I just finished reading the Green Bone Saga novels by Fonda Lee and I think I have a new favorite trilogy. I’m serious when I say this is the best thing I have ever read. It’s more engrossing than LOTR, more fun than the Expanse, and unlike Ice & Fire, it actually concludes.
I’ve read a lot of fantasy that takes place in a fictionalized medieval Europe. I’ve read some fantasy that takes place in a fictionalized bronze age Middle East. Of course there’s fantasy that takes place in weird alien realms. The Green Bone Saga (Jade City, Jade War, Jade Legacy) takes place in a fictionalized 20th century Asian island. The premise is that wearing jade stones gives you magical strength, speed, perception, and healing. It’s kind of like Crouching Tiger-style powers. But jade can be addictive; side effects can be managed with drugs. All jade comes from Kekon, a recently independent island trying to find its way on the world stage in approximately the 1960s. The island is effectively ruled by Green Bone clans, tradition-based groups that rule the legitimate and less-legitimate business worlds with violence and a strict code of honor. It’s a feudal society transitioning to the modern world while gangsters with magical kung fu powers try to keep a grip on the traditional ways.
When fantasy is at its best, it uses the fictitious elements to explore serious themes while amplifying the entertainment value. The Green Bone Saga has very interesting things to say about the tension between tradition and change, the balance of violence, power and money, the struggles of immigrants finding their way in a new country, the changing role of women in the second half of the 20th century, how cultural exchange can add value to a society, and a lot of things I can’t even think of.
This epic spans about 30 years of plot and it was fascinating how some of these characters grew and matured. There were inflection points where characters had to make life-altering decisions, and I was on the edge of my seat. I think it’s a sign of great writing when you can’t predict when the characters are going to do; when the characters aren’t sure what they are going to do themselves. Some of these are horrific decisions and the characters never escape them.
I can’t recommend these books highly enough. Read them. You won’t be disappointed.