Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee - Book Review
OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Fonda is a winner of the World Fantasy Award, as well as a three-time winner of the Aurora Award (Canada’s national science fiction and fantasy award), and a multiple finalist for the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and the Oregon Book Award. Her novels have garnered multiple starred reviews, been included on numerous state reading lists, named Junior Library Guild selections, and appeared on Best of Year lists from NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, and others. Jade City has been translated in multiple languages and optioned for television development.
In addition, she has written acclaimed short fiction and comic books for Marvel. She is a frequent speaker and instructor at writing workshops including Viable Paradise and Clarion West.
Fonda is a former corporate strategist and black belt martial artist who loves action movies and Eggs Benedict. Born and raised in Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.
FORMAT/INFO: Jade Legacy will be published by Orbit Books on November 30th, 2021. It is 713 pages split over 63 chapters. It is told in third person between several characters, including Hilo, Shae, Wen, Anden, Bero, and more. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:While still reeling from the tragic consequences of overseas expansion, the Kaul family struggles to fend off threats to the No Peak Clan. Rising anti-clan sentiment in Janloon threatens the stability of the city, and the Mountain Clan continues to outmaneuver No Peak at every turn. As Kaul Hilo’s children approach the age where they can begin to take a hand in the family business, the Kauls grapple with the direction of the clan’s future. Can No Peak continue to stand against the Mountain and maintain its independence? Or can No Peak only survive if they submit to their bitterest enemy?
Jade Legacy is the breathtaking finale to a saga that captures the evolution of not just a family but of an entire globe. The Green Bone Saga has many strengths, but one of its biggest has always been that the author manages to make Kekon and the rest of the world feel like a real place. This series may be set in a country where people have super-human abilities granted to them by rocks, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like Kekon is just a plane flight away. Some of that comes from the real world parallels the story obviously draws from (the Slow War between two super powers, for instance, is analogous to the Cold War between US and the USSR). And while it would be easy to point to this short hand as a creative flaw, Lee makes it feel original through the fact that her story doesn’t take place inside either of the two global superpowers, but inside a tiny nation caught in the middle. Jade Legacy is partially the story of Kekon’s fight to survive while giants stomp around on its lands and meddle with its politics in an attempt to poke at the interests of their enemies. Kekon is not exactly innocent of its own meddling, but it is certainly outclassed.
The world building of Jade Legacy also benefits from the large timespan covered within this single book. Nearly 30 years go by between the opening page and the last, a feat rarely seen in the fantasy space (at least within the span of one book). That means not only long-term character growth, but also long-term evolution of technology and political relations. The technology of Kekon is around the 1970s when the book begins, and reaches 1990s or early 2000s by the finale, with computers and cell phones in full use. This isn’t a stagnant place where technology stays locked in time for ambiance’s sake. Kekon is as living as the rest of the characters, and that means it gets to grow up with them too.
Of course, you cannot discuss Jade Legacy without discussing the characters, the absolute lynchpin of this series. Love them or hate them, you always know where a character is coming from. I even found myself empathizing with Hilo, a character I have never forgiven after the Incident in Jade War. Hilo is not going to win any awards for father of the year, but at the same time he’s trying? Then there’s Wen, a shrewd character who has made a niche for herself in the family business, despite being unable to wield jade powers herself. I never thought when she was introduced in book one as Hilo’s girlfriend that she would end up being one of my favorite characters! And of course, there’s Anden, who has grown from an awkward teenager into a man fully capable of standing up to Hilo or making quiet yet ruthless long plays on behalf of the family. I could go on and on because there are some great new characters as well, but suffice to say, if character is your number one priority in reading, The Green Bone Saga was basically written for you.
It’s your utter investment in these characters that keeps you completely hooked in the story from start to finish, through all 700+ pages. Jade Legacy is not a fast-paced book, but one full of several explosive moments. In covering nearly 30 years, the author has had to be judicious in her selection of moments to portray; occasionally scenes might seem disconnected from the main story, but there is always a payoff down the road. The second half of the book is deliciously tense as each chapter seems to be Lee putting another piece of kindling into a pile, whether it be a brewing conflict between two characters, a piece of information another character doesn’t know, or a world event that comes out of nowhere. Readers can only watch helplessly wondering which character will drop a match and send everything up in flames.
CONCLUSION: And yet, even with all that tension, there’s a sense of almost melancholy, particularly in the final hundred pages or so. This is the end of an era for our original characters; one way or another they are passing the torch on and taking a step back. Knowing that these are the last moves these characters will make has a finality to it that made my heart ache. I’ve watched the Kaul family fight and bleed for their survival, using every weapon at their disposal, from street fights to national legislation. And now it’s done. There’s an emptiness in knowing that, at least for now, the Kaul family story is over. But that only proves just how much The Green Bone Saga has impacted me, that I feel a loss now that the series is over. It truly has been a saga, watching a family over the decades, watching their successes and failures, their happy marriages and tragic deaths. Simply put, The Green Bone Saga is a masterful trilogy of crime, war, family, politics, alliances and betrayals. It belongs on every “Best Of” list and is well worth your time to check out.