Part Hong Kong gangster tale. Part kung fu spectacular. At least, that is how Jade City was sold to me. Fonda Lee rolls out an epic here. Jade City is set in Kekon, a country whose lifeblood pulses with the possession, dominion, and commerce of jade, a mineral that gives its native children power and speed and energy. Lee builds a deep and rich mythology of two warring clans seeking dominance over the city of Janloon. How their escalation could have been prevented yet the denial of such treaties by prideful familial history. She presents characters that are troubled and honorable; deceptive and fun.
And through it all?
There could have been a lot more kung fu.
Similar to the importance of spice on the planet Arrakis, in the city of Janloon, jade is sought after, fought over, and powerfully abused. Those in control are the No Peak and Mountain clans. Using politics, influence, and even downright thuggery, the clans attempt to rule in peace. But really, who is satisfied with a piece when the entirety is there for the taking? Hence, the conflict in Jade City. Hilarity ensues.
Lee works history and mythology into the narrative without breaking stride or stopping the action for a history lesson. In the case of Jade City, seeing as how all the history is entirely a new build, it never comes across as pretentious or even boring. However, the juggling of multiple characters and their independent lifestyles does tend to become tedious and overly lengthy. The minutia becomes too granular when a sweeping sword stroke would have been ample.
Lee focuses her story on the Kaul family that rules No Peak. There is Lan, the brother who wears heavy the robes of peace. His brother, Hilo, who is the sword of vengeance and loves to hone its blade in blood. And their sister Shae who has given up her Jade but, like Michael Corleone before her, she is pulled back in. The Kauls are an interesting family and each wishes for the success of their family in their own unique ways. But the Mountain? I did not think they were the big bad villain as intended. No Peak might wish for peace and stability, but the Mountain truly understands the business of being in business. I would definitely like to see a tale set from their perspective. I think the arrogance of No Peak could be seen as downright frightening.
Jade City is an entertaining if overly long read. Hey, world building is always a task. And Fonda Lee creates a livable, recognizable one. But man, there needed to be more kung fu.