review: descendant of the crane

TITLE: Descendant of the Crane
AUTHOR: Joan He
SYNOPSIS: Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?


SPOILER-FREE REVIEW:

First off, that cover is literally way prettier than I am, but that’s fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.

As someone of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, I don’t often see proper representation of Asian main characters in young adult novels. That, as well as the stunningly gorgeous cover and promising premise (okay, and the fact that it was on the syllabus for my young adult literature class this semester), motivated me to pick up Descendant of the Crane—and I loved it!

It was dark, twisty, and nasty in all the right places. The intricacy of imperial court politics really drove the plot forward, but the novel also does an amazing job of tackling the fundamental question of morality. Hesina has a lot on her plate. She has to learn that the path to the truth she craves so badly involves choosing between the lesser of two evils and possibly doing something “bad” for the greater “good.” She’s pushed into her role as the queen of Yan at the young age of 17, and her constant pursuit of the absolute truth about the circumstances surrounding her father’s death ends up causing her to tunnel vision, crash, and tumble.

One of my absolute favorite things about this book is the fact that the author, Joan He, avoids defining her characters as simply “good” or “evil,” allowing for the development of multi-dimensional, complex characters with believable motives. The vivid writing also brings to life the familial relationships between the various characters without emphasizing romance. Although I think that the focus on coming-of-age, morality, and political court maneuverings was ultimately a better move for the overall tone of the book, I do wish that the relationship between Hesina and Akira, the ex-convict-turned-defense-lawyer, had a stronger presence throughout the novel. Akira is definitely the most mysterious character after Caiyan.

Speaking of Caiyan…I won’t spoil anything but he is my favorite character in this novel. I know this book was marketed as a standalone, (???why??? is the publisher just waiting to see how well this debut does???) but you can bet I’ll be reading the companion novels.

If you’re looking for a Nirvana and Fire, Chinese-inspired fantasy infused with forbidden magic, court intrigue and bildungsroman, Descendant of the Crane should definitely be your next read!

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

“What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good Kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.” 

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