Hello and a Happy Monday to all!
Today, we are delighted to host an exclusive excerpt from Jade City, an upcoming novel by Fonda Lee, coming out in November and which has been described as Godfather meets Crouching Tiger with a huge lot of magic! Without further ado, here is the excerpt!
TWO CRIME FAMILIES, ONE SOURCE OF POWER: JADE.
Jade is the lifeblood of the city of Janloon – a stone that enhances a warrior’s natural strength and speed. Jade is mined, traded, stolen and killed for, controlled by the ruthless No Peak and Mountain families.
When a modern drug emerges that allows anyone – even foreigners – to wield jade, simmering tension between the two families erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all in the families, from their grandest patriarch to even the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets.
Jade City is an epic tale of blood, family, honour, and of those who live and die by ancient laws in a changing world.
Kaul Shaelinsan arrived in Janloon International Airport with the vaguely hungover cotton-headed feeling symptomatic of all thirteen-hour flights. Crossing the ocean, staring out the window at the passing expanse of blue, she’d felt as if she were turning back time—leaving behind the person she’d become in a foreign land and returning to her childhood. She was confused by the combination of emotions this aroused in her: a poignant, bittersweet mixture of elation and defeat.
Shae collected her baggage from the carousel; there wasn’t much. Two years in Espenia, an unaccountably expensive university degree, and all her worldly possessions fit into a single red leather suitcase. She was too tired to smile at this pathetic irony.
She picked up the receiver of a pay phone and began to deposit a coin into the slot, then stopped, remembering the bargain she’d made with herself. Yes, she was returning to Janloon, but she would do so on her own terms. She would live as an ordinary citizen of the city, not like the granddaughter of the Torch of Kekon. Which meant not calling her brother to send a chauffeured car to pick her up from the airport.
Shae replaced the phone receiver in its cradle, caught off guard by how easy it had been to slip into old behaviors within minutes of setting foot on Kekon. She sat down on a bench in the baggage claim area for a few minutes, suddenly reluctant to take the final steps through the revolving exit doors. Something told her that when they spun her around and pushed her out, the journey would be irrevocable.
Finally, though, she could delay no longer. She stood up and followed the stream of other passengers out to the taxi line.
When she’d left two years ago, Shae had never intended to move back. She’d been full of anger and optimism, determined to forge a new life and identity for herself in the great wide, modern world beyond Kekon, away from anachronistic clans and the outsized male egos of her family. Once in Espenia, she found it harder than she’d expected to escape the stigma of being from a small island country known mostly for one thing: jade. Indeed, Shae learned that the name Janloon often provoked blank looks. The foreigners called it something else: Jade City.
When people abroad learned she was Kekonese, their reactions were comically predictable. Initially, surprise. Kekon was an exotic, make-believe place in the minds of most Espenians. The postwar boom in global trade was reversing its centuries of isolation, but not yet entirely. She might as well have said she was from outer space.
The second response: eager jesting. “So can you fly? Can you punch through this wall? Show us something amazing. Here, break this table!”
She’d learned to take it with grace. At first, she tried to explain. She’d left all her jade back on Kekon. She was no different from them now. Whatever advantages in strength, speed, and reflexes she possessed were accounted for by the fact that she still woke early and trained on her apartment patio every morning. Lifelong habits persisted, after all.
The first two weeks had been almost unbearable, the feeling of being in a deprivation chamber of her own making. Everything so much less than it used to be—less color, less sound, less feeling—a washed-out dreamscape. Her body slow, heavy, achy. A nagging suspicion of having lost something vital, like looking down and noticing you were missing a limb. The nighttime panic and the sensation of being adrift, of the world not being real.
It would all be bad enough even if she wasn’t surrounded by boisterous young Espenians who had the attention span of monkeys and were always talking about clothes, cars, popular music, and the vagaries of their shallow, convoluted relationships. She almost relented; she even booked a flight back to Kekon after the first term. But pride overcame even the near-debilitating horror of jade withdrawal.
Fortunately, the flight had been refundable.
It was far too complicated to explain to her few college friends what it meant to be jaded, to come from a Green Bone family, and why she’d given it up—so she just smiled innocently and waited until their curiosity waned. Jerald always teased her. “You walk around acting all normal, but one day you’re going to bust out doing some crazy shit, aren’t you?”
No, she’d already done that. He was the crazy shit.
The sky was that odd mixture of haze and waning light. The concrete was damp with Northern Sweat—the incessant drizzle and mist that pervaded the coastal plain around Janloon during monsoon season. It was late, past dinnertime. Shae stood in line and waited for a taxi.
