Jade War: An Asian-inspired mob drama

Jade War by Fonda Lee Jade War by Fonda Lee Jade War by Fonda Lee

Jade War (2019) is the second book in Fonda Lee’s GREEN BONE SAGA series and a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. It follows Jade City, which won the World Fantasy Award, and which you’ll need to read first (this review will contain some mild spoilers for that novel).

Jade War picks up a year after the dramatic events of Jade City. Hilo and Shae are trying to keep the Kaul clan’s empire together on the island of Kekon but there are numerous threats against them. Countries across the sea are at war, making Kekon’s supply of jade extremely valuable. The Kaul and Mountain clans, who have been at war with each other, control the supply of jade, which is heavily regulated. As dangerous black market forces become more influential, a clan that does not participate in the smuggling will be at a huge disadvantage.

Besides the political and economic issues that affect the Kaul clan, there are personal matters going on, too. They are still hunting the killers of their older brother. They are also hunting their escaped former Weather Man, an old pedophile who they had imprisoned after he betrayed them. They learn that they have a baby nephew they didn’t know about. Cousin Anden, who refuses to wear jade, has been sent to school in another country, but he still has a role to play. Hilo’s wife Wen, who has no jade powers, wants a job in the clan, but Hilo just wants her to have babies and stay home. Shae and Anden begin new romantic relationships. And, though there is a temporary truce between the clans, the Kaul clan is still trying to put the pieces in play to weaken, and eventually bring down, the ruthless woman who runs the Mountain clan. She does not have an heir.

Fans of Jade City will undoubtedly find much to love in the second installment of Fonda Lee’s epic which is an Asian-inspired version of mob dramas like The Godfather. It continues to be complex, brutal, and even gut-wrenching. (Seriously, my gut really was twisting while I read Jade War.) There are a few very touching scenes that almost brought me to tears, but I have to admit that I’m too wimpy for the GREEN BONE SAGA. While I admire the intricately built world that Lee has created, I hate it’s testosterone-drenched clan culture.

There are only three characters I liked in Jade War: Anden, Wen, and Shae’s boyfriend (notably the only non-bloodthirsty characters). After reading Jade City, I was hoping that Shae, who I had much hope for, would change her society. I still think that’s possibly where Fonda Lee is going with this, but it didn’t happen in this book. Shae is just as cold-blooded as the rest of them.

Part of me wants to hang in there and see this world change, but I hate spending so much time with these people in their culture. Readers who are much tougher than me (which is probably most of them) will like GREEN BONE SAGA a lot better than I do. (I can’t even handle The Godfather.) I’m not sure I’m up for Jade Legacy, the next GREEN BONE SAGA novel which is expected in 2021.   

Hachette Audio’s productions of the GREEN BONE SAGA are expertly narrated by Andrew Kishino. 

Published in 2019. In Jade War, the sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Jade City, the Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis. On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years. Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals. Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon. Jade War is the second book of the Green Bone Saga, an epic trilogy about family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of blood and jade.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Paul Connelly /

    The author is walking a fine line, which I think she does well, making this a thrilling crime-adventure while also deglamorizing the mobsters. They talk about “aisho” (only using jade against others who are carrying jade), but she shows how hollow that is when Hilo commits a murder (and an abduction) against someone with no jade and no ability to resist. That scene (you know the one) shocked me, which I’m sure was intended. And the Mountain’s enforcer does the same thing to the elderly No Peak legislator. Their “aisho” is a fiction, like all the talk about “honor” is in almost all hyper-macho violent gangs.

    • Hi Paul, you are right that she is definitely NOT glamorizing it, which I probably should have made a point of in my review. She is also adept at making the reader just start to care about these people (mostly Hilo and Shae) and then, just when she’s won you over to their side, they do something horrible that makes you hate them. It was an emotional rollercoaster. I’m too much of a wimp.

  2. Paul Connelly /

    These books are good examples of why the “fantasy versus science fiction” divide is really not clearcut and maybe not even valid (I tend to think of most of what is called science fiction as “technology fantasy”, a subset of all fantasy).

    The only thing in these books that is fantastic or unlike our reality is the type of jade that promotes extra speed and strength in humans. Everything else could easily be our world of the 1970s or thereabouts. Colonialism is still a thing, people still fly in airplanes and drive cars, organized crime is still intertwined with government, etc,

    Yet this book is classified as fantasy in the Locus awards while Empress of Forever is classified as science fiction. But there is far less science in Empress of Forever and much more handwavium that substitutes for magic. Is it just that Empress of Forever supposedly takes place in outer space that makes Locus consider it science fiction? Human space travel at this point (unlike 50 years ago) is looking much more like a magical fantasy than something that can really happen. Especially interstellar space travel that doesn’t involve relativistic time dilation and that manages to have instantaneous communication across astronomical distances.

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