Last month I read Jade City by Fonda Lee with the Subtle Asian Book Club, and I was blown away by the thrilling, high-stakes wuxia-inspired gangster saga. Think The Godfather in an urban fantasy metropolis where magic comes in the form of jade and two rival crime syndicates go to war, vying for control and power. There are territory disputes, assassination attempts, knife duels to the death, blood feuds to settle—truly a seamless blend of modernity and casual brutality in the gritty, bustling streets of Kekon.
At the center of it all is the Kaul family: Lan, Hilo, Shae. Three siblings with vastly different personalities and motives. I was a bit confused by the hierarchy terminologies at first, but here’s a simple break down: The Pillar is the leader of the clan, the Horn serves under the Pillar as the military leader, responsible for defending clan territory. The Horn has several Fists, who are senior warriors, and under them are Fingers—entry level warriors. Also directly under the Pillar is the Weather Man, who is the business leader of the clan, managing tributes, money, and investments.
Lan is eldest of the Kaul siblings, and the logical, pragmatic Pillar of the No Peak Clan. His ability to deal with clan politics and his farsighted nature makes him a great leader in times a peace, but with the ever growing tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals, war was inevitable. On the other hand, polar opposite in personality, is his younger brother and Horn of the clan, Hilo.
The Horn of No Peak is a complicated character. He’s a hot-tempered, brutal warrior who loves intensely and is fiercely loyal. He has a bit of a dramatic flair, but I like that about him. His men revere him and the enemy sees him as a greater threat than the Pillar. He’s the kind of guy you want on your side if you ever happened to be in the middle of a vicious clan war. Hilo showed up with 20 gang members at his enemy’s nephew’s apartment after his younger cousin got kidnapped—this man only knows how to negotiate in blood. He loves his clan and family above all else, and when things go south, he goes feral.
Shae is a character I sympathize with, but I was unsure how to feel about her for the first half of the book. She didn’t want to get involved in the clan’s business and struggled with finding her place back in Kekon. Part of me wanted her to forge a new life and identity for herself that didn’t involve blood and jade, but I also wanted to see her embrace her powers and fight alongside her brother. She really grew on me in the second half of the book and I’m excited to see more of her in the sequel.
Anden, the adopted cousin into the Kauls is a sweet cinnamon roll who must be protected at all cost. Power ran in his family’s bloodline, but so did madness. His grandpa was a war legend and his mom was known as the mad witch. He teeters on a precarious edge. The character that surprised me the most was Wen. She’s subtle and easy to overlook at first, but there’s far more to her than meets the eye. There’s so much to look forward to in the sequel, Jade War, but I’m nervous! No one is getting out unscathed, that much I know.
Jade City is intense, heart-pounding epic of family, loyalty, and honor. The world-building is ambitious and immersive, the fight scenes are explosive, and the characters come in all shades of morally grey. The trilogy concludes at the end of the year with Jade Legacy, releasing December 7th, 2021. Mark your calendars!
Did you know that there’s a TV show adaption in the works? The pilot seems to be done and I’m brimming with excitement at the thought of seeing these characters on screen! Subtle Asian Book Club hosted an amazing live show discussion with Fonda Lee herself (insider information!) so check it out here.
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