Nadia Elbaar Reviews Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee

Jade Legacy, Fonda Lee (Orbit 978-0-31644-097-4, $28.00, 736pp, hc) November 2021.

Jade Legacy is the final book in Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga. The trilogy, starting with Jade City (which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2018) and followed by Jade War, presents an ingenious blend of high-stakes mafia plots with the fantastic martial arts of Chinese wuxias.

Set in a continent analogous to 20th-century Asia, in the small island nation of Kekon, the trilogy’s focus is the blood feud between the country’s most powerful Green Bone clans: No Peak and Mountain. Kekon is the only country in the world to mine and process jade, and only Kekonese Green Bones possess the necessary genetics and martial discipline to gain superhu­man abilities by wearing jade, direct exposure to which otherwise causes gruesome, fatal reactions in humans. In the decades since Green Bone war­riors liberated Kekon from imperialist occupation, the Green Bone clans now rule most aspects of civilian life, promising protection and support in exchange for tribute payments and sworn loyalty. Jade Legacy revisits the Kaul family – No Peak’s leaders – years into their war with the Mountain, the outcome of which directly shapes the future of Kekon.

Jade Legacy begins with the aftermath of Jade War, as the Kauls heal from betrayal and more of the world turn their attention to Kekon and its jade. In Jade Legacy, Kaul Hilo (Pillar of No Peak) confronts a new, unnerving reality in which – courtesy of modern medicine and mercenary greed – jade is commercialized and then weaponized by non-Kekonese in other parts of the world. His sister Shae, the clan’s business head, is now charged with forecasting the Slow War between global superpowers and its effects on Kekon, persuading private businesses and national policies to align with No Peak, and personally dis­mantling the Mountain’s continued advantage over her clan. New, ambivalent public opinion further complicates things, as the Clanless Future Move­ment and their mission to abolish the hegemony of Green Bones gains momentum in Kekon. In the previous books (Jade City and Jade War), Green Bones have been secure in their jade-earned status, honor code, and Kekonese identity – and this is challenged in Jade Legacy.

The next-generation Kauls face their own problems on top of inheriting their parents’ battles in Jade Legacy. With Kekonese culture in flux, Kaul Niko questions his birthright as the future Pillar of No Peak and his purpose for wearing jade. Conversely, his brother Ru has to reconcile being born into a powerful Green Bone family with his genetic nonreactivity to jade. Like all female Green Bones, their younger sister Jaya has to constantly assert her place among Kekon’s traditionally-male warrior class, even to her own family. Perhaps the only Kaul family member not dealing with personal turmoil in Jade Legacy is Emery Anden, cousin of Hilo and Shae, in no small part because he had already worked through most of his complicated identity ahead of anyone else in the previous books. Anden’s role as a source of sympathy and stability in the Kaul household is critical, as Jade Legacy traces what the Kauls owe the past and what they pass on to the future.

Jade Legacy’s worldbuilding is expansive: chronicling twenty years of the Kaul family and global affairs. It is too expansive, at times, for new characters other than the Kauls to be anything but uncomplicated mouthpieces for specific ideals or recounting of events that aren’t glossed-over.

Still, what the expansive scope in Jade Legacy accomplishes is portraying a world much more familiar than in previous books. While there’s no direct equivalence between Jade Legacy’s world and our world, the sociopolitical echoes are hard to miss. As Jade Legacy progresses, nuanced commentary on gender roles, hyphen­ated identities, disability, and more of today’s challenges present themselves in Green Bone analogs and how they affect the Kauls. Examples of this include the skepticism towards clan women with high rank, the complex allegiances of the Kekonese-Espenians, and the lives of stone-eyes. Jade Legacy’s characters and setting are more approachable as Lee reveals more of how their world closely resembles our own, and the overall plot resonates much more easily.

With Jade Legacy, Fonda Lee’s uniquely addic­tive “wuxia gangster saga” comes to an end. The final book of the Green Bone Saga has all of the brilliant elements expected from the series: heart­felt characters mixed with sharp mafia intrigue, dramatic life-or-deaths, slick fight scenes, and inextricably Asian motifs. Jade Legacy delivers a worthy conclusion to No Peak’s war with the Mountain, and the Kauls left such a lasting impres­sion that I will be nostalgic about the Green Bone Saga for a while.

This review and more like it in the November 2021 issue of Locus.

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