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.
Many of you may know that Jade City is my favourite book of all time. And not just ‘one of my favourite books’ – Jade City is the favourite book. And now I find myself in the strange and unexpected position of finding a new favourite book of all time. I have loved Jade City so passionately for years that I never gave thought to the possibility that it would be dethroned so soon. It’s not often you read a book where the second book, the middle book of a trilogy no less, is undoubtedly better than the first book, and yet, Fonda Lee did it. Jade War, the sequel to Jade City, has dethroned its predecessor as my favourite book of all time. Jade War is more brutal, more devastating, more emotional, and more than you could ever expect it to be.
So when Fonda Lee ran a contest on Twitter, tasking readers to come up with a Jade City-inspired art to win an ARC of Jade War, never in my life had I felt so grateful and excited to have some artistic ability. And when I won the giveaway with my fanart of Shae and received it in the mail (sobbing whilst opening it, obviously), I had no idea that, in my hands, I would be my new favourite book of all time.
Note: the following review is spoiler-free.
A STORY OF THE COST AND CONSEQUENCES OF WAR
Following the events of Jade City, the sequel follows the Kaul family of the No Peak Clan, one of two of Kekon’s most powerful clans in which jade-wearing warriors, Green Bones, pledge their loyalty and lives. With war brewing outside of their borders, the Kaul family find themselves balancing on a blade’s edge and faced with threats on all sides – the Mountain clan, foreign governments, criminal crime organisations, and jade smugglers. This is a sequel that takes the foundations built by its first book, and takes the story, its characters, and the stakes to new and terrifying heights. And hell, I’m still a little emotionally numb after reading it. (It was that good.)
At the heart of Jade War, the story is heavily centered on war, and the implications the conflicts have on the Kaul family. True to its promises, Jade War does have some incredible action and fighting scenes that will leave you sweating with anxiety and adrenaline (Chapter 31, friends! Chapter 31!). However, Jade War is more than just fighting with blades and jade-powered abilities; Jade War is about the machinations of wars played behind closed doors: manipulation, politics, leverage, bribery, allying with enemies, character assassinations (and actual assassinations), and proxy wars mobilised by rich and major powers. Though the perspectives come largely from the Kaul family, Jade War also explores the impact such proxy wars will have on people, particularly refugees, people in countries rife with corruption, and the lower class people who will do what they can to make it.
But if you’re not too interested in the political and economic machinations of war, don’t worry: Jade War still delivers a powerful and impressive story about the members of the Kaul family. At the heart of the story, the characters and their stories coalesce into a haunting narrative about the personal and familial costs of one’s decisions and their irrevocable consequences. I liked the characters in Jade City, but Jade War made me love them – the characters’ stories are incredible, well-paced, and true to their developments. The pay-offs too? Unforgettable and will make you even more excited for the third instalment of The Green Bones saga.
CHARACTERS BECOME GREENER – AND GRAYER
Although there are many reasons to love Jade City, I think a reason why this book is so bloody brilliant is because of its characters. Fonda Lee is such an impeccable writer; everything she writes is so tight; there is no room for loose ends and development that meanders, and it shows. Indeed, her characters are no exception; the characters in Jade City, in particular the Kaul family, are some of the most realised and thoughtfully developed characters I have ever had the pleasure to read. Jade City established ripe ground for brilliant character development, and Lee did not squander any opportunities to develop the characters in Jade War.
When I say that the characters become ‘greener’, I borrow the expression used by the characters in the book. Someone who is ‘green’ is someone who holds steadfast to their moral code as a jade warrior, a Green Bone; it is someone who adheres to their values as a Green Bone and their way of life and being. Indeed, the events of Jade War will test all the characters that you will love; it will push them to the edge, it will reveal how far they will go for their clan and their family. In particular, the story of Jade War will reveal the mortality of loyalty and honour, how tightly they will hold onto what they love and their way of life, and what they are willing to risk and sacrifice.
In the same vein, Jade War will delve further into the characters, their identities, and their motivations, as they grapple with new roles and responsibilities in the clan that will force them to make impossible decisions. Across the book, you will witness the characters change, growing into the people that they have no choice but to become, and doing things that they may regret for the rest of their lives – but all, in the end, for good for the clan and their family. If it wasn’t clear in the first book, it will be evident in this: the characters in Jade War are all morally-gray. But here is what makes Jade War a brilliant book (and exemplifies why this series is fantastic): even if you disagree with the characters and their thoughts and their motivations and their choices, you will understand why they do it. Which, of course, makes it a more nail-biting read.
