Review: The Greenbone Saga (2018-2021) by Fonda Lee

Martial Arts meets Urban High Fantasy meets Crime Syndicates meets Inter-Generational Blood Feuds, WITH a centered family drama so compelling that tears (or heart palpitations) are practically guaranteed. For fans of the Godfather, the Sopranos, and Succession.

Jade City Published 2018, 560 pages

Jade War Published 2019, 590 pages

Jade Legacy Published 2021, 713 pages

Published by Orbit

Lets set the groundwork.

Set on the fictional island of Kekon, The Greenbone Saga follows the Kaul family: Lan, Shae, Hilo and their adoptive cousin Anden over the span of roughly about twenty five years. This is a world where magic exists, but is situated or grounded in a reality that very closely resembles our own. Modern cars, cellphones, automated guns, glass-skylines and towering metropolises – in terms of genre, what we would deem urban fantasy. The island of Kekon is significant, in that it is the only place in the entire world where a natural resource, Jade, can be found and mined. Jade is highly sought after, with many groups vying for domination over the ownership, mining, and distribution of the resource. And for good reason. Individuals who are naturally disposed and or sensitive to Jade gain access to superhuman (or superhuman adjacent) abilities. Think the typical, super-strength, speed, telekinesis. Some individuals are naturally sensitive to Jade, while others do not feel its effects at all. However, beyond the ability to unlock super-powered abilities, Jade also holds cultural, historical, social significance with specific regard to Kekonese society: owners of Jade hold positions of higher social standing, and are usually revered, respected, and or feared. Individuals often adorn jewellery such as necklaces, bangles, earrings, and specific body piercings inlaid with Jade, as mechanism to show social standing.

The No Peak Clan, of which the Kaul family are at the top of the organization’s hierarchy, are one of the two main crime syndicates (or organizations) on the Island of Kekon that currently control Jade. The other rival clan, and the main antagonists for the entirety of the three-book series, is The Mountain Clan. The Greenbone Saga is told from third-person POV, with the series largely favouring the perspectives of the four Kaul children.

Clan leadership is composed of three key roles: The Pilar (the leader), the Horn (leader of the military branch), and the Weather Man (leader of the business branch). One would think that commanding a crime syndicate (or mafia) would largely entail military or sheer brute force exclusively, however, this author makes the very compelling case that business and political manoeuvring is just as significant in terms of domination and control within this world. At the outset of the series, Lan is Pillar of the No Peak Clan, with his younger brother Hilo in the role of the Horn.

Fonda Lee’s three-book series is quite simply astounding. I consumed these three novels, in which each entry numbers 500+ pages, within the span of a month (in between reading other books), and let me tell you: I did not want this series to end. You know that feeling you get when you become so invested in the lives and trajectories of fictional characters? Where slowly, your heart beats fall in complete synchronicity with the cadence of theirs? Their struggles become your struggles, both internal and otherwise? The ability for any form of entertainment, let alone a novel, to be able to do this, always astounds me.

If you are searching for that kind of feeling, and boast an appreciation for urban high fantasy with a very strong emotional foundation, might I suggest this series?

I need to give a shout-out to the narrator of all three audiobooks for the entire series, Andrew Kishino. He does a wonderful job of creating an experientially unique method of consuming this series. His performance in particular lends itself fairly well to the tone and idiosyncrasies of this story. I might even go so far as to say that his work did much to add a cinematic angle to the overarching story.

In a story beset with with clan politics and warfare, world-building, mafia-esque activities, magical super-powered abilities, martial arts, and training schools designed to produce Jade adorning warriors, this author always keeps the focus on the Kaul family. Lan, Hilo, Shae, and Anden each hold distinct personalities, and you will ostensibly come to fall in love with these deeply flawed yet relatable characters over the twenty-plus years, as they take control of the No Peak Clan from the previous outgoing generation. And I do mean ‘deeply flawed’; these characters mess up time and time again, especially in the face of such sophisticated antagonism seen in the leaders of the rival – The Mountain – clan.

The beginning of the series, Jade City, leans into full-out street war between No Peak and the Mountain, whilst its sequel Jade War extends these consideration in the spheres of political and business expansion while ramping up the tension between the two dominant clans on Kekon. The final book in the series, Jade Legacy, is something of a next-generation story, taking numerous time-jumps in terms of its linear storytelling and introducing the next generation of the Kauls and the Ayts (the head family of the Mountan Clan), while also concluding many of the plot threads implicated in Jade War.

To say that the final book in the novel was an emotional experience, would be putting it lightly.

I could not recommend this series enough to casual and devout fans of high fantasy. The series is a revelation in inspired urban high fantasy. For readers looking for the next great family saga, spanning generations, blood-feuds, while keeping a grounded tender humanity front-and-centre. Dare I say, I’ve found your next obsession?

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