The Kaul family is one of several organized crime families on the island of Kekon. These Green Bone families use jade, which, with the right training, produces superhuman traits, including great strength, speed, clairvoyance, hardened skin, and so forth. Green Bones were instrumental in the guerilla warfare that occurred one generation ago to free Kekon from colonial rule, and this history realistically colors much of the underlying structure to the novel. The Kaul family, on the one hand, spends a lot of time and effort on retaining tributary relationships from the business folks in town, while also waging war against their larger Green Bone competitor.
Lee manages to pull off intensive world building, exciting political machinations, complex family relationships, and amazing magic and martial arts action scenes. This is a dense book, but it doesn’t weigh you down. There are a lot of characters all fitting within a hierarchy with titles and roles, interconnecting through marriage and alliances – but, in general, they are so well characterized and necessary for the story that it is well worth your while to get to know them.
I really enjoyed reading Jade City, and I tore through it, but I also felt very tense through most of it. There were a number of betrayals, starting early on, so my affection for characters was tinged with so much anxiety! Although I didn’t see myself in them, I liked the main characters too much – so much heartbreak, given the violent world they live in. I also worried about what would happen to Kekon as foreign interests and foreign conflicts began to intersect with Kekon and Green Bone dealings. The world Lee created is so compelling and the conflicts that flow from it fit the structure and the characters are flawed and interesting and frustrating – I highly recommend this book and definitely plan to read the next.