In Other Words: Jade City

In Other Words: Jade City

In fantasy urban Japan, two gangs compete for dominance using magic gifted by jade.
Published: April 13, 2022 | Updated: September 30th, 2022 at 4:58 pm
Alternative Text
Jade City is a fantasy novel set in urban Japan.

In Other Words is The NewsHouse’s biweekly book review. Contributors Ashley Clemens and Chloe Langerman cover everything from fantasy to modern fiction to memoirs. At the end of their reviews, they’ll share a recording of their favorite passage from each book.


When I first impulse-bought this book at Barnes and Noble, it was because my For You page on TikTok had been incessantly recommending it. The worldbuilding, the characters, the plot, it was touted to be one of the top fantasy books, top urban fantasy series, top trilogies, etc. Needless to say, my expectations were extremely high going into this book. Maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped.

Though the book deals with the conflict between two major clans in the city of Janloon (the capital of fantasy Japan), it only really follows the inner workings of one of the clans – the No Peak clan. Lan, the clan leader, has to deal with conflict between the new and the old: his grandfather clinging to his last dregs of power, and his younger brother irrational and driven by emotion. 

While the world is rich, the magic compelling, and the history vast enough to seem real, the pacing of this book was ineffective. The perspective shifts every chapter, so trying to orient myself around all of the names and pieces took longer than it should have. The characters are well-developed and interesting, and the conflict between them feels natural, but it really doesn’t start to pick up until halfway through the book. 

So much time is spent on just establishing everything that we don’t see a lot of the action–or rather, we don’t see action that matters-until midway through. However, I do think the book serves as an effective mesh of psychological and sociological storytelling. Its characters are compelling as individuals, but we are also well aware of how they function within the larger system and the difficult decisions they are forced to make.

I do have to give the book credit, though. It has a major twist near the end and commits to it. All we can do, knowing all the factors, is watch in horror as the twist plays out. It’s effective storytelling and demonstrates the consequences well, and Lee doesn’t back down from the ramifications of this twist. 

I appreciate, too, the range of characters Lee commits to in the book. Between the level-headed clan leader, the impulsive emotional younger brother, the clever but stubborn sister, the anxious but driven cousin, the old and deteriorating grandfather, and the absolute mastermind of a villain, it is hard not to be sucked in by the way they all dance. 

In other words, 3/5.