Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. Fuck around and find out.
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February 15, 2022

I really liked this book a lot. A lot a lot.

With that out of the way, how about some more specifics?

Jade City is the first book in Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga–and it is a saga, for sure. I haven’t yet read the next two books, but they’re definitely on my list.

This book centers on the Kekonese city of Jowloon, which is essentially run by two clans of–ahem–“legitimate businessmen” who run protection rackets, drive the most incredible luxury cars, and are technically governed by a constitutional monarchy but it’s clear, from the beginning, who’s running things. Jade is the source of the clans’ power and the country’s wealth. It confers preternatural abilities on the wearer, abilities that become stronger the more jade a Green Bone warrior is wearing.

The problem, is that one of the clans, Mountain, has been slowly building up its power base under the leadership of the merciless Ayt Madashi, while No Peak has struggled to maintain its position, in part because the previous leader of the clan, Kaul Seningtun peacefully transferred power to his grandson, Kaul Lanshinwan, but is still trying to control the clan through the Weather Man, Yun Dorupan (the Weather Man is the head of the business and intelligence branch of the clan). This is discovered when Kaul Lan’s disgraced younger sister, Kaul Shaelinsan, goes to the jade mines and audits the books and finds the proof.

The type of proof is near and dear to my heart: capital authorization requests and delegation of authority. This is going to get kind of wonky and I’m not the least bit sorry. I was, after all, a Subject Matter Expert in this and was in the process of working on a large project to roll out a new system to a company that spends $500 million in capital a year when I was laid off last year. After 18 yeas in it, I know this stuff.

In any company of size (excluding tech start-ups where apparently anything goes), there’s going to be a formal way to identify and authorize capital expenditures. Generally, capital items are items which provide a capability that wasn’t present before, extends the useful life of an existing asset, or other rules which are specifically laid out in the company’s accounting standards. So once you know if an item is capital, there has to be a way to permit people to authorize said capital spending. That’s called delegation of authority and the concept is that people are limited in how much capital they can authorize based on their role and level in the company. It’s called delegation of authority because it’s authority being delegated to them by the company.

So what that means, is when Shae discovers a piece of mining equipment authorized by Mountain clan’s Horn (the head of the military branch of the clan, as it were), that’s a red flag, because he had absolutely no business signing off on it. That gives Shae the information she needs to discover the extent of Mountain clan’s maneuvering and helps Lan to plot his course.

And then Lan dies and all hell breaks loose, essentially.

I’m not going to go into more details on what happens, but I appreciated the shifting points of view, where we could see each of the three Kaul siblings–Lan, Hilo, and Shae–as they saw themselves, which makes their interactions and clashes more resonant for the reader. I also really liked the interiority of the narrative, where the reader is privy to all the history, politics, and culture which provide the foundation of the narrative as a whole.

This is also a book about a country which was exploited for many years by imperial powers and which took their country back and is struggling to become more modern and respected by those imperial powers. It’s a delicate balance and Mountain clan has one path they want to take and No Peak has another. Really fascinating reading–it gave me a lot to think about.

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