The other people in line did not pay her any attention. She was dressed in a colorful, short summer dress that was fashionable in Espenia but felt too clingy and garish in her home country, but excepting that, she blended in, looked just like any other traveler. Jadeless. It was with relief and a twinge of self-pity that she realized there was little chance anyone would recognize her.
The next taxi arrived. The driver put her suitcase in the trunk as Shae climbed into the back seat and rolled down the window. “Where to, miss?” he asked.
Shae considered going to a hotel. She wanted to shower, to decompress from the long flight, to be by herself for a little while. She decided against showing such disrespect. “Home,” she said. She gave the driver the address. He pulled away from the curb and into the streaming jostle of cars and buses.
As the taxi crossed the Way Away Bridge and the steel and concrete skyline of the city came into view, Shae was struck by a sense of nostalgia so profound she found it difficult to breathe. The humid air through the open window, the sound of her native language being spoken on the radio, even the terrible traffic… She swallowed, close to tears; she had only the vaguest idea of what she was going to do in Janloon now, but she was undeniably home.
When they entered the Palace Hill neighborhood, the taxi driver started glancing back at her in the rearview mirror, eyes flicking up every few seconds. When the taxi arrived in front of the tall iron gates of the Kaul estate, Shae rolled down the window and leaned out to speak to the waiting sentry.
“Welcome home, Shae-jen,” said the guard, surprising her with the now-inaccurate suffix as well as the sense of familiarity in attaching it to her given name. The guard was one of Hilo’s Fingers. Shae recognized his face but could not remember his name, so she merely nodded in greeting.
The taxi drove through the gates to the roundabout in front of the main house. Shae reached for her purse to pay the driver, but he said, “There’s no fee, Kaul-jen. I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you at first in those foreign clothes.” He turned around to smile at her with earnest hopefulness. “My father-in-law is a loyal Lantern Man. Lately, he’s having a little business trouble. If there was a way you—”
Shae pressed the money into the driver’s hands. “Take your fee,” she insisted. “I’m only Miss Kaul now. I don’t have any say in the clan. Tell your father-in-law to send word up the proper channels to the Weather Man.” She suppressed her guilt at the man’s disappointed expression, got out of the taxi, and hefted her suitcase up the steps to the entrance.
Kyanla, the Abukei housekeeper, met her at the door. “Oh, Shae-se, you look so different!” She hugged Shae and held her out at arm’s length. “And you smell Espenian.” She laughed gaily. “But I shouldn’t be surprised, now that you’re a big-shot Espenian businesswoman.”
Shae smiled weakly. “Don’t be silly, Kyanla.”
Through sheer workaholic grit, she’d graduated in the top third of her class despite the fact that she’d been studying in her second language and, having been schooled at Kaul Du Academy, found the Espenian classroom environment utterly bewildering. So much sitting around in large rooms and talking, as if every student wanted to be the instructor. In the spring, she’d interviewed with some of the big companies that recruited on campus. She’d even received an offer for an entry position at one of them. But she’d seen how the interviewers looked at her.
When she walked into the room, the men around the table—they were always men—assumed she was Tuni, or Shotarian, and the first glimmer of prejudice would come into their eyes. When they looked at her résumé and saw she was from Kekon, that she’d been raised to be a Green Bone, their expressions would cloud with outright skepticism. The Espenians might be proud of their military might, but they had little regard for her martial education. What use would it be in a civilized, professional place like an Espenian corporation? This wasn’t Kekon, where the name Kaul was golden; the right word from grandfather wouldn’t get her anything. In those moments, her romantic notions of making it on her own felt foolish. Foolish and lonely. Now, here she was: back in the house she hadn’t been able to leave fast enough a couple of years ago.
Lan was standing at the bottom of the staircase. He smiled. “Welcome home.”
Shae went to him and embraced him tightly. She hadn’t seen her older brother in two years and was overwhelmed by the rush of affection she felt for him. Lan was nine years older than she; they had never been playmates, but he had always been kind to her. He’d defended her from Hilo, had not judged her when she’d left, and had been the only member of the family to write to her while she was studying in Espenia. Sometimes, his letters, in their precise, even handwriting, had felt like the only link she had to Kekon, the only evidence that she had a family and a past.
Grandda is not doing so well, he’d ended simply at the end of his last letter. The decline is more in his spirits than his health. I know he misses you. It would be good of you to come back to see him, and Ma as well, after you graduate. With the sting of splitting from Jerald still as fresh as an oozing burn, she’d reread her brother’s letter, turned down the lone job offer, and booked a flight back to Janloon.
