Jade War by Fonda Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In this jaw-dropping sequel to Jade City, Fonda Lee keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. As the Kaul family battles to remain in the fray, to remain alive in the Kekon jade world, Lee broadens the scope of the story by setting portions in Espenia and the Uwiwan Islands. Following the stories of Kaul Hilo, Kaul Shae, Kaul Maik Wen and Emery Anden, we see ever mounting pressure on the No Peak Clan. Moving forward a year from the events of Jade City, Anden is sent to study in Port Massey. While he considers it exile, Shae and Hilo consider it an important opportunity to expand their presence into Espenia. And with his green heart, whether he wears jade or not, Anden soon encounters the expat Kekonese community that secretly wears jade. Meanwhile, back in Kekon, Hilo and the Maiks face growing strife with Zapunyo, a purveyor of illegal jade based out of the nearby Uwiwan Islands. They surmise the Mountain is involved, but how? And early on, Ayt Mada, Pillar of the Mountain, exploits the vulnerabilities of No Peak's Weatherman, Kaul Shae by bringing to light painful information about Shae's past, shaking the No Peak Clan and the Kekon community.
This world is so vividly envisioned that the reader feels like they are wearing jade, Perceiving these characters, these unfolding events. This second book is even more powerful than the first, in its exploration of honor and sacrifice. There were moments so chilling that I had to take a break from reading, and other moments so searing that I did the same. I continue to admire Shae's strength of character, her loyalty to her family, and her willingness to sacrifice for them in spite of her initial reluctance to be part of the dark world of the Jade Clans. Anden also remains a favorite character, and I'm left with hope for his future after the terrifying events at the end of this book. Kaul Maik Wen's stone-cold (and stone eye) courage is amazing in this book. I do, however, continue to feel so conflicted about Hilo-jen, who continues to be one of the most complex anti-heroes I've read in a while. For every positive attribute he has (his complete acceptance of Anden's sexuality, his love of children, his love of his wife Wen, his ability to lead his men, like Eitan, to see hope when they need it) he has a downright fiendish counterpoint. (What happens with Mudt is a case in point.) Hilo is less reckless now, but every bit as entitled and self-justifying as he was in the first book, if not more so. (Just ask Enyi.) And then there is Ayt Madashi, as ruthless and formidable an opponent as one can envision, a woman willing to do whatever it takes to advance her goals, who fluidly plays both ends against the middle and when necessary will just put the middle in a totally different place. These characters become so real and alive to the reader, that any adversity they encounter is breathtaking and chilling, and any success breathtaking and joyous (until you stop and think about the fact that we are talking about mob success.) Fonda Lee is such a master storyteller that she even has you rooting for that jade thief Bero (talk about anti-heroes!) in the end. Amazing.
How will I wait for Jade Legacy? I guess I will just have to listen to the 44 hours of Jade City and Jade War, beautifully narrated by Andrew Kishino, all over again.
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