Book Review: Jade City

I’m always nervous to start reading a book that I’m also going to review when that book has already received gobs of praise from other readers. I’m always worried that it will be a letdown for me and I’ll be that one guy who craps on what everybody else loves. Thankfully, in the case of Jade City this isn’t the case.

Jade City is a vivid, gritty, gangster fantasy. I seriously enjoyed this read.

Click Here For Goodreads Synopsis: JADE CITY is a gripping Godfather-esque saga of intergenerational blood feuds, vicious politics, magic, and kungfu. The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities. The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection. When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

I should note that I sat on this book for over a year. Orbit sent me a copy to review about the time its sequel Jade War came out. Things just kept coming up that impacted my reading schedule (including other books from Orbit), and my Jade City read kept getting pushed back. I decided enough was enough and I couldn’t hold off any longer. But that worry I mentioned above about the book’s hype the last couple years really did have me worried I wouldn’t like it for some reason. My concerns about that got stomped into the ground in the very first chapter. From there it was just a matter of hopping on the bandwagon and holding on.

What I Liked

  • Asian inspired gangster novel
  • Magic system
  • Plenty of action and drama
  • Not knowing who will survive the story
  • Inspired worldbuilding

What I Didn’t Like

  • Not much


So yeah, there were a bunch of elements I liked in Jade City. The first being the Asian inspired gangster story. I can’t say I’ve read many Asian inspired gangster stories, or even American ones for that matter, but I do like gangster movies so that counts right? While we generally all accept that the mob is bad, and they do bad things, there’s always something about mob stories with their focus on family and loyalty and whatnot that seems to make us look past all the bad stuff. Hypocritical? Sure, I can admit that. But the story is usually compelling. Which is the case with Jade City. It’s a story with themes of family and honor, loyalty and betrayal, and the way they each inhabit and maintain the culture in which they exist. And gangsters, don’t forget the gangsters.

The magic system is one based on powers of various sorts derived from jade mined from quarries only found on the island in which the novel is set. While the magic system isn’t unique (other authors such as Sanderson and McClellan have used physical elements as the basis of their magic systems), Lee’s use of mined jade fits perfectly with the narrative and worldbuilding. What I especially like was that the magic system was never really explained. By that I mean how it works. All that you really come to know is some people are affected by jade, and many others aren’t. The mystery of how and why is explained through legend and myth and I ate that up.

There was plenty of action and drama to keep those with cravings for both very happy. Lee infuses her story with street gangs and martial arts along with the occasional gunfight. But every scene (action or not) is fraught with some level of suspense and drama. I was constantly left wondering if the other shoe was going to drop or if things would just end normally. But every so often Lee would amp the drama level up and you’d be left wondering who would survive to see the next page.

Which brings me to the next thing I loved…not knowing who would live or die. I mean Lee really kept you wondering whether any and all characters might get killed off. Which was interesting given how many survive the book. It’s just that each scene, even those that turn out benign are tinged with enough suspense to make you wonder if an assassination is coming in the next paragraph or once you turn the page. And every now and then, sure enough, someone dies. I loved that supense!

Overall the worldbuilding was fantastic. I sometimes hate saying that fantasy worlds seem/feel real, because of all the fantasy elements, but this one kinda did. If you take out the magical jade enhanced abilities some people have you’re left with a world that feels very much like our own if maybe in a different time period. It’s feels real and gritty and like you could step off a boat or plane and be there taking in the sights and smells and sounds. Then add the complexities of the familial bonds of the clans that make up the island upon which the story takes place and you’ve got not just a world that Lee has created, but the stratified cultures and peoples who inhabit it.

There wasn’t much I didn’t like about Jade City. If I’m looking for anything to complain about (and I’m not really) or for why I’m not rating it higher, I’d have to say it didn’t “give me the feels.” At least not in the way that has me balling in my chair, or like I’ve been punched in the gut, or that leaves me thinking about the why of things. It did have suspense and action which I love. What made Jade City for me was everything I said above, all woven together into an exciting and explosive read that left me wanting more come the final page. And in the end what else do you really need when you close the book except say to yourself, “I want more.”

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher*

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Authors: Fonda Lee
Series: The Green Bone Saga #1
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: June 26, 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 560

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Jade City

  1. The world-building in this was fantastic, Kekon felt like a REAL place. And not many fantasy novels set themselves in a secondary world where the technology-level is roughly the 1950s/60s. It was so different from what I was expecting and I loved it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m so glad you liked it! I think this was the first urban fantasy that I really enjoyed. I really loved that Lee was able to punch me in the face with this book–a thing she seems to enjoy doing. I hope you like Jade War!

    Liked by 2 people

      • I’m doing good! 🙂 And I don’t think you should rush about Jade War. The final book is coming out in September, so it’s probably better to wait, lest you forget what happened in the series (as I no doubt will by that time…)

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee | Off The TBR

  4. Pingback: Off The TBR’s Best of 2021 | Off The TBR

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