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What to Read Next (No. 273): A Fonda Lee Appreciation Post
Happy Friday, readers!
This week I’m excited to rave about one of my new favorite authors: Fonda Lee.
I first discovered Fonda’s work through’s fantastic newsletter. A few years back, he published an interview with Fonda which delved into her journey from corporate strategist to award-winning fantasy author.
I’ll read pretty much anything David recommends, so I jumped right into Jade City, which kicks off the Green Bone Saga. I loved every page of it. Then we had our third kiddo and I look a long break before delving into books two and three this year.
I enjoyed them so much that I immediately read her brand new novella, Untethered Sky, a standalone story that’s completely different from the world she built in the Green Bone Saga.
Let’s explore a bit more!
Have you tried Notes?
Before we get into the books — have you tried Substack’s new Notes feature? It’s kinda like Twitter, but without the crazies. I received some great replies when I asked folks about their favorite unheralded books:
It’s been pretty fun experimenting this week! Check out Notes and let me know what you think.
All week I’ve been trying to figure out how to summarize a ~2,000-page epic, multi-generational tale of family, love, sacrifice, growth, loss, power, and redemption. As I’ve said before in this newsletter, it’s always my very favorite stories that I have the hardest time writing about.
We primarily follow the evolution of the Kaul family through decades of tumultuous changes and power struggles on the invented island of Kekon and the metropolis of Janlooon (which resembles an East Asian society).
Though these titles fall into the fantasy category, the world that Fonda Lee created is pretty similar to our own. There are cell phones and fast cars and real jobs. The element of fantasy is found in the fact that jade, the bright green precious stone, confers supernatural abilities on the Kekonese people — and only the Kekonese people. Quite a bit of the drama in the series involves other nations trying to figure out how to get their hands on this precious mineral and its magical properties.
I really liked that Lee intentionally gave the genre something different than the medieval-like empires of classic titles like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Because of that, the Green Bone Saga felt utterly fresh and unique compared to other fantasy series I’ve read in recent years.
The reader basically gets a mafia and family drama (hence the Godfather comparison), where the primary narrative centers on the relational and political dynamics of warring clans. It’s not just about raw violence — but there’s certainly a good helping of that as well.
The reason these books get 5 stars, though, isn’t because of the story. It’s because Lee expertly built the characters and setting in such a way that I couldn’t help but deeply care about their lives and fates. She wasn’t afraid to give us complex characters whose motivations were often unclear, even to themselves.
As with all the best books, the Green Bone Saga is a pitch-perfect reflection of the best and worst of human nature, with the ultimate lesson that love, family, acceptance, and relationships are the most important things we can seek and hold onto in life.
I can’t recommend these books highly enough and I can guarantee that they’ll have a spot in my year-end favorites list.
After the urban, modern setting of the Green Bone Saga, the classic medieval world of Untethered Sky was a bit of a shocking stylistic change. Even though it’s also a fantasy story, the feel is so different as to think it’s a different author altogether.
So I was initially a little leery about the new novella. Could she succeed with a new and different style?
Thankfully, Lee quickly answered that question with a clear and resounding yes.
The story revolves around Ester, a girl whose family was torn apart by a manticore. Her path is lit by a desire for revenge and redemption, which leads her to the King’s Royal Mews, where rocs — basically giant eagles — are trained to kill manticores in partnership with their human counterparts.
It’s a fantastic, fast-paced narrative. But as with the Green Bone Saga, the strength of Lee’s writing lies in her vivid storytelling and deeply felt characters. Ultimately, it’s a story about a girl finding her meaning in the midst of tough circumstances.
The only problem with Untethered Sky is that it left me wanting so much more.
Clearly, Fonda Lee can write whatever the heck she wants and knock it out of the park.
That’s all for me this week! Thanks so much for reading; I deeply appreciate your time and attention.