Published by Albert Whitman & Company on April 9, 2019
Source: Publisher, Netgalley
Genres: Young Adult, Diversity, Fantasy & Magic
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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?
In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.
Descendant of the Crane draws concepts from East-Asian culture (specifically, Chinese!), which immediately made this at the top of my TBR list. Unfortunately, my hopes were probably too high, as I found the story dragging on and on, and was indifferent to Hesina’s struggles and journey. Although Descendant of the Crane has stunning narrative and writing, the slow plot and lack of action made it almost a miss for me. It took me quite a while to start appreciating Hesina’s growth, even though I thought it was decently paced and well-written. Must be a case of “it’s-me-not-you” over here. The real exciting part came when all the plot twists became exposed near the end, so ultimately, I do believe that slow build-up got the anticipated reaction from me.
She wasn’t a princess anymore. Power wasn’t wielding the knife on her own but having someone else wield it on her behalf.
The book starts with the sudden death of Princess Hesina’s father, the king of a nation thrown in tumult. She herself is thrust into the role of a queen, which she is NOT ready for. What’s a girl gotta do but adapt? And adapt she does. Hesina learns how to play the power game, amidst the politics of the court and intricate relationships that begin to develop. All the while, she remains obstinate that her father’s death was murder, rather than by natural causes. Soon enough, she’s balancing this investigation AND her control of the throne. What could go wrong?
I love the folklore written within the pages of Descendant of the Crane, and I think the author did a brilliant job in setting it up. What the book lacks in action is definitely made up for by the exposition and writing. Hesina’s character development was also stellar, although that brings me to another point… I thought these characters were exceptionally mature for their age (for context, Hesina is 17 years old). Hesina’s narrative is filled with thoughtful introspection, her younger brother Sanjing has assumed the role of the leader of warriors, and the prisoner Hesina hires as her lawyer, Akira, is very quick-witted and sly. Joan He really introduces a complexity to these characters and their actions, that I don’t see often in Young Adult books, which made for a surprising analysis.
We believe the things we want to believe. – ONE of the ELEVEN on human nature
From the complex characterizations to the detailed exposition, Descendant of the Crane makes for an intense and thoughtful read. My main complaint would definitely be the lack of action and dragging pace of the plot in favor of the character narrative throughout the middle of the book. It definitely provides more depth, but recently I’ve been craving more action in my stories, and this was one aspect the book disappointed me with. Other than that, it’s a spectacular fantasy read that I really recommend to fantasy readers. Hesina may not be a spitfire warrior heroine like the popular ones that dominate YA fantasy, but she’s intelligent and resourceful and has exceeding depth, which is why I’m definitely sticking with the rest of her story.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Trigger/Content Warnings: oppression, loss of a loved one, grief, cutting
Thank you Albert Whitman & Company and Netgalley for the review copy!