Summer had barely begun and already the city of Janloon was like a spent lover–sticky and fragrant. (Kindle loc. 125)
And with that line, Fonda Lee’s book grabbed me at the end of the first paragraph and didn’t let go.
The Kaul family are the heads of the No Peak clan, one of the largest Green Bone clans still remaining in Janloon, Kekon. The other clan, Mountain, is inciting a clan war, but doing it in such a way as to have plausible deniability. The old head of No Peak, Kaul Senigtun, has stepped down due to growing infirmity and dementia; his eldest grandson Kaul Lanshinwan is nominal Pillar of the clan (but Kaul Sen does tend to undermine him in odd ways), while his youngest grandchild, Kaul Hiloshudon is the Horn, but Kaul Lan inherited Yen Doru as Weather Man. Their sister, Kaul Shaelinsan has just returned from gaining her education in Espenia and wants nothing to do with clan business, while their adopted cousin Emery Anden is in his eighth year at Kaul Dushuron Academy, on the verge of being Jaded.
Everyone named so far is a Green Bone; one of the Kekonese who has the ability to use the power granted by Jade. And Jade itself is as much of a knife-edge as anything else that happens in the story–family and clan betrayals, Jade theft of multiple kinds, intra- and inter-clan warfare, death, illness, chaos and a family representing a country trying to hold at the same time its entry into the modern world and the old ways.
It is a brilliant book. I felt for the characters, the writing is amazing, and the setting was fascinating.
Lantern Men were jadeless civilians after all; they were part of the clan and crucial to its workings, but they would not die for it. They were not Green Bones. (loc 320)
Lee’s take on an Asian (possibly a hybrid of Japanese/Chinese cultures but I don’t know either well enough to know for sure, hence the non-specificity) fantasy country trying to find its way with the newness of self-governance as well as the Western World’s interest in both Jade and finding a way for non Kekonese to manipulate the valuable stuff for their own armies is both political and personal; by focusing as she does on the Kaul family, Beto, the would-be Jade Thief, and Anden with his family history of the trauma of Jade gone wrong (the “Itches” from carrying too much Jade are universally lethal) allows for multiple points of view of Jade, the clans, and Janloonan traditions.
When she was particularly serious, as she was now, he thought she ought to be the subject of an art photography portrait—her straight gaze so coolly intense and enigmatic it defied a viewer to guess if she was thinking about sex or murder or grocery shopping. (loc. 821)
Her writing is also breathtaking; workman-like in places as it should be but with these perfect moments of description that are dropped just so, like pearls in wine, perhaps.
I could probably write a novel of my own about my reactions to the book (for example, it just occurred to me that where one might find mirrored duos in other books, this one contains mirrored triads: Three women, and three men. But there’s more than that to it, so much more). And my fondness for Shae-jen in particular; she wants very badly to be her own person but she also doesn’t really know who she is. But she’s trying, throughout the book, to learn.
she no longer doubted that this was a holy place, a place where the gods might be paying attention. That did not mean it was a kind place; indeed, it was more dangerous than any other. (loc 6096)
I read this book in two long stretches; one of them I even forgot to eat! I will definitely be picking up the rest of this series as it comes out.