The 3 Ms of Fonda Lee’s Jade City: Mafia, Magic and Martial Arts

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Jade City combines what its author, Fonda Lee, calls the 3 Ms: mafia, magic and martial arts.

Lee’s talent for depicting complex characters struggling with both internal and external conflicts earned Jade City nominations for the Nebula and Locus Awards. The book is her first written for adults. (Her previous books, Exo and Zeroboxer, were written for young adults and both were shortlisted for the Andre Norton Award).

Fonda Lee

Set in the fictional post-colonial nation of Kekon, Jade City introduces readers to an economic system governed by family-run clans, where power is obtained through conventional assets, such as the loyalty of businesses and politicians, as well as through use of the gemstone jade. Jade’s special powers include strength, agility and the ability to deflect weapons. But to harness these powers, a Green Bone warrior needs both an innate affinity for jade and extensive training.

Speaking with me on the “Jade is Thicker than Water” edition of New Books in Science Fiction, Lee says jade was “the natural choice” for a magic substance. “In Eastern culture, jade is considered more valuable than any other substance. It’s been referred to as the stone of heaven.” It was also a natural choice for Lee—who has black belts in karate and kung fu—to require Green Bones to undergo years of practice before they’re allowed to use jade on the streets.

“One of the things I find frustrating/annoying about some fantasy stories is this idea that the magic is just given and you are just born with it, or you … get the magic sword and now you have the power. As any martial artist knows, achieving a level of proficiency involves a long arduous amount of discipline and schooling.”

In our New Books conversation, Lee discusses her characters’ struggles with tradition and the challenge of balancing their personal desires with familial responsibilities. She also offers insight into the writing process—specifically, how she managed to polish an epic tale told from multiple viewpoints into a fast-moving page-turner.

 

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