Open the cover of a Fonda Lee Green Bone Saga book and you can smell the blood on the pages.
Autumn leaves, too. Strong tea. Watermelon soda and sea air, delicate perfume and gunsmoke. You fall into these books like a love affair — all rough physicality and surprise — but stay (across thousands of pages) because there's so much more to it than that. Laughs. Heartbreak. Depths that loom unexpectedly. Friends that come and go.
Mostly you get hooked because Lee has created a world that feels as real and logical and lived-in as the one outside the covers. Both more ordered and more chaotic at the same time. Deadlier and more beautiful. They are terrible temptations, these books. You pick them up and it's hard to put them down.
For the uninitiated, here are the basics: The three books in the series (Jade City, Jade War and Jade Legacy, the newest) exist, essentially, to tell the tale of the Kaul family of No Peak Clan and, specifically, of Kaul Hilo, his sister Shae, and their extended families. It begins when Hilo is young — just an arrogant, powerful, Green Bone street soldier in his family's criminal empire on the imaginary island nation of Kekon — and follows him through triumph and tragedy (mostly tragedy), across a 20-year war with the family's rivals, the Mountain Clan.
Kekon's clans are powerful. They are the mafia with a sense of national duty, yakuza gone legit and multinational, with skyscrapers and schools and seats on charity garden club boards. They do crimes like it's going out of style. They burn and murder and wage bloody war in the streets. But they're also the recognized power that holds Kekon together and defends the island against its many, many enemies.
They are also kinda magic.
Not like magic-magic. Not wizards-in-pointy-hats-magic or avada kedavra magic. But Kekon Island is the only place in Lee's urban fantasy world where one can find the science-y/magical bioenergetic jade that powers both the economies of her world and the borderline superpowers that it imparts to those among the Kekonese clans born with the genetic ability to use it to punch through walls, deflect bullets, almost fly, nearly read minds and generally behave like a bunch of old-school wuxia badasses in designer suits and thousand-dollar sunglasses. Jade is status in Lee's world. Jade is power. Jade (and vengeance, and honor, and pure bloody-mindedness) is why the No Peak and Mountain clans have been at war for so long.
Jade City focused on Hilo as a young man on the rise — younger brother of the No Peak Pillar and leader of his clan's Green Bone soldiers --and Jade War tracked Hilo through his first years as leader of No Peak as his generation grew up and assumed leadership positions within the clan during a time of non-stop war. But Jade Legacy is something different. The capstone to Lee's wuxia-gangster family drama does the familiar dance of bouncing between multiple POVs (centering largely on Hilo, his sister Shae, brother Anden, wife Wen, their son Niko and gutter-level hustler Bero — who has somehow managed to survive three books despite literally everyone he has ever met wanting him dead), and balances its focus between huge, history-making events and the small, intimate moments between characters that often shape the narrative even more profoundly. But instead of looking at a few months or a couple years in the lives of Hilo and No Peak, Jade Legacy covers decades. Its chapters fan out like a stack of photographs dropped on the floor — each a moment fixed on the page, set on a timeline so much more expansive than in previous Green Bone books.
And, yet, it feels more close, more frantic, more whole, somehow, than an unbroken narrative would. Hilo has been Pillar for 6 years when Legacy opens. The war with Mountain clan has become one fought politically, through spies and traitors, and in the press. It is a "slow war," and No Peak is losing. Wen is recovering from the terrible injuries she suffered during Jade War. Shae is no longer the trusted Weatherman (advisor) to Hilo that she'd once been. Bero has found himself tied up with a bunch of anarchists trying to bring down the clan system entirely.
And within the Kaul family compound, Wen and Hilo's children — Niko, Ru and Jaya — are growing up. We see them all in moments — in flashes, at their best, their worst, their most desperate or their most powerful. Hilo smoking furiously in his car after an argument with his wife. Shae wounded and bleeding on a barroom floor. Niko trying to puzzle out what leadership means in a world that makes no sense to him. Wen in a verbal duel with another wife at a charity luncheon, their battle as deadly as any knife fight.
Thirty years of love and war and vengeance and betrayal — that's what Lee is offering here. A long slide into an imaginary history glimpsed in explosive, Technicolor bursts, punctuated by the stutter of machine guns, sweetened by rice wine and almond tarts. There are deaths and defeats in Legacy that will rock any long-time Green Bone fan. Victories that feel so tenuous you want to dig your nails into the pages just to hold them tighter. It is, beginning to end, the story of Kaul Hilo struggling to keep his family safe and prosperous, of fighting off the onrushing future and losing a little bit at a time. Of the mortality experienced both at the wrong end of a talon knife and by watching the pages of the calendar turn.
The Damocles threat that Lee has let dangle over this entire series is that no one in these pages is ever safe — that the world she has created is dangerous and that everyone in it has a place where they end.
Ultimately, that's what Jade Legacy is about. Endings.
And then what comes next.
Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, video games, books and Star Blazers. He's the restaurant critic at Philadelphia magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.