Lan hugged her back and kissed the center of her forehead. Shae said, “How’s Grandda?” at the same time he said, “Your hair.” They both laughed, and Shae suddenly felt as if she’d let out a breath she’d been holding for two years.
Lan said, “He’s waiting for you. Do you want to go up?”
Shae took a deep breath, then nodded. “I don’t suppose it’ll get any easier if I wait.” They climbed the stairs together, his hand on her shoulder. So close to him, she could feel the tugging hum of his jade, a barely perceptible texture in the air that her body responded to with a yearning squeeze of the stomach as she leaned in closer to him. It had been such a long time since she’d been affected by jade that she felt light-headed. She forced herself to straighten away from Lan and face the double doors before her.
“He’s gotten worse lately,” Lan said. “Today’s a good day, though.”
Shae knocked. Kaul Sen’s voice came back with surprising vigor through the door. “I could Perceive you, you know, even without your jade, coming through the door and dawdling your way up here. Come in, then.”
Shae opened the door and stood in front of her grandfather. She should have changed her clothes and showered first. Kaul Sen’s piercing gaze took in her bright, foreign attire, and the corners of his eyes tightened in a mess of wrinkles. His nostrils pinched, and he leaned back in his chair as if offended by the smell of her. “Gods,” he muttered, “the last couple of years have been as unkind to you as they have been to me.”
Shae reminded herself that despite his tyrannical faults, her grandfather had been one of the most heroic and respected men in the country, that he was now old and lonely and deteriorating, and that two years ago, she had broken his heart. “I came straight from the airport, Grandda.” Shae touched her clasped hands to her forehead in the traditional sign of respect, then knelt in front of his chair, eyes downcast. “I’ve come home. Will you please accept me as your granddaughter again?”
When she looked up, she saw that the old man’s eyes had softened. The stiffness of his mouth melted and his lips trembled slightly. “Ah, Shae-se, of course I forgive you,” he said, even though she hadn’t actually asked for forgiveness. Kaul Sen held out his gnarled hands, and she took them as she stood. She felt his touch like an electrical jolt; even at his advanced age, his jade aura was intense, and the bones of her arms prickled in memory and longing.
“The family hasn’t been right without you,” Kaul Sen said. “You belong here.”
“It’s all well and good to do business with foreigners. I said it so many times, the gods know it’s true, I said it to everyone: We must open up Kekon and accept outside influence. I broke my brotherhood with Ayt Yugontin over it. But”—Kaul Sen stabbed a finger into the air—“we’ll never be like them. We’re different. We’re Kekonese. We’re Green Bones. Never forget that.”
Her grandfather turned her hands over in his own, shaking his head sadly and disapprovingly at the sight of her bare arms. “Even if you take off your jade, you won’t be like them. They’ll never accept you, because they’ll sense you’re different, the way dogs know they’re less than wolves. Jade is our inheritance; our blood isn’t meant to mix with others.” He squeezed her hands in a papery gesture meant as comfort.
Shae bowed her head in silent acquiescence, concealing resentment of her grandfather’s obvious pleasure that Jerald was now a fixture of the past. She’d met Jerald on Kekon. At the time, he was stationed on Euman Island with fifteen months left in his deployment and plans to go to graduate school afterward. The instant Kaul Sen learned of Shae’s relationship with a foreign sailor, he furiously proclaimed it doomed. Even though his reasons had been mostly racist—Jerald was Shotarian (even though he was born in Espenia), he was a water-blooded weakling who was beneath her, he was a shallow bastard—it galled Shae that the old man’s prediction had proven true. Come to think about it, the shallow bastard part had been correct as well. “I’m glad to see you looking so healthy, Grandda,” Shae said mildly, trying to derail his monologue.
He waved away her attempt at redirection. “I haven’t touched a thing in your old room,” he said. “I knew you’d come home once you’d gone through this phase. It’s still yours.”
Shae thought quickly. “Grandda, I’ve been such a disappointment to you. I couldn’t presume I’d have a place in the house. So I rented an apartment not far from here and sent my things there already.” It wasn’t true; she’d made no living arrangements and had no things to send. But she certainly didn’t relish the idea of moving back into her childhood bedroom in the Kaul house, as if nothing had been gained or changed by two years and an ocean of distance. Living here, she would have to endure the jade auras of Green Bones coming and going, and her grandfather’s condescending forgiveness. She added, “Besides, I could use a little time by myself to get settled. To decide what to do next.”
“What is there to decide? I will talk to Doru about which businesses will be yours.”
“Grandda,” Lan interrupted. He’d been standing at the entrance of the room, watching the exchange. “Shae’s come off a long flight. Let her unpack and rest. There’ll be time to talk business later.”
