Disclaimer: Daniel Fox is a friend of mine. However, I didn’t review the book just because he’s a friend — I whined shamelessly for an ARC because having read the first book in the trilogy, I very badly wanted to read the next one as soon as it was available in edited form, rather than waiting until it was on sale.
Daniel Fox — Jade Man’s Skin
Daniel Fox keeps up the quality and the pace in the second volume of his fantasy trilogy inspired by mediaeval China. The first volume, “Dragon In Chains”, told the tale of the boy Emperor’s flight from a rebel army, and the stories of some of those touched by the war. Now the Emperor has reached safety on the remote island of Taishu on the very fringe of the Empire.
Taishu may be remote, but no would-be usurper can afford to leave the Emperor there in exile. The island holds the jade mines that are the source of imperial power — and in this world, that isn’t just symbolic. This volume explores in greater depth the subtle magic that underpins imperial rule. And there is more than imperial magic. There are other intelligences in this world, and the human forces which are arrayed against one another are starting to learn just what it means to tangle such creatures into human battles.
It’s hard to review this book in any depth without giving major spoilers for the first one (which I’ve reviewed previously), because this trilogy really is a single novel in three volumes, not a series of three interlinked novels. But what I can say is that it follows each of the major characters and threads from the first volume, developing each strand of the story in a satisfying way. This is no wish-fulfillment story wherein the Hero is noble simply because he is the Hero, but a careful consideration of the cumulative effects of power — on those who have it, whether in name only or in reality, on those who desire it, and on those who are simply in its path. And like the first volume, it neither flinches from showing the horror of war, nor wallows in gratuituous gore.
This is a complex story with equally complex characters, which genuinely needs the three volumes to do justice to the tales it has to tell. But it’s beautifully constructed, and told in stunningly good prose. If you’ve not read the first book, don’t start with this one. It really is worth your while finding “Dragon in Chains” and reading that first, not least because part of the pleasure is watching how the characters are changing and growing in response to the upheavals in their world. But there’s no need to wait for the final book to come out, as “Jade Man’s Skin” offers enough intermediate resolution of plot threads to leave a reader feeling satisfied while still wanting to hear the end of the story. Go buy them now — this series is breathtaking, in concepts, in story and in prose.