Descendant of the Crane

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I really enjoyed the Chinese cultural setting for the novel as well as the worldbuilding. The magical system was interesting and only explained slowly, letting you figure it out as the main character did. The plot was a mystery, and fairly well-done. I certainly didn't guess at the plot twists, and I did think about it throughout the day.
The prose was really well written. I loved how the author used slips in perception to illustrate emotions, giving us the feeling of experiencing things ourselves. There were some beautiful turns of phrase and descriptions. I also thought the quotes from the Tenants at the beginning of each chapter were masterful. They really added to the worldbuilding and tone of the story.
There was something missing from the book that keeps me from giving it more stars. The characters were... underdeveloped. They had all the parts of great characters but somehow I was never able to connect with any of them. I enjoyed following the plot, but I never felt like I understood or sympathized with Hesina. I can't pin it down, but it really brought down the story for me. Too much telling of her emotions and not enough showing? It would have been 4 stars if the character development had been better. I'll be on the lookout for the next one.
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I just couldn't get into this one.  I ended up DNFing it at around 30 percent.  It just seemed to not hold on to my interest even though the description seemed like it would.  Not much happened and the characters were not very dynamic.
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In my opinion, this book reads like a Chinese period wuxia drama. The world was so intricately crafted and mysterious. Hesina was such a strong female character that would inspire teens to strive for justice even when it's hard. I found the pacing a little slow but towards the end, it got really interesting. There were so many twists and turns that kept me on my toes. I appreciate the fact that it's a standalone but there's definitely room for companion novels in this world. This book is a solid debut and I would gladly read more from this author.
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2 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.”

TL;DR:
Characters: Complicated but boring
Writing: Slow, overly descriptive, SLOW
Plot: Could have been cool (murder, trial, betrayal, oh my!), but instead put me to sleep

I DNF'd this the first time around and it was pretty torturous to make it all the way through the second time but I did it! Albeit I skimmed a little, but I did it.

I was so excited to read this one but unfortunately it fell short of my expectations. The back end world-building of a kingdom that fears its Sooths to the point of genocide was intriguing. However, the immediate conflict, the murder of Hesina's father and her investigation into it, failed to catch my attention. There were some minor plot twists that did surprise me, but even these couldn't revive the novel for me.

The pros:
-interesting concept
-complicated characters

The cons:
-pacing
-execution of plot
-slow-moving and boring
-iffy world-building
-characters that didn't inspire any feeling
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To be honest I could not get into this book. Partly it was due to the formatting of this review copy. I can overlook some things but sentences were broken apart and there would be entire pages without any indentation. Story wise, it just didn't grab me the way I would have liked.
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Princess Hesina of Yan had never really wanted to rule her country, but after her father's murder she has no choice. As the eldest in her family, she has to take the responsibility of the throne, and chooses to pursue the truth about her father's murder. This exposes corruption, lies, illegal magic, and political intrigue that she had never wanted to be part of. In the midst of all of this, she has to decide what is best for her country as well as for her family.

I find it hard to believe that this is Joan He's first novel. It's so intricately plotted, with nuanced details that develop over time. Hesina's journey on the edges of legality, first by consulting a soothsayer despite that being a treasonous act, all the way to the end of the novel, is well done. We're as naive as she is at the start of the novel, and the court intrigue, strained relationships within her family and the troubled history of her country all naturally are revealed as the novel progresses. It's heavily influenced by Chinese culture and history, which adds to the ethereal beauty of the story, and a lingering melancholy as Hesina loses her innocence and trust in others.

The action in the novel is less of the sword and sorcery variety, though there are elements of that at times, and more of the spoken word. It's fitting that chapters open up with the words of One and Two, the primary founders of the country, because they had set up the culture and the fear of soothsayers and magic upon which a lot of Yan is based. Everything in the story flows smoothly, so that the plot twists and character beats feel inevitable. Nothing feels out of place here, and every single one of the characters feels real. They all carry secrets, and the weight of history behind every part of the book really adds to sense of inevitability. Joan He's word choices are also very lyrical, reminding me of the brush strokes of the different characters that make up the written language. Because of this, I devoured this book in a single day.
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If you're looking for a book set in a Chinese-inspired fantasy world, maybe this is the one for you! It's very suspenseful, filled with treachery on the road to finding the truth. 

