So as I was reading Fonda Lee’s Jade War, I was trying to think about why it is that I like this book (and the first book in the series) in a way that seems to get past all my “ugh, criminals doing crime shit” filters.
Part of it, I think is that while it’s easy to analogize this book’s setting, with its warring clans based on familial relationship, to the mob, that’s not quite what it is—the clans are also legitimately quasi-governmental bodies responsible for ruling the nation in ways that have nothing to do with crime at all.
Another part of it is that the books are full of people who aren’t traditionally the protagonists of crime shit novels—women play a huge role in the story, not all the characters are straight—and that changes the shape of the thing a lot. There are still the bluff, macho characters prone to fits of violent temper that you’d expect from the genre, but there’s a lot more than that, too.
But I think mostly it’s just that these books are really well-executed. The worldbuilding is great, this feels like a lived history and a real geopolitical situation (the degree to which geopolitics matters probably gets at the “quasi-governmental bodies” part above); the characters are complex and feel real (with the exception of the primary antagonist, but then, we’re not spending a lot of time in their head); and while I’ve seen people describe the pacing as too slow, it seems to move along at a good pace for my tastes.
I’m looking forward to the next volume. Recommended.