Jade City by Fonda Lee Review
The Green Bone Saga #1
166,848 words, 560 pages, 19 hrs and 6 mins to read.
Published by Orbit
4.11 out of 5 on Goodreads
Our rating: 4 out of 5
Jade City is the first instalment of the Green Bone Saga by Canadian author, Fonda Lee. The series is a fantasy story set in a vibrant and bustling city called Janloon, nicknamed Jade City, where powerful clans known as Green Bones vie for control. Green Bones possess magical abilities fueled by the jade they wear. The story follows the Kaul family, leaders of the No Peak clan, as they navigate political intrigue, rivalries, and violence in their quest to maintain their power and protect their territory.
Fonda Lee has stated that one of her goals for the series was to “write an epic fantasy that was not set in medieval Europe,” featuring “the scheming and politics and clash of noble houses elements” in a “different cultural setting but also different time period.”
Having just finished reading the first of the trilogy, I can say confidently that I think she has done just that.
If you want to know how best to read these books, as there are now short stories to add to the world built in the main trilogy, then feel free to check out our guide – The Green Bone Saga Books in Order
What’s Bad About Jade City?
Like usual, I’m going to start with what I didn’t like, or what just didn’t quite work for me.
I had seen this being compared to The Godfather and The Sopranos and other gangster stories and was initially really quite excited to get a Godfather-esq story with magic. All of the classic US gangster films and TV shows are some of my favourite of all time so I ultimately felt a bit let down on this front because, for me, it wasn’t like any of those. It felt so very different and at almost no point did I feel the comparison made much sense. So whilst it didn’t scratch my gangster itch in that way, it definitely had a more unique feel and felt like it had its own story and world. It was this which I ultimately really enjoyed, rather than another tried and tested gangster story.
I listened to this on Audiobook and whilst the narration is mostly good, sometimes I felt that the voices were a little too similar and that made it difficult to tell who exactly was speaking. In addition to that, the characters’ names and titles took me a while to get my head around as there are a lot and they’re very different to what I’m used to. This definitely sometimes left me wondering what exactly had happened as it was tricky to keep up with who exactly was doing what. I assume this would have been easier if I had read the written version but that’s something to note for anyone looking to pick this one up. (It gets easier though and now I’m half way through the second book and even though there are many more new characters, I’m used to it so keeping track is easier).
There’s not much else I didn’t like about Jade City. I think if I was forced to come up with something else I did think the pacing was a little slow and maybe fit the mould of modern fantasy a bit too well. But this is also the start of a large modern fantasy trilogy so it’s to be expected. The speed of things and variety of plot points does pick up around half way through and during the entire story most of the chapters flow really well in themselves, so this is a minor complaint and for many people won’t be an issue at all.
“Expectations are a funny thing,” Wen said. “When you’re born with them, you resent them, fight against them. When you’ve never been given any, you feel the lack of them your whole life.”
What’s so Good About Jade City?
One of the best things for me was the world building. I recently saw a Tweet by Fonda Lee about the importance of ‘telling’, despite the popular advice of ‘show, don’t tell’. Jade City is a wonderful example of how ‘telling’ can be used to great effect to build a thoroughly believable and rich world. There were many times during my listen when I truly believed this was a real place and that everyone within the story actually existed at some point in history (apart from the whole magic rocks part, but let’s ignore that for now!), which I think goes to show that if you ‘tell’ effectively it can be a priceless asset within story telling.
In a similar vein, I think the characters were also very strong. Even some of the side characters were fleshed out more so than, for example, the main character in my recently reviewed The Three Body Problem. Here, everyone felt real, with most characters having multiple dimensions, with goals, principles and challenges that truly made them individuals that were enjoyable to learn about.
Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed was the plot itself. Whilst sometimes a bit slow, there was a lot going on, from small scale personal missions to country wide political scheming that ended up changing the world. There was one main event that changes everything in the plot that I could see coming quite early, and especially when the build up to that specific scene started, but I was very thankful when it happened. I feel like Fonda Lee made the exact right choice and it led to some brilliant developments for most of the characters and especially the story as a whole.
Overall, if you’re looking for a refreshing, large scale fantasy with interesting magic, great characters and world building, and a solid plot then Jade City is a great read.
Let us know what you think of our review! If you’ve read Jade City we’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments below!
This review can also be found on Goodreads.