Jade City by Fonda Lee – Asian-influenced Urban Fantasy + Martial Art + Magical Jade = The Most Amazing Book I’ve Read, Ever

Text: JADE CITY, Fonda Lee. Round 'button' on bottom-right showing

Xiaolong the axolotl holding her arms up, with green, glowing, and sparkly jade bangles on her wrists.Xiaolong waddles to you, holding a thick green book and her staff in her little hands.

“Friend!” she calls, her eyes twinkling and her pink gills perky. “I just read the most amazing book. But before I tell you about it, look at the spell I came up with!”

She puts down the book, and waves her staff once clockwise, then counter-clockwise, and POOF!

Xiaolong the axolotl, wearing jade bangles and punching the air with her right arm.

With a puff of smoke and golden sparkle-dust, two perfectly fitting jade bangles appear around Xiaolong’s wrists! She throws a punch once (though her little hands don’t have much reach; she is a spellcaster, not a martial artist, after all!), then twice, and next she’s doing a quick succession of jabs, the jade bangles crackling with power.

Scared that she might hurt herself (or you), you ask her, “So… what is this book about?”

She stops, blinks up at you. “Oh yes friend! Thank you for reminding me.” Xiaolong plops onto the ground next to the book, still wearing her jade bangles, and holds the book’s cover out for you to see. “So, this book is called Jade City…”

Summary:

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.

Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

My review:

Jade City is an Asian-influenced urban fantasy that pays homage to gangster dramas, and has elements of wuxia. But it’s more than just that – Jade City is a masterpiece that has everything from gripping fights between powerful warriors called Green Bones, to the politics of war, territory battles and family, to the tender moments of love, dedication, honour, and loss.

RICH WORLDBUILDING – WITH JADE AT ITS CENTER

Set in the backdrop of Janloon, a city torn by an ever-tenuous and unstable territory war between the rivalling No Peak clan and The Mountain clan, Green Bones rule the city, possessing immense influence and power over the city’s commerce, politics, and its people. When I think about fictional places that books have taken me to, the island of Kekon where Jade City is set, is among the most vibrant and well-realised places I have visited. The first few chapters of the book may be a little dense due to the story’s ambitious worldbuilding, but once the story takes off, it takes off.

To understand the complexity and thoughtfulness of the story’s world, it’s vital to understand the importance of jade. More than just a green stone, it’s a bioenergetic stone that, when worn, amplifies the power of its user. From the very first chapter, you will come to learn three important things about jade: 1) not only does it amplify power, it also denotes social power and status, and is thus social, political, and cultural; 2) jade is integral to the action of the story, from thrilling martial art fights to the catalyst of character development and motivations; and 3) people will live and die for jade. This bears true throughout the book, and the developments? You aren’t ready.

CHARACTERS DRIVE ITS BRILLIANT THEMES

An undeniable reason why I love Jade City is because of its cast of incredible characters. All are well-realised, their characterisations thoughtful and compelling, and have distinct motivations, goals, and struggles. I loved all characters, even those on the other side of the war. In particular the three Kaul siblings, Hilo, Shae, and Lan, push the story forward as they navigate the growing inter-clan tensions as well as their interactions with each other, layered with grudge, history, and hopes. Indeed, they were excellent drivers of the story’s themes of identity, honour, family, power, and who we are in wartime versus peace.

In particular, I loved Shae, an intelligent woman to be reckoned with but has struggles with her identity and predetermined role as a Green Bone after renouncing her heritage and destiny as a Green Bone and part of the powerful Kaul family. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of identity, duty to family, and how wartime changes us through Shae’s characterisation and perspective. Additionally, Green Bones are male-dominated, but Lee offers interesting and relevant female voices – and it is through them where I connected to the themes of the story. If you love autonomous, intelligent, and developed female characters (and, to be fair, the male characters are just as awesome as well!), then Jade City will enthral you.

