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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review: thunderhead

thunderheadTITLE: Thunderhead

AUTHOR: Neal Shusterman

PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster

SYNOPSIS (Goodreads): Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?


SPOILER-FREE REVIEW:

THAT WAS LITERALLY THE CRAZIEST POSSIBLE ENDING EVER.

Though the unexpected cliffhanger absolutely killed me, I still enjoyed Thunderhead, the sequel to Scythe. The world-building is really something else. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Thunderhead is smart and packed with enough action to keep the audience guessing until the final reveal. It deftly explores the concept of mortality and reconciliation with our humanity in a technology-driven futuristic utopian society.

I do wish that Citra and Rowan had more interaction and page time together. It was slightly disorienting to read about Rowan’s situation and then shift to Citra’s newfound life as a scythe, completing her gleanings. I also felt that some of the secondary characters who were introduced weren’t all that essential to the plot. There was definitely a surprise character that I totally DID NOT expect to make an appearance in this book…

However, I really loved the interactions between Scythe Curie and Scythe Anastasia (Citra)–give me a book all about their adventures together and I’ll gladly devour it in a single sitting! Both women are incredibly smart, and it was so interesting to delve into their thoughts and understand their perspectives in trying to manufacture a method to untangle themselves from the dangerous situation they were mercilessly thrown into.

Another interesting yet unsettling aspect of the book was the smart inclusion of the Thunderhead’s thoughts and feelings as a preface to almost every chapter. These interjections should have been jarring to read, but instead, they were almost poignant to a point, allowing me as a reader to glean (hahah) a little more insight about the history of the glittering world that the story is structured around.

Overall, though Thunderhead has a bit of “middle book syndrome,” it reads exactly like what it’s supposed to be, a (good) second book of a series that sets up a promising premise for the third. I can’t wait to see what else Shusterman adds to this series!

RATING: 3.75/5*
*Thank you to Simon Teen for sending me a copy of Scythe and Thunderhead! This in no way impacted the nature of my review, and all thoughts represented are my own.