“Huh,” said Kaul Sen, but he let go of Shae’s hands. “I suppose you’re right.”
“I’ll come back to see you soon.” She leaned in to kiss his forehead. “I love you, Grandda.”
The old man grunted, but his face glowed with a fondness she realized she had desperately missed. Unlike Lan, she had never known their father; Kaul Sen had been everything to her when she was a little girl. He had doted on her, and she on him. As she left the room, he mumbled after her, “For the love of all the gods, put your jade on. It hurts me to look at you like that.”
She walked outside with Lan. They were alone. The sun had set, leaving a smoggy afterglow that outlined the roofs of the buildings positioned around the central courtyard. Shae sank onto a stone bench next to the draping maple tree and heaved a deep sigh. Lan sat down next to her. For a second they didn’t speak. Then they glanced at each other and both laughed weakly.
“That could have gone worse,” she said.
“Like I said, he was in a good mood today. The doctor says he needs to start wearing less jade, but that’s a battle I’ve been putting off.” Lan looked away for a second, but Shae caught the wince that flashed across his face.
“How’s Ma?” Shae asked.
“She’s doing well. She likes it out there. It’s very peaceful.”
Long ago, their mother had resigned herself to a life of single parenthood and catering to her demanding father-in-law in exchange for a secure and comfortable life as the respected widow of the No Peak clan’s ruling family. As soon as Shae had turned eighteen, Kaul Wan Ria had retired to the family’s coastal cottage home in Marenia, a three-hour drive south from Janloon. To Shae’s knowledge, she’d not been back to the city since.
Lan said, “You should make the trip out to visit her. No rush—once you’re settled.”
“And you?” Shae asked. “How’re you doing?”
Lan turned his face toward her, his left eye narrowed. Everyone said that he looked like their father, but Shae didn’t see it. Her brother had a steadfast and soulful manner, not like the ferocious-looking guerrilla in the old photographs on her grandfather’s wall. He seemed about to say something to her, then appeared to change his mind and said something else. “I’m fine, Shae. Clan business keeps me busy.”
Guilt washed in. She hadn’t been reliable about responding to Lan’s letters when she’d been in Espenia; she could hardly expect him to confide in her now. She was not even sure she wanted his confidence, not if it meant hearing about territorial disputes, or misbehaving Lantern Men, or Fists that had been killed in duels—clan things she’d told herself she would keep out of from now on. Nevertheless, she thought about how her brother had been shouldering the position of Pillar while coping with Eyni leaving him and their grandfather’s dramatic decline, with only Hilo and nasty old Doru to help him. “I haven’t been here for you,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“You have to live your own life, Shae.”
There was no reprimand in his voice, and Shae gave thanks to the gods that Lan was the first member of the family she’d met upon returning.
He didn’t make her feel ashamed for leaving, nor ashamed for returning. That was more than she deserved—and more than she could expect from the rest of her family.
The jet lag was catching up, and she was exhausted now. The lights went on in the house and then dimmed; Kyanla’s shape moved in the upper windows, drawing shut the blinds. In the dark, the motionless outlines of the benches and trees Shae had played around as a child seemed coolly remonstrative, like aloof relatives. She realized that Kekon had a special smell, a certain indescribable, spicy, sweaty fragrance. Was that what she’d smelled like to all her Espenian classmates? She imagined the odor seeping back into her pores. She put a hand on Lan’s arm. His jade aura coursed around her like a low bass vibration, and she leaned in closer, but not too close.
Shae checked into a hotel room in the city and spent the next three days searching for an apartment. Though she didn’t want to be too near the Kaul home, it wasn’t as if she could live wherever she wanted. She could take off her jade but not her face or her name; there were parts of the city it would be best for her to avoid. Even confining the search to districts firmly in No Peak control, she spent from dawn until past dusk taking the malodorously crowded subway from stop to stop, sweating ferociously in the summer heat, visiting one building after another.
This could be a whole lot easier, she griped to herself more than a few times. The right word from Lan to a Lantern Man landlord would’ve yielded her a well-appointed apartment in no time. The rent would be half what it really was, if that, and the landlord would rest assured that some building permit or construction contract he’d been waiting on would be approved right away. She held fast to her pledge to do without family help. She’d lived frugally as a student, and when converted, the Espenian money she’d saved from her summer internship last year would be more than enough to cover six months of rent in Janloon if she was judicious. By the end of the third day of searching, she was sore-footed and weary but had signed for a modest though convenient one-bedroom loft in North Sotto and was pleased with herself.
