The next book I read for the Tempest Bradford Challenge is Jade City, by Fonda Lee. Lee is a Chinese-Canadian woman, and this is her third book.
It’s an unusual book, what you might call “second-world urban fantasy.” It takes place in a city, in a modern context — there are planes, cars, and TV sets. But it is in an imaginary world, the world of the mysterious island of Kekon, somewhat like Japan, wherein is found the magical stone jade. In this world, jade bestows wu xia-like magical powers on those who have the ability to use it: flight, strength, enhanced perception, and the like. Usually I don’t dig this kind of stuff, but I saw this on the Popular Reading shelf at work, and it caught my attention for whatever reason.
The book is about a clan war between jade wielders (called Green Bones) in the city of Janloon on the island of Kekon, which has only recently emerged, along with the rest of the world, from the World War II-like War of Many Nations, and claimed its independence from colonial overlords in the aftermath. Two clans, the Mountain and No Peak, fight for control of the city of Janloon.
The clans operate mostly as crime syndicates: they run whorehouses, gambling, collect protection money from local businesses, smuggle things, and the like. The marketing for the book pitches it as a “fantasy Godfather,” and that’s accurate enough.
Woman author or no, I found this to be a very masculine book. Most of the characters are men, and since they are all crime kingpins, there is a lot of posturing, fighting, and general dick-waving. The women in the story are not fighters or enforcers; even the ones gifted with magical ability have the usual supportive roles you’d expect women to have in that milieu: wives, mothers, healers, caretakers. I was a little disappointed by this.
About halfway through, I realized the story Lee was telling was too big to be told in one volume, and I became very annoyed. I hadn’t bargained on a trilogy. In the end, she does manage to bring the story to a natural, if temporary, conclusion, but the war between the clans is obviously a long way from over. More books will follow.
This would be a good book to check out if you enjoy crime fiction and don’t mind magic, if you like urban fantasy, or if you want to read a fantasy set in a non-Western-style milieu, which I am always up for.