Jade City's cover
Jade City by Fonda Lee is the first The Green Bone Saga (3 books). It’s an adult secondary world fantasy with East Asian inspiration. The main characters are a powerful family on an island run by jade gangs, people who can use jade for magic. The oldest brother has recently become the head of the gang, the younger brother is the head of the muscle side of things, the sister has just returned from living abroad, and an adopted younger brother is about to finish “high school” for jade use. When a rival gang starts causing trouble, the family uncovers unsavory secrets, and everyone’s lives are thrown into dangerous chaos.
I really liked the worldbuilding in Jade City. The magic system was clear, but not overly simple. I also liked the 20s gangster vibes—very Legend of Korra season 1. Some twists were a surprise, and I liked the characterization. I never mixed anyone up, which is saying something with so large a cast. While the book was long (500+ pages) the pacing kept things moving very well.
On the downside, I did see one of the major twists coming from a mile away. This could be, once again, the curse of studying plotting.
Overall, I really liked Jade City. If you’re into unique magic systems, Asian inspired fantasy, or 20s gangsters, you’ll love this book. It’s not for you if you can’t handle violence (because ooh boy there’s a lot of blood).
Have you read Jade City? Have you read the rest of the series? Let’s discuss in the comments.
Wilbur mimicking the cover of The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Photo by Kate Ota 2022
I bought The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass because it’s one of those craft books you see recommended all over the place. That and the feedback I get is pretty consistent: I nail action and dialogue, but I need to add more emotions.
The book was $17.99 from Barnes and Noble. It covers the character’s emotional journey as well as the reader’s emotional journey, which is not necessarily the same. There were action points after each major topic (about 30 total) explaining where in your book to focus, what questions to ask, and therefore how to draw out that emotion.
I read this book in 5 days, which is about my normal pace. It’s 200 pages, and the pages are very thin (I saw the words on the other side of the paper), so it’s a thin book, but at what cost. I did a lot of highlighting, which says a lot about how useful I thought the information was, and I plan to go back when I have time and use those activity suggestions (called Emotional Mastery) to test the concepts in my current WIP. Generally, the suggestions really got my ideas flowing, so I think the inclusion of these in the book was very good.
One downside, despite the many examples for his points, a few went by at lightspeed without examples. The biggest I noted was the claim that words of Anglo-Saxon origin are considered stronger than those of Latin origin. Now, I’m big into etymology, I think the evolution of language is fascinating and I’m constantly googling word origins. However, without some examples, it’s hard to see if this claim holds any water. I found two examples myself: excite (Latin) and amaze (old English, which I guess is Anglo-Saxon) and you know what? They’re pretty similar word choices, arguably synonyms in many cases. Is amaze more specific? Yes. Excite could be interpreted in a few ways. Would I say amaze is stronger? Meh.
Is It Worth It?
For the specific, actionable activities that are listed after each major point is made, I’d say yes. Those will probably be very helpful in drawing out more emotion from me as a writer. Is every word of advice golden? Arguably not. I say, it’s worth buying it used (if you find a copy not highlighted by someone like me) and maybe new, if you receive consistent feedback that you need more emotion in your writing (like I do). If you’re buying it just for the sake of upping something you already feel confident about, I’d say used or ebook versions to save some cash. Overall though, I see why it’s so frequently recommended among writers, and am happy I have it in my stockpile of craft books.
Have you read The Emotional Craft of Fiction? What was your favorite piece of advice? Is there another book on improving emotions in your writing? Let’s discuss in the comments!
The cover for An Unkindness of Ghosts
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon is the pick for my office's Diversity and Inclusion Book Club. I had suggested it because the author is non-binary, and our next meeting is during Pride Month, so it seemed fitting. Beyond that, I went in knowing it was adult science fiction and that's it. Now I know it was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and was shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
An Unkindness of Ghosts is about a generation ship gone wrong--as most tend to do. Aster is a low-deck physician in training who is also black, neurodivergent, and tends to have a fluid gender identity leaning toward feminine. The ship is experiencing black outs, which Aster suspects is related to how her mother died when Aster was a baby. She uses her mother's journals and help from her trusted friends to unravel what has happened in the past to prevent catastrophe in the future.
This book is well known for being beautifully written, and it is very literary compared to other scifi, especially other generation ship novels. It also handles gender, race, and class divisions in a gritty, dark manner. It was sad and believable and a good mirror for our society to look in and ponder what could be going better for us in the real world.
This book was at times too heavy for me to want to keep going. And you know what? No literal ghosts, which I had been anticipating, only metaphorical ghosts. I suppose that confusion is on me, haha.
This book is for you if you love lyrical or literary styles, especially if you want to see it applied to science fiction. If you're a fan of generation ships, this book is on you won't want to miss. However, this is not for you if you don't want to read about sexual assault and rape, multiple forms of abuse, slave labor, and violence. The book tackles these difficult topics well, but I can see it easily triggering difficult memories and emotions.
Have you read An Unkindness of Ghosts? What did you think about it? Let's discuss in the comments!
Cover image from Tor.com. The figure in the middle is Gideon.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is an adult fantasy (and crosses into scifi) about necromancers. It's the first of the Locked Tomb Trilogy. It's a NYT and USA Today bestseller, won the Locus and Crawford awards, was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and other major awards, and is referenced on dozens of agents' manuscript wish lists.
Gideon is not a necromancer, in fact she’s an orphan on a planet run by people who are super religious about necromancy. Look at that cover—they paint their faces like skulls. It’s hardcore. And she’s not into it. All she wants is to escape and go join the army, since she’s an excellent fighter. The heir of the Ninth House, Harrowhark (aka Harrow) has been invited to try to be a Lyctor for the solar system’s Emperor and Gideon has to come along as her semi-body guard/semi-assistant. What’s a Lyctor? Good question. So glad you asked. Same, honestly. Anyway, all eight of the heirs to houses 2-9 (the First being the Emperor) show up and start trying to be Lyctors with absolutely no guidance on how to do that. Necromancy chaos ensues.
I liked the humor and voice of Gideon, which is a common compliment for this book. It’s very millennial. She basically quotes memes. If you're confused about what voice is in novels, read this one and you'll get it. I was also interested in solving the mystery of who-dun-it once bodies started hitting the floor (fresh bodies, anyway).
One thing I was expecting was a romance between Gideon and Harrow because a lot of people online insinuated that was the result. Maybe I’m bad at reading into things, but I didn’t get a romantic vibe between Gideon and Harrow. Sure, Gideon was clearly interested in women, but Harrow didn’t seem interested in anyone. And honestly, their relationship was too toxic for me to root for even if they had made some moves. I guess I let the internet lead me astray, so this one’s more on me than the book.
This is a book for you if you like locked room mysteries, millennial humor, necromancy, and puzzles. It’s not for you if you have a low or even moderate gore tolerance. There’s one scene near the end that I just… I had to stop eating lunch while I read that because yikes. (And I’m someone with a high tolerance for gore!) It’s also not for you if you’re looking for people to start kissing, it’s not happening here. Overall, the hype was fairly accurate on this one, and there are two more books in the series if this is your jam (Harrow the Ninth and Nona the Ninth, which comes out in September 2022).
Have you read Gideon the Ninth or Harrow the Ninth Did you get romance vibes? Help me out and tell me about it in the comments!