SOME OF THE BEST WRITTEN ACTION I HAVE READ

If you are the type of reader the loves dialogue but finds action a little boring and you don’t mind skimming over a little bit – don’t worry, Jade City has one of the best action I have ever read. As Jade City is a blend of martial arts and crime family-esque drama, the fight scenes are violent, thrilling, and unfolds like a one-take action sequence where you’re too gripped to blink. Lee avoids cliché in her action scenes, opting for dynamic and fluid writing that stimulates the senses, as if we were watching from the sidelines, and is steeped with raw emotion, as if we can see the spirit of the fighters and the fight itself.

For those less interested in fighting action, you will be pleased to know that Jade City has plenty of political and character actions as well. Jade City is a book rich with machinations and immutable wills at odd with each other, filled with abundant momentum that, even if you put the story down for awhile, the world and the writing will pull you in as if you had never left. The story, as it unfolds, is deliciously addictive, filled with detail and complexity, and contains a fascinating subplot (featuring the frustrating but lucky thief, Bero) that are not only as compelling as but builds upon the main plot in unexpected ways.

MY CONCLUSION: I HIGHLY RECOMMEND JADE CITY

From excellent writing to a brilliantly plotted story to incredible and well-realised characters, Jade City is unparalleled in its execution. For me, Jade City is an anchor of what I would consider a ‘gold-standard’ book; it’s the kind of book where, after reading, will make you re-evaluate all of your favourites. I often shy away from hyperbole, afraid that if I said every book was the best book I had ever read, no one would believe me. So believe me when I say this: I think Jade City is one of the best books I have ever read, and it is easily my favourite – not one of, but the favourite – book of all time.

Goodreads | Book Depository | My short review on Goodreads


Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: Tension between two rivalling clans, who wear jade that amplifies their fighting abilities, erupts into a violent war as they vie for territory, control, and the fate of the city.

Perfect for: Readers who enjoy martial art films, crime family dramas; those who love the idea of an Asian-influenced urban fantasy; and those who love rich and complex worldbuilding.

Think twice if: Jade City overall is a heavy and dense read – the payoff is worth it, but not ideal for people looking for something light.

Genre: adult urban fantasy

Trigger/content warnings: violence, death, drug use, drug overdose, sexual assault (off-page), suicide (off-page), self-harm (off-page), explicit sex scene


Let’s discuss!

It should come as no surprise that the first book review that I’ve written on this blog would be Jade City. I love this book immensely; as I said, it has set the bar extraordinarily high for other books, and highly encourage you all to read this masterpiece.

  • Have you read Jade City? If so, what did you think of it?
  • Do you have any recommendations for urban fantasies or books that incorporate martial arts in them?
  • What is your favourite book of all time?

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What’s this?

Your chest has that familiar tingle again, and, oh look! A little and magical plant has sprouted by your feet, just like before. A new section of The Quiet Pond is now open to you: Reviews! If you ever want to revisit a memory with The Pond, you can visit the Features page and ask the Pond for some help with memory-magic.

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38 thoughts on “Jade City by Fonda Lee – Asian-influenced Urban Fantasy + Martial Art + Magical Jade = The Most Amazing Book I’ve Read, Ever

  1. Ahh I SO very much want to read this! Also because I see you constantly mention it on twitter and when people are so excited and passionate about books, it makes me very happy. 😍I do think I’ll see if I can find it on audio though because I do better with audio for dense/intense books!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Cait!
      Aw, that’s so sweet. 💛 Yes! Give it a go if you feel up to a dense adult fantasy. I heard the audiobook of it is really good, and I’ve been considering starting an Audible trial just so I can listen to it!!

      Like

  2. Such a brilliantly written review, CW jie. As always. I am so happy to let you know that I bought Jade City last night and I cannot wait to read it. Even more so after your well-balanced, informative review.

    I read the first 3 chapters on the train home and I can see that Fonda Lee is setting the stage for an epic novel. I can’t wait to talk to you about it! 💚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kevin didi!
      OH MY GOODNESS. I’m so excited for you and I can’t wait! If you ever feel inclined, I’d love to hear updates of your thoughts while reading! 💛
      I can’t wait too! I hope you enjoy the rest of the book, didi!

