Review: Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee

Jade, the mysterious and magical substance once exclusive to the Green Bone warriors of Kekon, is now coveted throughout the world. Everyone wants access to the supernatural abilities it provides, from traditional forces such as governments, mercenaries, and criminal kingpins, to modern players, including doctors, athletes, and movie studios. As the struggle over the control of jade grows ever larger and more deadly, the Kaul family, and the ancient ways of the Kekonese Green Bones, will never be the same.

Battered by war and tragedy, the Kauls are plagued by resentments and old wounds as their adversaries are on the ascent and their country is riven by dangerous factions and foreign interference. The clan must discern allies from enemies, set aside bloody rivalries, and make terrible sacrifices… but even the unbreakable bonds of blood and loyalty may not be enough to ensure the survival of the Green Bone clans and the nation they are sworn to protect.

Publication details: 30 November 2021, by Orbit Books. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review

I fully acknowledge that I will be somewhat of an outlier with this review – if you want a gushing 5-star review, there are plenty of them available. And I’d almost be tempted to agree with all of those, because there is no doubt in my mind that Fonda Lee is an author to be reckoned with; I’m struggling to think of another epic fantasy series like the Green Bone saga, with its vibrancy and daring. But it also took me a week and a half to read this book, as some sections really dragged, and it didn’t always hit the emotional notes I had hoped for.

Jade Legacy spans about two decades of Kaul family drama, covering the lives of both the original characters readers have grown to love – and hate – since the first series, as well as the lives of many of their children, while also giving closure in various forms to many of the series’ antagonists. Lee’s best work comes in the form of character development, by which I mean character depth. All of the main characters are complex and multi-faceted, and it’s hard not to root for them even as they behave recklessly and demonstrate an abundance of pridefulness and spitefulness.

Lee also pulls no punches, as readers of the series will know – she’s not afraid to (literally) throw her characters under a bus, car or other heavy object if it’s what the story demands. Even three books in, I found myself shocked by some of the directions the story took, and found myself intermittently saying I can’t believe she went there – but I also totally can. The moments after these big, earth-shattering twists were my favourites, as Lee uses unexpected crises and tragedies to show what breaks her characters, and what makes them.

Unfortunately, I found the bits between these moments to be less thrilling. The long time skips meant we often skipped many of the emotional moments I wanted to see. It was particularly disappointing to me that this often happened in relation to my two-favourite characters, Anden and Shae, whose personal relationships outside the family were often glossed over, and there was less time dedicated to their personal triumphs than those of other characters. Others who have different favourite characters to me are probably unlikely to have this problem. (And I am very satisfied with Anden’s overall character arc in particular, when I reflect on the series as a whole, even if the journey was occasionally bumpy).

There was also often a lot of info-dumping about what happened in the years immediately preceding a time-skip, and at these points I felt like I was reading a fictional history with a lot of political mumbo-jumbo, rather than a story about the Kaul family. Other scenes felt like they were inserted because they were needed to advance the plot, but weren’t neatly sequenced with the scenes immediately before and after, which undercut them emotionally. There were parts of this book where I was just not feeling it at all, and had to keep pushing through. Ultimately, I wish this had been a four book series, with each of the last two books covering a similar time period to those before them, which would have allowed for a more intimate scope, and helped alleviate some of the emotional disconnect I felt.

All that said, I am in awe of the sheer ambition of this series and I hope we see more like it. I am personally not a fan of ‘grimdark’ books that seek darkness for darkness’ sake, but the Green Bone Saga is an excellent example of a morally complex fantasy series, where the characters’ suffering and torment (but also their triumphs) come from them having a variety of personality traits and flaws that play out in sometimes devastating ways – the Kaul family are jade-powered warriors, but they are also emotionally complex and ultimately fallible people. I’d definitely recommend checking the series out, for those who haven’t already.

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