Audiobook Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade City is the first book of Fonda Lee’s terrific new series the Jade War Saga. The audiobook was produced by Hachette Audio, featuring narration by Andrew Kishino and running 19 hours and 7 minutes.


Jade City is the start of an exciting new epic urban fantasy series that takes place in the equivalent of the mid-20th century on the island of Kekon. The No Peak Clan finds itself facing challenges that could put its leading family as well as the island of Kekon itself at risk as a war unfolds with the Mountain Clan over the island’s most precious resource: Jade. The clans’ jade warriors, otherwise known as green bones, face off against each other in a struggle that sweeps aside kings and pawns like chess pieces in a masterful battle, leaving the listener to wonder who is really pulling the strings. As the battle builds and becomes increasingly desperate, the Kaul family realize that personal preferences and desires take second place to loyalty and survival, which at times seem to test even the strongest of their leaders and warriors and will leave you gasping and wondering how the first story could possibly end there… On the bright side, book two is coming soon!

I chose to read Jade City after seeing it nominated for a World Fantasy Award. It wasn’t on my list of books to listen to since I am not fond of gang violence and tend to pass over those types of stories. However, such a simplistic description of Jade City does it a deep disservice. This is not a story about gang violence. It is a story of an island, its people, its traditions and culture, and its jade—a very special resource that can only be found on Kekon and is coveted by the outside world, even if they can’t use its power. Moreover, it is a story about family, love, loyalty, pain, disappointment, and hope.

Fonda Lee creates a fully realized world full of texture and details that, especially in the audiobook, create a truly immersive experience into the mystical world of the Kekonese and the power of jade. The novel has such a deftly crafted sense of place, society, and history that it swept me along despite my lack of familiarity with Asian culture, and I soon found myself understanding pride, social class, honorifics, and traditions that are very different from my own. That was a side benefit that I truly loved and hadn’t quite expected. Listening to Jade City is like stepping into another world that is hard and tough and wonderful.

The narrator for Jade City is Andrew Kishino who does a wonderful job. There is a tone and grittiness to his voice that matches the texture and tension within the text without being harsh. He has an excellent sense of pace and rhythm and conveys urgency and emotion in such a way that you aren’t even aware of it until you feel your heart clenching in worry or in joy during those little moments of sunshine that keep the story from falling too far into a grimdark modern fantasy. He’s simply an excellent narrator and was the perfect choice for telling the Jade War saga.

There was a bit more violence and some swearing than I normally like to read. However, none of it felt out of line with the story and plot. There was a true balance between violence and need that kept it from being too dark while still conveying the dangerous nature of the people and place that comprise Kekon. The most difficult things about this story, especially as an audiobook, were the names, naming conventions, and honorifics. For someone who is completely unfamiliar with Asian cultures, it may be a little difficult in the beginning to grasp first names and last names, the use of honorifics paired with names, and familiar and affectionate terms of endearment. As a result, the first 20 minutes or so will require you to pay a little more attention to the story in order to track who is a Maik, a Kaul, an Ayt, and just a random character or clan member. However, it all becomes fluid and natural quickly enough, and you soon develop an intuitiveness for these things that actually heighten the sense of culture, community, and family within the story.

What truly works well within Jade City is the jade. Outside of the story world of Jade City, jade is an important part of Asian culture, and Fonda Lee does an incredible job of tapping into the already present sense of specialness that is associated with this lovely green stone. She then takes that innate sense of specialness and bends it to her will, weaving it into an exceedingly rare resource that provides some truly incredible powers that feel natural in a way that many fantasy novels do not achieve.

I highly recommend the Jade City audiobook. Anyone looking for a powerful modern fantasy novel/audiobook that embraces magic, modernity, and humanity, this is the story for you. Fonda Lee wrote a kick-ass book and Andrew Kishino knocked the narration out of the park. Jade City will make you think about the world just a little bit differently, and that is a good thing.

Happy listening!

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Audiobook: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Title: Jade City (Book 1, Jade War Saga)
Author: Fonda Lee
Amazon: AudiobookKindlePaperbackHardcover

Audiobook Publisher: Hachette Audio
Narrators: Andrew Kishino
Length: 19 Hours, 7 Minutes

Print Publisher: Orbit
Print Date: November 7, 2017

About Erin Underwood

BIO: Erin Underwood is the senior event content producer for MIT Technology Review’s emerging technology events. On the side, she reads, writes, and edits SF.
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