Unfortunately I did not finish reading this book (stopped around halfway through). The pacing didn't suit my tastes and the writing doesn't flow very well. I also had a hard time connecting with the characters. The main character came across as very spoiled and didn't learn from her mistakes. She lacked character consistency, thinking one thing and then jumping to the other end of the spectrum, which her actions reflected. This happened with a lot of plot-important things.
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Descendant of the Crane was one of my MOST anticipated debut novels this year -- and man, it did not disappoint. Overflowing with betrayals, political intrigue, sibling bonds, magic, and heart-stopping twists, Joan He's Chinese-inspired fantasy was worth every page I couldn't help but turn.
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I loved this book. The East Asian setting is beautiful, the political intrigue is intricate, but the main plot is definitely the whodunnit-style investigation and trial of the main character’s father’s murderer. Complex and difficult family relationships add some depth, and the world building is nicely rounded out with both cynical and idealistic quotes from the religious text (Tenets Of the Eleven). There’s always another secret and the reveals are beautifully timed. I loved the chessmaster-style finale and am really looking forward to the sequel.
A Chinese (YA) version of the Goblin Emperor. Very good.
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Disclosure.  I am one of the sales reps for this title.  I waited until after my selling season to read it just in case I did not like it. (Difficult to sell a title one does not care for.)  No worries here.  The book is great.  Well worth anyone's time to read.
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I really enjoyed this one with my whole heart and soul. I ended up reading this while cohosting a book club with some of my dear friends, and i think I enjoyed it the most, but it was just such a powerful read to me. I cannot wait to continue on with the series and I cannot wait to see what comes next!
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This was such an interesting book set in a beautiful Chinese setting. The characters were all so well written and you really felt for Hesina and everything she was going through.
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Princess Hesina is brought suddenly into power when her father, King Wen, is killed. The kingdom of Yan is unstable and edging closer and closer to war, and the balancing act of keeping the people in line is trickier as Hesina's attention is divided; she's convinced her father was murdered. This book is all about her journey to get justice or discover that the cost is simply too high - something that will probably break her, if she's not able to properly honour her father's memory.  

Although the book starts off with a brief snapshot of the King and Princess, of him teaching her seemingly everything, Hesina is still somehow quite inexperienced with the politics of a royal court. Despite thinking her father has been murdered she still trusts people she hasn't been given much reason/evidence to trust (and it's in such a delicate time to - surely she understands that her kingdom could dissolve into war at any given moment if she's not careful?). This makes the start of the book rather slow and, at times, frustrating. She was born a princess - surely if they had any respect for their family and their people her whole life would have been set around preparing her for this moment, even if it has come a little earlier than hoped?

It's also confusing that there's no additional security measures - where are the guards, or councils of scholars, or even an advisor? Moreover, where were the King's (surely he had them), OR why didn't he have them - or why weren't they used to working with Hesina and where are they now? 

This effects the world building, making it feel rather lacking and unrealistic. That, and the addition that the length of time between wars, persecution of certain groups of people, and the lack of people with high skills despite the years of education made little to no sense.

The first few chapters felt a bit chaotic and it wasn't always clear what was happening (I think in a 'trying to be mysterious' way), but I wanted to follow Hesina's journey for justice. At 400 pages though, with significant pacing problems, this simply didn't work out. I'm behind in my reviews due to continued illness, and I have to get on with it. 

Especially seeing as the less said about the love interest, Akira, the better. 

I didn't really feel much of a connection for any of the characters, but the relationship between Hesina and her siblings (both by blood, and adopted) were probably the best thing about this book, raising it to three stars. Some of the twists were delivered well, but you only care about twists if you've been drawn into the plot and care about the stakes. Sadly, I wasn't.
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Descendant of the Crane is Joan He's young adult debut. The story is about Princess Hesina of Yan whose father just died. As his oldest child, she is to become queen of their kingdom. Which is something she does not really want, but will still do because as queen, she will be able to open up a trial to find out who killed her father. In this case, she is the only one who honestly believes he was murdered since she found him. This includes her own mother as well as nearly everyone around her. 

Hesina of has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But, when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her. Her court is filled with dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. 

Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago. If you haven’t guessed, sooths main power is predicting the future. Hesina is told to beware of the devil of lies, and that her only hope may lie in the hands of a convict. Akira is said convict and he is as brilliant as he is secretive. Akira is your typical mysterious “dangerous” boy who ticks all the misunderstood bad boy boxes that are seen in nearly all young adult tropes these days.

