Jade City by Fonda Lee
With the ability to give humans super strength, jade is a precious commodity that is found only on the island of Kekon and jealously guarded by the mafia-like clans who train for years for the ability to wear it. But the Mountain Clan is intend on consolidating power into themselves, and now the Kaul family must to everything they can to stop all-out clan warfare in the cities, streets and towns—and prevent the outside world from gaining the ability to harness jade power through a drug called shine.
Okay, so my blurb was horrific but lemme just tell you that THE HYPE IS REAL.
I’ve never read anything quite like this.
Despite reading reviews saying this was urban fantasy, I was 100% expecting something along the lines of an Asian-inspired world replete with swords and horses and shit. Welp, the swords are there and the world is 100% Asian, but horses? Fuck no. These people have luxury cars!
There’s an interesting juxtaposition of the old ways with the new, outside world, where old traditions meet the outside and are forced to change, adapt and assimilate the outside technology and people into their own traditions. And grapple with the colonialist history and reality of their nation’s past.
Each Kaul sibling has done this a little differently.
Lan, the eldest and Pillar of the clan, is deeply entrenched in the clan traditions but is also much more open-minded (to the point where people consider him weak) to new ways of thinking. He is not filled with revenge (see: his letting his ex-wife run off with a colonialist soldier without killing either of them), but is intent on making things work inside the system. He’s about finesse and subtly and tradition, but tradition in the new way. He’s kind and tired and trying to do the right thing to protect his people, but it is not enough. He tries to appease everyone all at once, and therefore appeases no one.
Hilo is the thug with a heart. Well, a shriveled heart but one nonetheless. He openly embraces new technology and new ways of thinking while remaining entrenched in tradition (he thinks in terms of threat-no threat and with his fists instead of with subtly). He knows his place as Lan’s Horn and completely embraces life to the max, no matter what that max might be. He was harder to get a feel of, because there was his perspective and then everyone else’s—and everyone had a different opinion of him (well, varying shades of thug but still). He was a tactical, not strategic, thinker.
Shae was someone who I really wanted to love (and I did). She was the lone Kaul daughter, the former favorite of their patriarchal grandfather and the best of them—but also the prodigal child returning after leaving the family in disgrace. She’d been fully immersed in the outside world to the point where she removed all of her jade and lived as a normal person (albeit, a Kekon woman in the Europeanish Espenia) and tried to carve her own destiny outside of the one laid out for her. And yet family ran deeper than her own desires.
Anton was the half-Espenian, half-Kekonese adopted child, and I loved him. He was the younger sibling in so many regards and yet felt separate from everyone due to his adopted status, his mixed heritage, his queerness and his parents’ tragic histories. He was so smart and sensitive and kind, and I hope that everything goes well for him in the future.
Anywho, the world-building in this is absolutely incredible, as the history of the past completely envelopes and informs each character’s decisions in a different way, and each character (and villain) have their own motivations and goals and desires and most times these run counter to what everyone else is trying to do.
Everyone felt so real and live and morally grey and I just loved it all.
And the world-building. Have I mentioned that yet? Because holy fuck the world-building.
Normally I’m not a fan of super gritty grimdarky fantasy, but this was absolutely incredible, and had a heart and soul that a lot of grimdark just…misses (also most grimdark has violence on women for grimness and grittinesses sake and for ~reality~ which…I do not agree with). Lee has a way of writing beauty and horror that twines together in a way that is completely terrifying and yet utterly captivating and wholly human. I was enthralled.
I cannot wait to read Jade War, and I regret sitting on this book for so long! It was on my TBR for forever.