Jade City, by Fonda Lee, was a book I originally was not going to pick up. Then, a serendipitous amazon sale happened and I managed to pick up a copy for a dollar. You have probably at least heard of this book by now, as it has been nominated for a number of awards and received a ton of positive reviews. So I decided to crack it open and decide for myself it if lived up to all the good press it was getting. My general consensus: yes it is a pretty good book, but not really my kind of read.
Jade City follows the story of a trio of siblings in the Kaul family; Lan, Hilo, and Shae. The family business, which is somewhere between being a feudal lord and a mobster, has recently passed from a well revered grandfather to the oldest grandson. The trio must take over a failing family business, navigate a complicated political landscape, work through their personal struggles, and answer some mysteries plaguing their clan. Recently, Lan has become the head of the clan, Hilo has become the warleader, and Shae has returned from a self-imposed exile to reconnect with the clan. Each has some unique issues that they are dealing with, as well as some overlapping problems that they work together to solve.
Initially, I was pretty sold on Jade City. The plot is intriguing, the characters are likable, and the world is cool. Jade in particular is an interesting magic. Essentially, being in contact with the aforementioned stone can give you a number of powers: super strength, an iron body, and the ability to project energy like a weapon to name a few. However, handling the stone is difficult and requires rigorous training or it causes madness. It was a unique magic system I was excited to read more about.
My problems with Jade City started popping up about half-way through: the characters never felt like they were getting anywhere. While I was initially into the full cast of Jade City, the characters started to feel like they were just rehashing the same inner monologues over and over – never making any progress. It took characters that felt like they could be deep and nuanced and instead made them feel one dimensional. After about 50% of the book I don’t know what I could say more about Shae than she was smart and had mixed feelings about returning to her clan.
Jade City doesn’t do anything wrong, but I found it just wasn’t holding my attention as much as I would have liked in the back half of the book. I finished, and enjoyed, the first installment – but I don’t feel particularly driven to continue the series. However, if you are looking for some Asian inspired fantasy with a great premise, this might be right up your alley. I certainly seem to be in the minority with my issues with the series, so if it sounded cool you might want to give it a chance.
Rating: Jade City – 6.5/10