Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan is officially my favorite Dark Horse pick of the year. This book was great and I am dumbfounded that it is a standalone. It’s such a strong debut, and I couldn’t convince myself it was only one book. I checked Goodreads multiple times to make sure I didn’t miss something, and I was so desperate for more that I even dreamed about Tan releasing a cover for the sequel. Sigh. I may only have one Jade Fire Gold but I’ll definitely be reading everything that Tan releases in the future.
Ahn is desperately trying to support her adoptive grandmother in their dying town. The encroaching desert has stripped their region of resources, and Diyeh priests are stalking the land in search of anyone with magic. Ahn tries to keep a low profile but one day she loses control of her rare and powerful Life Stealing ability. Meanwhile, Altan is in search of powerful magic that can help him take back his throne. As a young boy, Altan’s aunt and uncle killed his father, the Emperor, and Altan was the only one to survive after escaping into the desert. He’s had ten years to plot his revenge, and it’s time for him to finally make a move. As Altan sets his plan into motion, he’s unaware that his path leads straight to Ahn. Both will soon discover their destinies are tied together, and each one holds the future of the kingdom in their hands.
Tan sets a quick pace for Jade Fire Gold, covering as much ground as she can before her 400 pages run out. This story has all the bones of a great book but it did get a little lean in places. Tan made the space she had count though, and overall I really enjoyed Ahn and Altan’s adventure. Not every action scene got time to shine and some moments ended abruptly, but if anything, Jade proved to me that Tan could have expanded the world and built out her vision to a second or third book. It has all the makings of a series and while I’m greedy for more, I am incredibly impressed with what Tan was able to accomplish.
Here’s the thing. Jade has a great story and it will keep you entertained from cover to cover. However, quick pacing was needed to execute the lofty plot and it came at a cost. This is especially evident in the character development and their relationships. I found Ahn and Altan to be a little flat at times, but they have a solid foundation and are great for a one-book go. Altan is definitely the strongest of the two, but Ahn really started to shine towards the end of the book. That character development I crave so much was fast-tracked but I could see its potential if Tan had space for them to grow. The supporting cast was minimal but well-established. Their appearance often signaled a new sequence of events for Ahn or Altan, but I enjoyed their company nonetheless.
The only part I found extremely lacking was the romance element, but that might just come down to bad marketing. Jade is billed as this epic slow-burn romance – but do not be fooled – romance is not the first or even second focal point of this story. Tan devotes more time setting the scene and building up the action than creating connections between her characters. This isn’t a bad thing at all, I just think it’s important to set expectations. Space probably limited the possibilities here, but I recommend going into Jade knowing the “love story” is minimal at best.
Jade Fire Gold has a strong and interesting story at its core. It really gets me excited for whatever else June CL Tan may have in the works. For a standalone, Jade accomplished a lot with Tan’s rapid-fire worldbuilding and powerfully refreshing voice. Some of the interactions were stilted and the plot sometimes skimmed over key moments, but everything else was too good to ignore. The downfall is I selfishly wanted more, but only because I loved it that much.
Rating: Jade Fire Gold – 8.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to us in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.