#REVIEW: Jade Legacy, by Fonda Lee

I have begun many a review with a disclaimer to this one: I can get caught up in my own enthusiasm about things from time to time, and sometimes it’s good, when I find that I like something, to sit on it for a couple of days and see how or whether my feelings about that thing abate a bit with the passage of a little time.

Jade Legacy is the third book of a trilogy called The Green Bone Saga. The first volume, Jade City, was my favorite book of 2018. The sequel, Jade War, was better than Jade City. I compared it, with no fear of being accused of hyperbole, to The Godfather, Part II. It was my favorite book of 2019.

Jade Legacy concludes the trilogy. I got an early copy. The damn thing’s not even out for you regular people until November. I was scared to read this book, guys. It’s hard to imagine a book heading into a stronger headwind than both of the books before you were the best books I read in the year they came out. The only book series I’m aware of that can even come close to claiming a stronger first two books are The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and we all know what happened to ASoIaF. Further complicating things, I went into Jade Legacy knowing that the book covered a roughly 22-year timeline, considerably longer than either of the first two books. Which … that’s tricky, right? You have to keep a narrative thrust going when some of your characters are literally starting the story as children and ending as adults. And there’s no way that doesn’t introduce a tonal shift of some kind from the first two books. But the book had the word Legacy in the name, and it was damn well going to earn it.

I am, in recognition of the fact that this book is not out for several months yet, going to write this as a completely spoiler-free review. Other than the timeline, I’m not telling you a single damn thing about this series. If you want to know the premise, go read my review of Jade City.

Here is the closest thing to a bad thing I can say about this book: it is not quite as good as Jade War. Maybe. I’m not even sure that’s true, actually. I think it’s the best book of the series about 40% of the time I’m thinking about it.

This is the best trilogy I have ever read.

Period. There are no exceptions. The Lord of the Rings is a more important series of books to me; I am too old for anything to manage to eclipse the level of importance to my life than those books have had. But I have never read a trilogy this good. Ever. Yes, that means it’s better than ASoIaF. Much better, in fact. It’s better than The Wheel of Time and the Shannara books and The Kingkiller Chronicles (let’s be real, though, we’re never getting Book 3 of that series) and anything else in the fantasy genre you might care to mention, classic or modern.

This is a work of simply staggering quality. It blows my mind how young Fonda Lee is, and the idea that she will be around to continue to write more books for a long time is just amazing.

If you haven’t read Jade City yet, you can go start now. You have time to read it and War by the time Legacy comes out. You can thank me later.

IT’S HERE IT’S HERE MY GOD IT’S HERE

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a publicist at Orbit Books, who noted that I had read and favorably reviewed the first two books in Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga trilogy, and was asked if I’d like to receive an early promotional copy of the book.

An early promotional copy of the final book in a trilogy where both of the first two books were my favorite book released in the years they came out?

An early promotional copy of the single book I’m looking forward to most in 2021, if not the single literal thing I’m most looking forward to in 2021? Four months early??

I think the first line of my reply to her was “Oh, Jesus Christ, absolutely.”

Like, this makes every second of the last eight years of blogging, or however long it’s been, completely worth it.

And now it was here. It’s not in great shape– I was going to do a whole unboxing thing, but the book was supposed to be here yesterday, and from the condition of the packaging I think UPS had it strapped to the bottom of the truck, and it was halfway out of the package anyway, so I just took it out and gave it a little hug to make it feel better.

I will now go finish Empire of Gold, which I have maybe 50 more pages of, and then we’ll see how fast I can devour this book. If there’s not a review up by this weekend, it’s because something’s gone terribly wrong in my life.

#REVIEW: JADE WAR, by Fonda Lee

I’m not going to bury the lede: Jade City and Jade War, the first two books in Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga, are the best first two books in any speculative fiction series since George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. And frankly, they may well be better.

I have been open about my affection for Jade City, the first book in the series. It was my favorite book of last year, and I reread it before starting Jade War, which just came out. I suggested in the end of my review of the first book that I expected the second novel to begin incorporating spy elements, and holy crap was I right. Jade War’s most impressive achievement is the way it effortlessly broadens the scope of the series to incorporate literally the entire planet, with not only the clan conflict going on but multiple overlapping and competing interests, from rival governments to crime gangs in other countries to any number of different ethnic groups, some in their home countries, some expatriates, and others refugees, and their (sometimes intermixed) second-generation children. The scope of the book and the ease with which Lee keeps everything straight and their alliances and motivations clear is astounding.

There are several maps at the front of the book, and damn near every place on them is relevant at some point in the story. And it does this without losing focus on the core figures from the first book: the No Peak Clan, now led by Kaul Hilo and his sister and Weather Man Kaul Shae, and Ayt Mada’s Mountain Clan.

The first book got compared to The Godfather a lot. I did it myself. And the amazing thing is that it’s not remotely unfair to compare Jade War to The Godfather, Part 2, one of the most acclaimed sequels of all time. It is, if anything, better than the first book– which, as the middle book of a trilogy, is damned near an impossible feat.

I went out onto my back porch this morning and sat out there for a couple of hours to finish the last 200 pages or so of this book. I legit had to wipe a couple of tears away when I finished it. I know I’ve already compared it to ASoIaF, but despite all of my reservations about how the last several books of that series have gone, one of its most outstanding strengths is how well-drawn its characters are. One of my weaknesses as a reader is remembering character names– I’m bloody terrible at it– and in both ASoIaF and The Green Bone Saga if I wanted to I could sit down and sketch out a character map with everyone’s names, primary affiliations and family relationships. The characters in this book are an astounding achievement on Fonda Lee’s part. I said on Twitter after I finished the book that she had the talent of any other six writers, and I mean it. As a reader, I couldn’t be happier that I get to read this series. As a writer, it’s fucking depressing, because my God I will never be this good.

I knew last year when I finished Jade City that it would be very high on my list of favorite books for that year, and it was my favorite book of a very good year. Jade War is better than Jade City. I literally cannot recommend it any more highly.

A brief, pointless whine

I am currently reading this:

And it’s really good! It’s incredibly engagingly written and it’s about a subject I’ve got a lot of interest and not a ton of knowledge in, which is a good combination. But it is dense, and I am maybe 215 pages into it, and it is five hundred pages long.

Yesterday this came in the mail:

This is the sequel to my favorite book of last year, which is this:

And which I’d kinda like to reread before I get into the sequel. But those are both big books too! And I also have this giant fucker also on my shelf, which is longer than any of them, and I’m psyched to read it too!

(Slightly different style of picture deliberately chosen so you can appreciate the medium-rodent-killing nature of this book, as opposed to the other three, which are more suitable for small rodents.)

I mean okay they’re books and the good thing about books is it’s not like they expire while they’re waiting for you to read them. But I kinda have a lot of shit going on right now somehow despite it being summer break? And the point of this post is if any of y’all have any extra brain cycles that you’re not using that you could loan me they would be greatly appreciated for the next few weeks.

That is all.

#REVIEW: JADE CITY, by Fonda Lee

34606064Every 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.