Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

In Jade City, Fonda Lee has created a wonder of a gangster action novel. Taking place in the city of Janloon – which feels like a Hong Kong of action movies – it tells of a war between two gangster factions, and of the control of Jade, which grants its user’s powers. 

Lee’s style is very visual, and I often found myself seeing this is in anime rather than motion. Action sequences are frenetic, with green magic being thrown and blocked by combatants. But this is not a world of super anti-heroes. What we have is a glimpse into a city that gets caught up in the war. There are business owners, government officals and small time hoods trying to survive or end the carnage that erupts in the city.

The main focus of the action is the Kaul family, rulers of one of the clans. This helps keeps the cast of characters down to the ‘must have a list of players’ that is often found in fantasy novels. Having said that, some of the minors characters seem a little underwhelming.

For readers not familiar with the tradition in some asian countries of placing the family name first, there could be confusion as you think all the family are called Kaul. However, the depth of Lee’s creation ensures this is soon forgotten.

As a person who spent their younger days watching Hong Kong films and anime, this novel is one of the best at grabbing the feel of these two genres. 

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