 

There is so much here about finding the right way forward - whether by embracing tradition with a twist (as does Jaya with her force of Little Knives) or by challenging or doubting it (as Shae had done before the Saga even began, as Anden did in Jade City and Jade War, and as others do here). So many themes and currents. What about those (like the indigenous inhabitants of Kekon) who cannot wield jade? Clan members so born are referred to as 'stone-eyes' and considered unlucky, but will they continue to accept that status? Others chafe at the arrogance and dominance of Clan resting on the laurels of their role in freeing Kekon during the Many Nations War. New ways of thinking, new ways of living (Anden finally finds love with another man), new demands for inclusion and recognition.

And all through the story, like a chorus, unlucky Bero, who we saw in both the previous books, a clanless man trying to carve himself a niche from the outside. Through chance or effort, he's caused grave hurt to No Peak but done himself little good in the process. Yet here he is, still trying and in so doing, casting a light on the assumptions which uphold Clan power (as well as giving an in to lots of new mischief!)

What else can I say about Jade Legacy? There is just so much to praise, I could go on and on. Loved characters with real human dilemmas, fears, weaknesses and, many of them, willingness to do terrible things. Nobody here here is exactly a hero. It would be easy to see many of them as a pack of cutthroats, even others in Kekon point that out. This world can be - generally is - patriarchal, hierarchical and kind of corrupt. At the same time, the struggles we see here have their own moral context and more, a deeply human appeal - Hilo and Wen seeking to repair their marriage, Shae trying to reconcile her role in the clan with a love that may do the family harm, Niko's need for his own identity, Ru's need to find a new way to be a member of his family.

None of it is easily achieved. There are so many frictions between these characters, and others, often accentuated for the reader because Fonda Lee's writing makes it impossible to dismiss anyone's perspective or to hope for a simple, single correct answer. And all this is being worked out as No Peak struggles for its existence against the larger, even more ruthless Mountain clan so that actions are constrained, resources limited and options often poor. 

In all, this is a glorious read, a zinging, exciting, absorbing book stuffed with drama and sadness, love, fear and tragedy. It wrung my heart again and again, but also had me punching the air, laughing and crying for joy. Whether it is the end for the Kauls and their enemies, or a pause, it is a terrific end, or pause, cementing this series as a magnificent achievement in 21st century fantasy.

For more information about Jade Legacy, see the publisher's website here.

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