Novel: Jade War by Fonda Lee

Authors seeking an example of a superbly executed sequel would do well to examine Fonda Lee’s Jade War (2019), the second novel in the Green Bone Saga. Set in a rich, unforgettable world of magic-infused martial arts and complex geopolitics, it manages the neat trick of replicating the first novel’s success while also expanding its canvas, introducing plenty of fascinating new angles, elements, and wonders.

On the island nation of Kekon, the No Peak clan—led by its volatile Pillar, Kaul Hilo, and his resourceful sister Shae—has just emerged from an epic confrontation with the powerful, rival Mountain clan. But the survival of No Peak as an influential, magically empowered force in Kekon politics is about to meet new challenges. An overseas war has embroiled Kekon’s allies and enemies alike, forcing the rival clans into another reluctant detente for the sake of the country. Because Kekon is the world’s only source of jade—the mineral resource that empowers its formidable Green Bone warriors—external interests have become increasingly entangled in its affairs. Consequently, to expand their sphere of influence Hilo and Shae ramp up their alliance with the powerful nation of Espenia, as well as an overseas expansion of their business empire in that country. This effort, unexpectedly, comes to be shaped by their exiled cousin Anden, who has moved to distant Port Massy to start a new life. But the Kauls also find their hands full coping with international jade smuggling operations, run by foreign criminal kingpins hellbent on breaking the Green Bone monopoly on jade power. Its attentions thus distributed, the Kauls are put to an even bigger test, a struggle to maintain their advantage over the Mountain even as the wider world begins exerting a malevolent new influence on its objectives.

Sometimes the absence of a joy of discovery can bog down the second novel in a series, but that fate does not befall Jade War. This one maintains all the world-building and character elements that contributed to Jade City’s success, making it a welcome return to Janloon and Kekon, but the increased scope provides new avenues to explore. This is particularly intriguing in Anden’s narrative, which introduces us to a vividly rendered expatriate Kekonese-Espenian community in Port Massy, but also sees No Peak’s principals—Hilo, Shae, and Hilo’s jade-immune wife, Wen—increasingly visiting foreign lands or coping with international affairs. The resulting plots generated by this strategy are complex and intricately interwoven, making for another gripping deep dive into this intense and unique universe. Exceptional stuff.

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