Hilo was waiting in the lobby of the hotel when she returned. He was slouched in one of the overstuffed leather armchairs, but when he saw Shae come in, he sat up, and the Fist that was with him—one of the Maik brothers, Shae couldn’t remember which one—got up from the chair next to him and moved to the other side of the room to let them talk alone.
Her brother didn’t look any different from the last time she’d seen him two years ago, and Shae wondered, with unexpected self-consciousness, if she looked any different to him, if her hair or clothes made her look older, and foreign. Hilo was her senior by a mere eleven months; when she’d left, they’d been equals, of a sort. Now she was unemployed, single, and jadeless. He was one of the most powerful men in Janloon, with hundreds of Green Bones at his command.
She’d known she couldn’t avoid this moment but had told herself it could wait a little longer. Had Lan told him where to find her, or had the hotel staff tipped off his Fingers? As he rose to greet her, Shae braced herself. A hotel lobby was really not the place she’d pictured doing this. “Hilo,” she said.
He embraced her with great affection. “What are you doing here in a hotel? Are you avoiding me?” He sounded genuinely hurt; Shae had forgotten how sensitive he could be sometimes. He put his hands on either side of her face and kissed both her cheeks and her forehead. “I’ve forgotten the past,” he said. “Everything’s forgiven, now that you’re back. You’re my little sister, how could I not forgive you?”
He sounded like Grandda, she thought, with his forgiveness. No forgiveness on his part, of course, for calling her a whore and a clan traitor, and volunteering, in front of her, Lan, and grandfather, to kill Jerald if given the word. If Jerald hadn’t been an Espenian military officer, and Lan hadn’t been in the room to talk everyone down, Kaul Sen might very well have given it, too.
Part of her was determined to stay angry at Hilo. It would’ve been easy if he was still furious at her. But Hilo’s magnanimity was like his jade aura—fierce and unequivocal. She felt its warmth gathering her in, thawing the tension she was carrying like armor plating in her back and shoulders. “I wasn’t avoiding you,” she said. “I just got in and needed some time to get settled, that’s all.”
He took a step back from her, still holding on to her elbows. “Where’s your jade?”
“I’m not wearing it,” she said.
A frown marred Hilo’s face. He leaned in and lowered his voice. “We need you, Shae.” He brought his eyes level with hers, fixing her with an insistent gaze. “The Mountain is going to come after us. All the signs point to it. They think we’re weak. Grandda just sits there and never leaves the house. I don’t trust Doru far enough to spit on him. With you back, though, things will be different. Grandda always liked you best, and with the two of us together behind Lan—”
“Hilo,” she said. “I’m not getting involved. Just because I’m back in Janloon doesn’t mean I’m in the clan business.”
He tilted his head. “But we need you,” he said simply.
A few cruel words at this moment would drive him away. She itched to do it—to hurt him, to reject him, to provoke him—but she was tired of their old rivalry. Fighting Hilo was a crutch, an addictive bad habit she’d had all her life, one she’d tried to leave behind along with her jade, and did not want to return to. They were both adults. She had to remind herself that he was now the Horn of No Peak. If she was going to live on Kekon for any length of time, it wouldn’t do to be on his bad side.
Shae quelled her defensiveness. “I’m not ready,” she said. “I need to figure things out for myself for a while. You can try to respect that, can’t you?”
A few expressions battled openly on Hilo’s face; he appeared to be holding his disappointment in check as he attempted to judge her sincerity. He had come to her, all smiles and brotherly warmth, and when Hilo put himself forward freely, he expected the same of others. Meeting him less than halfway was risky. When he spoke again, his voice was more measured.
“All right. Take the time you need, like you said. But there’s nothing to figure out, Shae. If you don’t want to be a Kaul, you shouldn’t have come back.” He raised a finger before she could reply. “Don’t argue; I don’t want to forget that I’ve forgiven you. You want me to leave you alone for now, I will. But I’m not as patient as Lan.”
He walked away, his jade aura rapidly receding from her like a strong wave sweeping back out to sea. “Hilo,” she called after him. “Say hello to Anden for me.”
Her brother half turned his head to speak over his shoulder. “Go say hello to him yourself.” His lieutenant slid her a remonstrative look as the two of them disappeared into the warm night beyond the doors of the hotel.
Copyright © 2017 by Fonda Lee
About the Author
Fonda Lee is a black belt martial artist, a former corporate strategist, and action movie aficionado. Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. Lee is the award-winning author of the YA science fiction novels Zeroboxer and Exo; Jade City is her adult debut.
Jade City is out November 2017. Pre-order now.