What a magnificent read! A rich mix of characters, political intrigue, and family drama, Jade City kept me engaged from the first page to the last.
The story takes place in the city of Janloon, called "Jade City" by foreigners, and the only home of a very special form of "activated" jade that grants the people who wear it supernatural powers-- if they can avoid the psychological side effects. Traditionally, only the Kekonese, the native people of Janloon, could wear and use jade, but with the Espenian foreigners' creation of a drug, "shine," that mitigates the worst of the side effects, foreigners have an increasing interest in Janloon's jade supply. Although the city is nominally run by the king and his council, in actuality, it is run by the clans, whose fearsome Green Bone warriors skirmish throughout the city and whose weathermen control the commerce. With the patriarch of the No Peak Clan drifting into grumpy senility and the ruthless Mountain Clan progressively ambitious, tensions are becoming increasingly strained within the city. With new drugs on the streets, foreign intervention, and the clans at each others' throats, Janloon is poised on the brink of chaos.
The story follows the four family members at the top of the No Peak Clan: Kaul Lan, the cautious leader of the clan under the shadow of his formidable father; Kaul Hilo, the reckless Horn of the Green Bones; Kaul Anden, a precocious cousin trying to overcome his family's tragic history; and Shae, once a fearsome Green Bone warrior in her own right who renounced the family to live abroad and has now returned and is trying to start over as an ordinary jadeless citizen. With clan instability threatening all of Janloon, each member of the family is tested to their limit.
The story proceeds at a measured pace, fully fleshing out its main characters, from the certifiably crazy Hilo to the reckless yet analytic Shae. Anden's arc, in particular, is a wonderful setup for a sequel that I can't wait to get my hands on. If you're looking for constant adrenaline rushes and fight scenes, this probably isn't the book for you; to me, it sits more on the side of political intrigue and character development than rollercoaster ride. I think what stood out most to me was the worldbuilding, especially the parallels to our own history. The story takes place several decades after some sort of world war in which Kekon did not take part, but in which it was invaded by its neighbors. Now that it has opened its borders to foreigners, its culture and way of life is at risk by the insatiable greed of its industrialized neighbors. It's a surprisingly rich world, and one I can't wait to visit again. Count me in for the sequel!
~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook from the publisher, Orbit Books, in exchange for my honest (if terribly delayed!) review.~~
Cross-posted on Goodreads.