2021’s Jade Legacy is the third volume in Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga.
Ayt Mada has a grand plan to unify Kekon against external enemies. Unfortunately for the surviving Kaul siblings, Hiloshudon (Hilo) and Shaelinsan (Shae), their No Peak clan is an impediment to Mada’s grand plan. There have been years of bloody conflict between Ayt Mada’s Mountain clan and the Kaul’s No Peak clan. Worse yet, Lan, the Kaul sibling who would have been the best choice to lead No Peak to victory, has been dead since the first volume. This has left poor Hilo to struggle in Lan’s place.
The larger context: great powers Ygutan and Espenia have intruded into Kekon’s bucolic world of bioenergetic jade-enhanced clan warfare. The clans have returned the favour. Conflict is endemic … and expensive. Both Kekon clans need cash, which overseas ventures might provide.
Complicating matters: jade can give its bearers enhanced abilities that border on the magical. Industrialized great powers believe that jade-augmented soldiers could be an asset. It is of little concern to them that jade has potentially lethal side-effects even in those trained from youth to manage them. The fact that Kekon appears to have a monopoly on bioenergetic jade is also of little concern. Where there’s a will (and overwhelming power) there’s a way.
Kekon would appear to be doomed to colonial status … were it not that it currently controls most of the world supply of jade. For the moment, it can play the powers against each other.
(I note that other nations’ perception that Kekon is run by contending gangs of superhuman martial artists  is something of a PR handicap, one the clans struggle to circumvent.)
Ayt has her grand plan. The Kauls have their plans. Mountain has more resources but to compensate for this, Ayt is smarter and better at her job than either Hilo or Shae. Any realist would conclude No Peak cannot win, that Ayt’s victory is merely a matter of time.
Or it would be if there weren’t other forces at play. There are more than two clans in Kekon; there are also clanless folk who have joined in a Clanless Future Movement. A meeting of all the clan is scheduled and the clanless have access to high explosives….
Digression about gangster stories. It may seem odd to cheer for people who can reasonably be described as gangsters. In this case, in the context of Kekon, the clans are acceptable as legitimate contending authorities, with widely accepted (if not always obeyed) guidelines to limit the collateral damage inflicted on bystanders . Violence is also socially acceptable, more so at the beginning of the series than at the end. This is not a static universe; social attitudes evolve.
Some readers may be think that Ayt would have made a better protagonist than Lan, Shae, or Hilo. She has a grand vision and she’s smarter and better equipped than the Kauls. Well, she is kind of a jerk. It’s no fun reading about smart, well-equipped jerks steamrolling everyone else.
The first volume in the Green Bone Saga was 495 pages, the second was 587 and the third is 736. It is a good thing this is the concluding volume because subsequent volumes might have required a forklift to move. Even this volume was a bit of a challenge; this took a fair bit of time to read because I am not as fast a reader as I used to be. However, this provided me with the opportunity to savour the epic story.
Part of the length comes from numerous digressions driven by the lamentable fact that all of the shiny shiny plans are implemented using fallible people in a universe in which Murphy’s Law reigns supreme . It does not help that even Kekonese are not immune to bioenergetic jade’s cognitive side-effects. Even without that, human-foible-driven chance plays a significant role in the novel, such as [GIGANTIC SPOILER] dying in a bar fight.
Despite the characters’ best efforts, the grand conflict is finally resolved and the trilogy brought to its satisfactory conclusion after three volumes and five years of waiting. On the one hand, I’m happy to have spent years of reading this highly enjoyable epic and found an actual conclusion at the end. Imagine that! On the other hand, now that I have read this, I don’t have another Green Bone Saga book to look forward to. That’s OK. Mixed blessings are appropriate for this subtle series.
1: In part because it is. However, Kekon is not alone when it comes to adopting casual attitudes to other nations’ laws. Each nation feels justified in ignoring inconvenient regulations if doing so would give them an edge over their rivals.
2: The most important rule is that jade-boosted warriors do not fight the unenhanced. Another fairly important one is that leaders do not turn a blind eye if a warrior who is otherwise useful begins to exhibit symptoms of jade-induced psychosis.
3: The novel focuses on the Kauls. Readers could get the impression No Peak is a collection of screw ups and Mountain is not. This is an illusion created by the fact that most of Mountain’s efforts are off-stage. However, we see Ayt make two monumental miscalculations, which suggests Mountain has its own issues. We just don’t see them.