Jade War, the hotly anticipated sequal to Jade City and book 2 in The Green Bone Saga trilogy, came out this week. To celebrate, World Fantasy Award winner Fonda Lee dropped by r/Fantasy for an AMA to talk worldbuilding, her favorite fictional duels, her dream cast for a Green Bone Saga TV series, writing great LGBTQ+ characters, crime syndicate hierarchies, and more. Check out the highlights below!
On when the Green Bone Saga takes place:
I have two answers to this question.
The first is that it doesn’t matter. A great many epic fantasy novels take place in a vaguely Medieval time period, which spans roughly 1000 years between the 5th and 15th centuries. I’ve rarely seen readers debate whether a particular epic fantasy novel is closer to the 6th century or the 7th century in terms of analogous time period, yet I often get asked, “What year is this? 1960? 1980?” I’m aiming for “pre-digital era, latter half of the 20th century,” but, as you pointed out, I’m deliberately not defining it more than that because this is, after all, a secondary world fantasy where, as an author, I don’t wish or need to adhere to the specificity of whether certain technologies, historical situations, or events did or didn’t exist in 1955 versus 1970. For example, you might notice that there’s no mention of nuclear weapons buildup. That’s not a relevant geopolitical consideration in this world, while it certainly was in our world. I don’t want to say, oh yeah, this is 1961 or 1969. Then readers start looking for things like the equivalent Bay of Pigs invasion or moon landing.
The second answer, which will be more satisfying for some people, is that Jade City starts ~25 years after the end of the Many Nations War, which is analogous to our WWII. You do the math. :)
On casting a Green Bone Saga TV show:
I could definitely get on board with John Cho for Lan.
Both [Simu Liu and Chris Pang] are good choices [for Hilo]! I think Simu Liu would also make a great Lan, actually. I’m also adding Lewis Tan to the wish list. And even though, Hideo Muraoka is a model, not an actor, just look at him here. Aren’t these Hilo vibes?
YES [to Dave Bautista for Gont Asch]. This trailer of Ip Man Legacy is basically my head canon of Gont Asch in a fight inside the Twice Lucky.
Here’s my answer from last year, but I feel like it needs updating because so many of them are too old to play the characters now and I feel like there are slowly more Asian actors and actresses being recognized and given larger roles.
Lan: Godfrey Gao, or a younger Tony Leung, or Andy Lau (update: adding Simu Liu and John Cho)
Hilo: Lewis Tan (update: maybe adding Chris Pang or Alex Landi)
Shae: young Michelle Yeoh (update: Gemma Chan? Maggie Q?)
Anden: hmmm, I was going to say Ricky Kim but he’s like 37 or something now, so this would have to be an open casting call for a talented young bi-racial actor (update: add Ivan Mok)
Wen: Hmmm. I’m open to suggestions here.
Ayt Mada: Ming-Na Wen (update: Lucy Liu)
Gont: Dave Bautista
On whether the “Godfather, but Asian and with kung fu” descriptions bother her:
The description doesn’t bother me, and I’ve used similar handy “elevator pitches” myself on multiple occasions. “The Godfather with magic and kung fu,” is my go-to. The tricky thing is that reductive descriptions sometimes cause people to think that’s all the book is. They might go, “oh, I don’t like gangster movies,” so, even though the Green Bone Saga isn’t actually a crime drama, they might not give the book a chance. I try to follow it up by explaining the book more, but sometimes the pitch is all you have time for!
On what the Kaul siblings would be doing if they went to college IRL:
Lan: graduates at the top of his law school class, secretly wants to do a history degree.
Hilo: West Point Military Academy
Shae: Bachelor’s degree in political science, followed by MBA
Anden: Division II athletic scholarship, liberal arts degree
On how closely the nations in the Green Bone Saga are based on real countries:
They’re based on general cultural models rather than any specific country. Kekon, in particular, is obviously built off of an East Asian cultural template but is not based on any one country. I’ve seen people assume it’s Hong Kong, Japan, China, or Taiwan, but I was very deliberate about it not being any one of them. For example, I never use words like “kimono” or “dim sum” or any words that would link any of the countries to ones in our own.
Espenia is more obviously analogous to “Western power” like the United States or Britain. (In the audiobook, the Espenians have a British accent). The Uwiwa Islands evoke Southeast Asia, Stepenland feels like northern Europe, Ygutan has an Eastern European feel. But I’m not tied to anything in our real world in terms of history, geography, and so on.
On her favorite fictional duels:
I have to go movies for this. Batman vs. Bane. Achilles vs. Hector in Troy. Yu Shu Lien vs. Jen Yu (Michelle Yeoh vs. Zhang Ziyi) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Bride vs. O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill Vol. 1
On what she’d write if she were to take on a Green Bone Saga short story:
I’d want to write a short story of Ayt Mada in her youth, with appearances by Kaul Sen and Yun Doru in their prime. I’d like to do the story of a minor clan, caught dangerously between the two big clans. Also, a story from the POV of a Janloon cop trying to solve some crime, in some ways aided and in other ways stymied by the clans in a district patrolled by a young Fist named Kaul Hilo. I’d like a story of Kaul Shae in Espenia during her time abroad. I’d better stop now before I talk myself into anything. (Hey, fanfiction writers…..)
On writing a great LGBTQ+ POV character:
One of my main POV characters, Anden, is gay. Here’s what I said last time:
My approach to writing Anden was simply to write him in the same way as all my other characters: as fully fleshed out and individual and nuanced as anyone else. His sexuality is of little consequence to the story itself, although it defines and influences him as a person, and will play a bigger role in future books. My advice, and my attitude, is: don’t set out to write LBGT characters. Write great characters who happen to be LBGT.
The only thing I’ll add to that after having written Jade War, is that Anden grows a lot as a person in the second book, including having his first serious romantic relationship. So his sexuality is definitely a significant factor in the second book, but my approach remained the same. There is homophobia in the society he lives in, and that certainly affects him, but it’s one aspect of him as a person. He’s gay, but he’s also a younger sibling, a Kekonese, a Kaul. And all those things together make him who he is. So I guess the additional advice would be to remember that the LGBTQ characters in books are as multi-dimensional as any other character.
On whether the Green Bone clans’ hierarchies are based on real-world crime organizations:
I researched the hierarchy of many organized crime groups, and then I created the structure of the Green Bone clans based on the similar principles I saw across them, taking inspiration from different elements. The family-oriented nature of the clans is similar to that of the Italian-American and Sicilian Mafia. The flowery titles and formal oaths of allegiance are inspired by the Chinese Triads. Strict hierarchy under a patriarch, body modification rituals, and self-mutilation as form of penance are from the Japanese mafia. The division of responsibility among underbosses/capos/brigadiers and street soldiers is common (Fists and Fingers) and the role of a consigliere as strategist/advisor informed the position of the Weather Man.
Check out the rest of the AMA here!