Review: 'Jade Legacy' by Fonda Lee
“Jade warriors are young, and then they are ancient.”
Book: finished Mind: blown Heart: shattered Soul: crushed Hotel: Trivago
What a finale. Words cannot express how much I love Fonda Lee for writing this series. The story picks up after the events of 'Jade War' and spans a total of 20 years. As a result, I feel just as aged and battle-weary as the characters. When characters and events from the first book are alluded to, my heart contorts in a sad, nostalgic longing along with Hilo, Shae, and Anden. Fonda Lee has gotten me to cry over this story, which is a difficult thing to do (only Madeline Miller and Andre Aciman have done that).
As the title suggests, this book is about the legacy of jade and the power that it gives its users, sellers, thieves. In a rapidly modernizing and changing world, the protagonists of the Kaul family question which aspects of their ancient culture are worth preserving and which must be changed. The younger generation must grapple with the violent nature of the Green Bone way while realizing the growing imperialist threat of other world powers setting their eyes on Kekon.
Bero as a foil for Hilo has been satisfying to read. Bero is everything Hilo stands against, and Hilo is everything Bero wanted to be, and later hated. We see them both make terrible choices, Bero guided by selfish greed and Hilo by selfless love and sense of duty. Hilo is entitled to power, privilege, and agency, while Bero must fight tooth and nail for it. They represent how jade can be used and misused, and it takes Niko (Hilo's nephew and adopted son) to break that cycle of violence. There are many great things to say about other character dynamics and arcs, but this one especially stood out to me.
Because this is a family saga, this complex theme is explored throughout the book. Each character is torn between their duty to family, and what they want for themselves. The time spans only make this fictional family seem more real and complicated, and there are unresolved issues from the first book that still come up in this book, making it feel even more real.
World-building is still one of the best things about this book. Lee carries, not only her characters through the decades but also her entire world. She subtly writes modernizing technology that adds to the plot instead of taking away from it. I would have liked to spend more time in Janloon streets and neighborhoods and get a vibrant picture of each district. Yet this doesn't bog down the story at all.
Overall, Fonda Lee stuck the landing. I recommend these series to everyone that loves unique fantasy concepts, good writing, vivid world-building, morally grey characters, social commentary on power structures, martial arts, gangster stories, and family sagas.