I'm a commitment-phobe when it comes to books. Long books scare me. I like the idea of long books, and the satisfaction that comes from reading one to completion, but it's a long and grueling road to that satisfaction. JADE CITY is a long book. Goodreads says it's not even 500 pages but I'm pretty sure that's a lie. It took me several days to finish JADE CITY, when I can normally read several shorter books in a day. But commitment-phobe tendencies aside, there's really no way I'm going to miss out on a book that the author herself describes as a "wuxia gangster saga." Plus, friendships were at stake. I sucked it up; I read the book.
JADE CITY has a young adult-looking cover, but it is not a young adult book. It takes place in an alternate universe China-like country called Kekon where power lies with those special few who get magical superpowers from jade. The entire economy and power dynamic are based around who has the jade, and other countries want in. Unfortunately, only people who are Kekonese-born can naturally use jade. If you're an outsider, you have to use a drug called "Shine" but it can make you scratch all your skin off and shaves a couple decades off your life because it's hard on your body. But hey - superpowers.
The main narrators are Lan and Hilo, the two brothers who will inherit their grandfather's jade empire when he dies; their sister, Shae, who gave up her jade to live and work in a foreign country and has now returned to mend some of her burned bridges; Anden, a biracial and gay teen who is currently at a boarding school that is grooming him to become one of the jade mobsters while also doing boring things like math; and Bero, a boring-ass thug who got his first taste of jade and will do anything to get more. Anything. I don't normally like books with tons of POVs, but most of the characters in this book are interesting. The only one I didn't like was Bero, but thankfully, his parts were small.
The best way to describe this book is Mistborn meets Game of Thrones. Mistborn has a similar magic system where people get powers from metals (and bad things happen when they use too much) and the power struggles between different jade factions and outsiders were reminiscent of Game of Thrones' various wars and power coups. The title of the next book in the series, JADE WAR, makes me suspect that there's going to be even more of this, especially considering some of the treacherous things that those Mountain clans did to the Green Bones in this installment. Eep.
If you're into dark fantasy, JADE CITY is a good read. It's a bit longer than I'd like - I have trouble rationalizing books with long page counts, since most of them don't really need everything in them - but the pages go by pretty fast, considering. Plus, it's Asian-inspired fantasy that actually does the legwork integrating culture, religion, and tradition into its world-building, rather than just doing the book-equivalent of jangling its keys at you and being all, "Look~ easily recognizable symbols of archaic Orientalism!" That was incredibly refreshing, and one of the best parts of the book for me.
3.5 out of 5 stars