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Derek Strikes the TBR pile and finds Fonda Lee’s Jade City

Saturday, October 27th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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I think everyone’s to-be-read pile is always in danger of collapsing on them so that rescuers can only find cat-gnawed bones. For that reason, I listen via Audible and don’t have a cat.

But still, my to-be-read pile is huge and growing and I’d been wanting to read Fonda Lee’s Jade City for some time. It just won the Aurora and did quite well with Hugo and Nebula readers. Also how cool does a magical Asian Godfather story sound?

Lee has created the world of Janloon, what felt to me as a kind of magical Hong Kong, set sometime after cars, airplanes and phones, but before cell phones and computers. It’s a world of increasing modernity and one where ancient traditions (magical jade) come into conflict.

The Kaul family and the Ayt family are the two big mafia families that run Janloon through politicians and businesses. The people of Janloon are the only ones who can wear magical jade without having major toxicity/withdrawal/addiction problems. In the hands of a trained green-bone, jade can enhance perception, strength, speed, toughness, etc and the uneasy stalemate between the No Peak Clan (the Kauls) and the Mountain Clan (the Ayts) begins to unravel with the possibility of a drug called SN1 which allows foreigners to use jade.

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What follows is a heroically, beautifully written kung-fu Godfather story. The patriarch of No Peak is old and retired and his grandson Lan now runs the business. His hot-headed brother Hilo is the Horn (the muscle side of the family) and an old uncle-type is the Weatherman (like a consiglieri — not the muscle side). Lan’s sister Shae is estranged from the family, having come closest to crossing into the completely modern world with a western business degree.

It’s hard to talk about events in the story without feeling like I’m giving spoilers, in part because everything matters, just like everything matters in The Godfather. Every facet of Sonny, Fredo and Michael’s personalities lead them along their inexorable paths. So too in Jade City do people’s sense of honor, family, love, anger and so on determine their actions, so much so that it’s difficult to narrow in on “an event” even though the novel is filled with action.

There are crosses, double-crosses, reconciliations, estrangements, and all that happens to families and enemies and businesses and friends. I really enjoyed immersing myself in Jade City and I think there’s a lot in it I’m going to have to mull over and unpack as a reader and as a writer.

I highly recommend checking it out. If you like fantasy and gangster stories, I doubt you’ll be disappointed!


Derek Künsken writes science fiction and fantasy in Gatineau, Québec. At this moment, his first novel The Quantum Magician is out everywhere books or audiobooks are sold. Also, his 8th or 9th Asimov’s story is in the Nov/Dec 2018 issue! Derek tweets from @derekkunsken.

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