Ursula Le Guin famously criticized Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books as being too political – not really fantasy at all. I disagree, partly because I did enjoy Kurtz’s books as fantasy, but also because they’re not primarily political but religious, with politics as a facilitator.
Fonda Lee’s Jade City is primarily a political book – about a struggle for power between two clans – that happens to have some fantasy elements. Those elements are interesting, but the book never really digs into them; they’re primarily a motive and power source. The story wouldn’t have been vastly different if instead of bio-energized jade, the rare item had been uranium, or gunpowder, or steel.
That’s not to say it’s a bad book. It’s well written, well structured, the characters are reasonably developed, the world thought through (it’s a modestly alternate Earth). I didn’t, though, find it a very interesting or engaging book; it’s 486 pages long, and it felt that long; it didn’t speed by without my noticing. I also have the sequel, Jade War, which is 100 pages longer, and I can’t say I’m thinking, “I’m really glad there’s so much more.”
I do think political books have a genuine place in fantasy, and there have been a lot of them. This one has a promising setting and premise, but I didn’t find the characters engaging enough, or the magic intriguing enough, to draw me into the story, and without that, the politics just wasn’t very interesting. It’s possible that the next one will work better for me, but I can’t say I’m really optimistic.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.