      Like

  3. Protect Xiaolong at all cost, she is too precious for this world. 😭 Jade City has been on my wishlist for a while, and I’m planning on getting it this month, because I’ve heard great things about it and the author’s other novels. I’m not the biggest fan of action-scenes, but I’m okay with them, and what you wrote about the characters + that it has “crime family-esque” drama makes me SO EXCITED. Fantastic review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Veronika!
      Aw, haha, THANK YOU! I’m glad you like Xiaolong (as much as she likes you)!
      Oh my gosh, I’m so excited for you to pick up JADE CITY! Don’t worry about the action – they aren’t long-winded, they’re crisp, and very compelling. But yes, the crime family-esque drama is absolutely brilliant and my highlight of the book. I hope you’ll enjoy it if you pick it up! 💛

      Like

  4. Such a wonderful review, and I love the narrative style! I am so excited to pick this up (again, because my library called it back O_O) after what you and so many other people have said about it! I know this is something I’ll love and you’re really inspired me to hunt this down!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have been seeing you recommend this book left and right on twitter but man this post sold it! I also just realized how much I have missed your thoughtful reviews. Jade City sounds like it has something for everyome 😍 Can’t wait to read it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Becky!
      Yay! I’m glad you’ve decided to add JADE CITY to your wishlist. It’s such a good book, and definitely a great contender for diverse fantasies – the storytelling and the way Lee integrates cultural elements into fantastical elements is amazing. I hope you’ll enjoy it if you read it! 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful review, CW!! I love that Jade City is an Asian-influenced urban fantasy and also has great worldbuilding! It makes me happy that you love it so much; I’ll definitely add it to my TBR. 💚 I honestly can’t choose one book as my favorite book of all time, but Autoboyography by Christina Lauren and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller come pretty close. ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so so much Dezzy! YES! I hope you do get the chance to read it. It’s wonderful and I think you’ll love it if you love Asian-influenced stories.
      Oooh I haven’t read BOTH of those! I definitely need to change that and read Autoboyography and TSoA sometime. 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I missed reading your reviews so, so much CW and I didn’t realize it until just now. It feels SO great to get back into your reviews, they’re so compelling, captivating to read and paint such a vivid picture of the book you’ve read, too, I absolutely love it. 😍 I haven’t read this book, but I have heard a lot of good things about it so far – I need to add it to my TBR, because I am so curious about this world-building and these interesting characters, too! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw MARIE!!! 💛💛💛💛💛
      This makes me so happy, and these words mean so much to me. I’m super glad to be back and reviewing again. And thank YOU for always supporting me.
      Haha, I hope you do get the chance to read JADE CITY! It’s such a brilliant book, one of my all time favourites. 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oooh, I’m intrigued! I haven’t heard of this one before. I love fantasies that do both – I love an escapist world but I need the character building to really engage and it sounds like this has plenty of both!

    I love your reviews ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh gosh Lydia! I’ve been raving about this book for almost 10 months now (haha!) so I’m SUPER glad that you’ve heard of it now. 💛 It’s such a brilliant story and one of my all time favourites.

      Aw, thank you so much. 💛 And I love YOU.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You will be glad to know that, while I read it as an ebook when it came out, I have finally ordered myself a physical copy of it!! ❤
    I went for the big paperback because I don't like the change they made to the smaller one *oops*

    Like

    • Hi Justine!
      Haha, thank you so much! Yesss I probably scream about this book a little too much on Twitter but I just feel like it deserves so much attention.
      I hope you get a chance to read it! It’s truly brilliant and I feel like you will enjoy it. 💛

      Like

  10. Amazing review, CW 🙂 I just added this to my TBR. I haven’t heard much about it but I am intrigued now. I love books with amazing characters and lovely world-building. Urban fantasy is not something that I pick up instantly, but I do hope to read it soon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m really interested in reading this book. I have an interest in Asian studies, so whenever I hear about an Asian influenced fantasy I’m ready to jump on board.

    Another really good fantasy novel that incorporates martial arts elements is The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. It’s not an urban fantasy like Jade City, though. It’s definitely more high fantasy. It’s one of my favorite books I read this year and is up there as one of my favorite books of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh I totally recommend Jade City then! It’s definitely a great book and you’ll definitely see its Asian influences across the story!

      Ooh yes! The Poppy War is great, and absolutely brutal. I can’t wait for the sequel – it’s going to be so intense.

      Liked by 1 person

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