I don’t want to talk too much about this because I think it is best left discovered as you read, but I unexpectedly found a few favourite new characters – some of which are old and you would have met in Jade City, but some of which are new. Though Shae still has a significant role in Jade War, you will see more of Wen as well – a character I was intrigued by in Jade City – and how her identity as a stone-eye (someone who doesn’t react to jade and thus can’t wield it; an identity which holds a lot of taboo) will structure the trajectory of her story, her choices, and her life. Be excited for the characters and their development in Jade War; it is fantastic.
THE WORLD GETS BIGGER IN JADE WAR
Friends asked me how I found this book whilst reading it, and the best word I could use to describe it was… ‘bigger’ – and I don’t mean that in the physical-page-number sense. Whilst Jade City explored and developed the city and streets and communities of the city of Janloon, Jade War will venture beyond the small island’s confines and will follow the characters on their journeys beyond its borders. Readers will visit Uwiwa Islands, spend a great deal of time in Espenia, and will become intimately familiar with the conflicts between the other nations. But not only do we become familiar with its geography and their roles and affect on Kekon, readers will also get an idea of how their cultures and values differ.
Naturally, as the world of Jade War gets bigger, readers will really begin to see how small the island of Kekon is in the context of the world stage and international relations. Moreover, Jade War strongly introduces something that was alluded to Jade City but was never really palpable: the perspectives of people outside of the city of Janloon, or the people who live outside of the Green Bone way. As the characters clash with foreign governments and thus different perspectives of how the world works, Lee powerfully and profoundly reveals how insular Kekon and the clans are through the outsiders’ prejudiced yet astute perspectives of Green Bones and their ethnocentric isolationist values. I thought this was brilliant, and I loved how these cultural clashes call into question the morality of the characters in the story, particularly the Kauls.
Furthermore, such differing perspectives will provoke readers to think about and confront the judgments made by the Kauls and those that oppose them – and the tectonic shift in how I perceived the Kauls was so riveting. I love the Kauls dearly, but I too later realised that I had romanticised the Green Bone way and was piqued (and later, impressed) that I had become so drawn into the Kauls’ journey and had fervently justified their decisions only to realise — wait, hang on. Quite frankly, this happens so subtly in the book (around Chapter 21?) and is one of the most affecting and powerful writing I have read in a long time.
However, what I found particularly interesting (and pleasantly surprising) is that a significant subplot is dedicated to exploring a character’s immigrant experience, and is thus confronted with individuals of diaspora in another country. I actually loved this subplot immensely. I enjoyed the explorations of how people of diaspora find and maintain pieces of their heritage as a process of cultural preservation of their identities and forming communities, whilst also adopting behaviours and ways of life typical in their new home which may be alienating and othering from the perspective of someone who has never had to straddle two cultures. In other words, it was so interesting (and validating) to see the implications of a hyphenated diasporic identity within this fantasy world, and the portrayals of Kekonese-Espenian identity and experiences were authentic and multi-faceted.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
All of us are familiar with books with ‘second-book syndrome’; where the second book feels like filler between the epic beginning and epic ending. I am pleased, however, to tell you all that Jade War does more than just live up to its sequel: Jade War takes everything that is good in Jade City and makes it excellent.
I’m calling it now: Jade War is the sequel of the year, and has set a high bar of how sequels should be done. Extraordinary in every way, Jade War is a shining example the incredible power of Asian fantasy and why Lee will forever be among my favourite authors. Lee should be proud of her hard work and of Jade War; it is an accomplishment and a masterpiece.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A clan family of jade-wearing warriors must survive threats from all sides as a war brews outside their borders.
Perfect for: readers who loved Jade City; readers who love Asian-inspired fantasy; readers who love martial arts and gangster dramas; readers who love character-driven stories.
Think twice if: you find it difficult to get through long books; readers who aren’t a fan of fantasy.
Genre: adult fantasy
Trigger/content warning: explicit sex scenes, racism, use of ableist terms (framed as wrong), refugeeism, war themes, death, gore, physical violence, murder, drug use, drug overdose, mention of rape.
I’m out of words. I love this book. READ IT.
- Have you read Jade City? Are you looking forward to Jade War?
- Who is your favourite character from Jade City and why?
- Do you have any adult fantasy book recommendations?