Every so often, shit ends up working out the way I want it to.
I bought Jade City effectively at random– I was at a Barnes and Noble with a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and desperately searching for anything at all in the sci-fi section that looked like it had been written by a person of color. Jade City was on my Amazon wish list, so I’d come across it the title before somewhere, but at the time couldn’t remember where– and, in fact, still can’t. So I really bought the book for no other reason other than it was there, and it took me a while to get around to reading it.
You should go grab it and read it right now.
A Goodreads friend asked me the other day what “flavor of fantasy” this book was. It’s a trickier question to answer than one might think, because here’s the thing: this isn’t really all that much of a fantasy book. The best comparison I can make for it, honestly, is The Godfather. Except in pseudo-Japan, which in this book is called Kekon, and while the Corleones were pretty explicitly all criminals, the No Peak clan, which all of the main characters in the book are members (or aspiring members) of, is almost more like a local governing agency than a mafia family. The trappings are there, sorta? And no one in the book is ever averse to using violence or various other forms of street mayhem when it’s necessary? But there’s really no element in this book of having to hide from police, and if anything the book goes out of its way to emphasize how the clans help regulate the actual criminals.
So, the fantasy element: Kekon is the world’s only source of jade. Jade, in this world, provides superpowers to certain people, known as Green Bones, who keep it in contact with their skin. The more jade you can handle, the stronger you are; powers include strength, invulnerability, speed, enhanced perception, the usual bundle of Superman-esque abilities, more superhero-style than magical. Not everyone can use jade, though; some people are simply immune to its effects where others (including most foreigners) are quickly driven crazy by exposure to it. Jade exposure can also harm veteran Green Bones if they wear too much jade or go too far when using it.
So, yeah: Kekon is controlled by clans, and the clans tightly regulate the supply of jade and how much each clan has access to, and also how much can be exported to other countries. There’s also a drug, called Shine, that cuts down on jade’s negative effects somewhat, allowing foreigners to use it at high doses and cutting down on jade sickness in Green Bones in smaller doses. The drug is also pretty tightly regulated, although other countries are working hard at synthesizing it so that they can have their own Green Bones.
Take all of this and drop a clan war on top of it, along with a subplot hinting at no small amount of international intrigue– like, I can see future books in this series easily incorporating spy elements– as one clan begins smuggling jade to other countries without the others knowing and the other countries make plans to take control of Kekon’s jade production entirely. Throw in a pretty damn compelling intergenerational family story that doesn’t even need the fantasy elements, a couple of awesome woman characters, and a subplot involving a petty street thief and you have what is easily my favorite book of the year so far, and an early frontrunner for best book of the year. Fonda Lee is the shit, guys, and I can’t wait for the second book in this series.
Go read it.