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An intelligent, exciting, thoughtful novel that teeters on the edge between science fiction and fantasy. One part The Godfather, one part Dune, one part The Left Hand of Darkness, one part John le Carre, this book is also unremitting and unsentimental in its meditation on colonialism, imperialism, and gender politics. The characters are vivid, and their complex traits, sorrows, and weaknesses are entirely believable based on their pasts. Perhaps Lee’s most impressive achievement is making the reader care about and sympathize with leaders who are essentially ritualized gangsters, ruling an entire society through violence and the threat of violence. The narration of this story is splendid as well.
There’s a little something for everyone in this book. A lot of people have said it’s like The Godfather, but with a fantasy twist. Personally, I thought it was a bit more like a more modern twist on Game of Thrones. Magic? Check. Sociopolitical complexity? Check. Characters who must reconcile their ideas of honor and their goals? Check. I recommend this book for any fantasy fan who is tired of Tolkien-esque settings. Can’t wait for the next book!
If A Game of Thrones swapped out settings with Hong Kong and was made by John Woo, it might look something like Jade City. Instead of knights protecting the realm, jade-wielding clan gangsters protect the island of Kekon. It’s relatively contemporary — maybe set in an alternative 90s. Clan warriors from family bloodlines use jade — believed to be thrown down from the gods — to give them supernatural abilities such as strength and speed.
The way the clans matched wits, blades, bullets, and bodies against each other definitely put me in mind of George R.R. Martin’s famous saga, but the other thing I wasn’t expecting was how anxious I’d become for some of the characters and their fates. I was wasting time and gas sitting in parking lots or taking the long way home — completely worried about whether or not these characters would survive…and not all of them did. All in all, the characters were incredibly engaging and I was surprised by how much I cared about them.
Andrew Kishino’s narration is equal parts sharp and smooth. He has a knack for the character voices — differentiating them without making them sound silly and juggling this cast of characters.
Fonda Lee has made a new fan of me with this one. I loved every minute of it — even the minutes I was dreading. I can’t wait to hear the next book in this series and check out more of Lee’s work.