Jade War is the second volume in Fonda Lee’s ongoing Green Bone Saga.
Ayt Mada has a simple dream: unify all of Kekon’s clans under her benevolent rule, the better to protect Kekon’s interests in a world filled with powerful, empires. The No Peak clan refuses to submit to Ayt’s Mountain Clan, so it must be destroyed for the greater good.
No Peak’s Pillar (leader) Kaul Lan had all the skills that might ensure No Peak’s survival in the face of the Mountain Clan’s aggression. Alas for No Peak, Lan was murdered, leaving the clan with Lan’s intemperate brother Hilo as leader. Hilo prefers direct, brutal methods. No Peak’s survival depends on Hilo growing into his unwanted role.
Hilo’s sister Shae has assumed the position of Weather Man, or strategist, to her brother’s Pillar. Shae has the smarts and skills to serve No Peak well. But Shae is regarded askance by her clan members: once, she briefly abandoned the clan to pursue an ill-fated love affair. Ayt sees an opening and mounts a rumour campaign against Shae. She’s a traitor! No one should trust her!
Kekon’s primary export, the resource that makes this backward culture of interest to the broader world, is magical jade. Those who can use this jade enjoy enhanced senses and strength; some become telekinetic. But not everyone can use jade. Those who cannot will go mad … or worse. Nevertheless, foreigners believe that they have drugs that will protect them and purchase all the jade they can afford.
Hunting down and killing anyone foolish enough to dabble in the illicit jade trade is one policy on which both clans, No Peak and the Mountain, agree. Or have agreed until now. No Peak is tempted to break with tradition and deal with powerful foreigners, thus protecting themselves against the aggressive Mountain.
The Kekon clans think of themselves as honourable, however short their actions fall of their ideals. The Shotarian gangsters and Espenian Crews with whom No Peak is dabbling have no such illusions. They believe in brute force. When No Peak wavers, the foreigners kill a few of the disobedient (from their POV). The foreigners believe that they were sending a clear message: “submit or die.” The message No Peak hears: “kill the enemies of the clan.” No foreign boss can withstand Kekonians willing to risk all for the honour of the clan.
Finally, a book that answers “what would have happened if the Corleones had decided to confront flamboyantly capable wuxia warriors.” If Vito had ever done that, there wouldn’t have been a Godfather III.…
This is a long book with a cast of thousands, so my synopsis is of necessity highly compressed. I didn’t even get to mention poor Anden, exiled to Espenia’s Kekonese ghetto, or the two minor gangsters (whom I think of as “those two Fredos”) whose short sighted greed helped kick the chaos into high gear.
While the jade-enhanced warriors of Kekon make a big deal of their codes of honour, the codes don’t seem to inhibit their leaders when it comes to scheming, lying, and murdering each other in their struggle for supreme power. But when others violate the code …
The first half of the novel moves at a deliberate pace, as the author maneuvers her pieces into position. The second half of the book moves at an accelerating pace. I wouldn’t have finished the first half if I hadn’t cared about the characters. Hilo and Shae are flawed, conflicted, and traumatized by the unpalatable decisions they are forced to make. I sympathized.
Recommended for readers looking for a super-powered Asian gangster extravaganza.