Janloon, the glittering metropolis that serves as the battleground for waring mobsters in Fonda Lee’s Jade City, feels both familiar and foreign. The silent temples, towering skyscrapers and mountain strongholds remind the reader of east Asian cities like Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo. One thing, however, makes Janloon stand apart—Janloon is a war-zone dominated by magic.
In a period of uneasy peace, tensions between two of the city’s largest crime families begin to escalate just as Shae, the youngest daughter of the powerful Kaul family, returns home to Janloon after years spent abroad. Her brothers Lan and Hilo, leaders of No Peak clan, are struggling to consolidate their family’s holdings. Shae is determined to forge her own path outside the clan, and tries to stay out of the violence and intrigue. But when the Mountain clan assassinates one of her family members, she is honor-bound to rejoin the clan and avenge her loved ones.
Fonda Lee might have found a home in the young adult arena with Zero Boxer and Exo, but her debut in the adult fantasy world makes an ambitious statement. In Janloon, Lee has created a fully realized universe in which to expand, with a solid magic system and boatloads of history and gravitas.
And what about that magic? Clan members carry jade, which gives them access to powerful abilities. Imagine if Michael Corleone could bend bullets, make himself feather-light or hard as steel. Lee choreographs jade-fueled battles with precision and white-knuckle tension. Jade City’s fights flow with a sense of purpose, visceral brutality and dizzying spectacle.
It’s impossible not to see the influence of modern gangster cinema in Jade City. A secret dockside rendezvous, dimly-lit back alleys and the rattle of machine gun fire seem to nod directly to a slew of famous mafia films. But Jade City is more than simple homage. It’s characters have not stepped out of a time capsule, but instead are actively confronting how their ancient traditions and magic fit into a modern, unforgettable world.