30 July 2019

Review - Jade War by Fonda Lee

Cover design by Lisa Marie Pompilio
Jade War (The Green Green Bone Saga: Book 2)
Fonda Lee
Orbit, 25 July 2019
PB, e, 590pp

I'm grateful to Orbit and especially to Nazia for a free advance copy of Jade War, the sequel to super Jade City, to consider for review.

I honestly don't think I'd ever read anything like Jade City, so I was eager for the followup and it didn't disappoint.

We are back on the island of Kekon, dominated by the clans of Green Bones, warriors able to enhance their strength and other abilities with the special jade found only there. A Green Bones can assume vast Strength, walk Lightly, Perceive others at a distance, Channel the jade power to hurt or heal, and use various other skills. In a setting loosely reminiscent of our world and centred on an analogue of Eastern Asia, the Green Bones are crucial to power on Kekon and their clans are key to wider political and cultural tensions. We see the aftermath of the Many Nations War, the struggle between tradition and modernity. And meddling foreigners.

Painting on a wider canvas than Jade War, this time Lee shows us other nations, especially the US- analogue, the Republic of Espenia, which, of course, shares its name with a continent (I was geekily delighted to see that its capital has a name which abbreviates to "AC".)  Espenia is where Anden has gone - Anden who at the end of Jade City, refused to be inducted as a Green Bones, a great insult to the No Peak clan with which he's affiliated. Sent into exile to learn the language of those influential foreigners, he finds solace in a Kekonese immigrant community which is struggling both to maintain its cultural traditions and to resist prejudice and gang violence in the poorer part of town. Lee gives a superb picture of first and second generation immigrants facing a host of issues, raising questions of assimilation and cultural survival as well as what happens when the powers of the old country come knocking.

Anden is a sympathetic and well drawn character, someone who's gone far, but, he soon realises, not far enough, to avoid Green Bones. The book takes time and gives its people plenty of room to develop, running over two or three years so we see Anden both as a wide-eyed newcomer (Port Massy is a metropolis, something he hasn't seen before; it has world famous sights and a multicultural buzz that's new to him) and as a shrewder, more experienced man, who's seen a few things, learned a bit and is in a relationship with Cory, soon of Mr and Mrs Hiasn, his hosts.

Also featuring in the book, back in Janloon, are Hiro, Pillar - leader - of No Peak after the murder or his brother, and Shae, Weather Man to the clan. She had her own issues with No Peak in the earlier book, eventually coming home to take her place (shades of The Godfather, I thought: I just love the way these books pick up beats from both the Corleone saga and from a mass of other literature and films - even while at the same time the characters warn against sensationalised Shotarian martial arts films about the Green Bones). No Peak is still in a war with the Mountain, the other main clan, and over the course of the book we see the conflict shift to and fro, enmeshed with Kekonese politics, national sentiment and a war between Shotar and Ygutan.

Lee realises this world perfectly, telling an episodic story that sometimes skips months or years then settles down to narrate a telling episode, a dangerous encounter for a character something that violently, unexpectedly illuminates the ingrained nature of Green Bones culture (I'm thinking especially of a couple of trips Hiro makes abroad, which dramatically contrast his background and personality with the cultures around him.)

It's a long book, but one I found I could happily immerse myself in, drinking in the detail as well as the overall arc. Just as good, if not better, than Jade City, Jade War delivers a compelling reading experience and a refreshingly different strand of fantasy.

For a sample chapter of Jade War, see the Orbit website here.

You can buy the book from your local bookshop, including via Hive Books, or from Blackwell's, Waterstones or Amazon.






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