Thus, the start of her reign as queen becomes filled with a murder investigation. You never know who to trust, or what anyone’s motives are until revelations happen too fast to do anything about them. Hesina was a bit too trusting of everyone. She's got a good heart, and means what she says about making sure her people are taken care of, but there are those close to her that are eager to see her fall. Hesina has four siblings: a brother a year younger who is a general (Yan Sanjing), two adopted siblings (a twin brother Caiyan and sister Lilian who Hesina is very close too), and a younger half-brother (Rou) who Hesina’s hardly speaks to since it is a daily reminder of her father’s infidelity.

Unfortunately, Hesina's relationship with Yan was so very strained which was pretty sad considering he was one of the few who could have been a steady presence for her when she is confronted by backstabbing and betrayal. My one major complaint in this entire book just happens to be the ending. There is nothing on the authors web page, nor on Goodreads, or anywhere else about a possible sequel. For me, there absolutely needs to be a sequel. You can't just leave things hanging in perpetuity forever without giving readers like me an answer. 

Overall, this Chinese-inspired fantasy combines two elements politics and a murder mystery. If there were to be a sequel, I would have hopes that I could find time to read it to see what happens next for Hesina.
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I was really anticipating reading this book but overall I felt let down. The characters, plot, and world building all just felt underwhelming to me. I did find the writing nice though. I may try future books by this author if the premise intrigues me.
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Descendants of the Crane has such rich storytelling and weaves in lore seamlessly while creating its own magical and unique story. I initially wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading, but in no time I was completely drawn in by Joan He’s enthralling tale. I’m sure my students are sure to enjoy this book as well.
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Even before I knew what the story was about, I fell in love with the cover of this lovely book, and I found the story equally charming. It would have been nice if the characters were a little older, to reflect the nature of their positions, but overall this is a strong debut from a new young adult author!
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“She’d never bothered to see it wasn’t about her. It’d never been about her. Not all stories were hers to narrate.”

TW: Death, Torture, Oppression
Bechdel Test: Passes

If you’d have told me last month that I would end up rating The Descendant of the Crane 5 stars I would have asked you what you were smoking. This book took me about 5 attempts to get past the first few chapters, however this last attempt I managed to stick through it (also thanks to a great buddy read partner James!). 

The Descendant of the Crane is a fabulous debut from Joan He and I’m screaming at the fact that it’s a stand-alone (though I hope there will be a sequel? please tell me there will be a sequel). The ending reveals just kept coming and coming to the point where I needed it to stop or I couldn’t take any more unresolved storyline’s!

In all honesty, the book did take a long time for me to get invested. It’s a very character driven story and I didn’t feel particularly invested in Hesina until about 50% of the way through - which is a long time to slog through a book with little reward, however the intrigue of the secondary characters (read: Akira) managed to pull me through the first half until I was swept up in the second half. I felt a bit disconnected from Hesina’s motives at the start, which makes sense as I read the book further in that Hesina grows into her strength and her characterisation of being a truth seeker - even if that truth isn’t what you are looking for. 

The treatment of the sooths led a lot to be desired. I understand the need to show the brutality and the oppression however I’m never really a fan of reading about mutilation and torture (though my favourite genre of movies is horror, go figure). To me, the torture scene felt like the Mulan moment. The moment when they are in the middle of singing A Girl Worth Fighting For and end up coming face to face with the brutalities of the Huns. That moment changed the tone of Mulan’s story and the torture scene changed the tone of Hesina’s story. 

I can’t really go into too much of the last 50% of the book without spoiling anything as I feel like it was just shock after shock after shock and my mind is still reeling from all the revelations. I would recommend this book and I encourage you to stick with it if you’re struggling to get through the first half, as it really pays off. 

*thank you to Albert Whitman & Company and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you Albert Whitman & Company and Netgalley for the review copy.

I really, really enjoyed DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE and I'm looking forward to what Joan He writes next!
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As beautiful as the cover      

This was once a quiet little book that snagged my radar when its beautiful cover released. I hadn't heard much about it when I first read it. Now it's all over the place, and well-deserved. He's debut is a forceful, genre-bending masterpiece inspired by Chinese history, with a generous touch of magic. I found myself gasping and white-knuckling the pages with every unexpected twist and turn. The astonishing ending left me desperate for a sequel.

Murder mayhem magic     

The beginning was a little disjointed, so stick with it. It starts well with Hesina finding out that her fther, the king, has died. She believes it was murder, and demands a trial. A soothsayer (one of the magic-users who were killed and shunned years ago, and must now live in secret) tells her that a specific criminal must be her lawyer if she wants to find the truth. It's an excellent set-up, but then the pacing gets a little choppy. It feels like the trial is moving way too fast to be the focus of the book.

And that's because it's really not. Once He really hits her stride and the rest of the plot unfolds, it's a breakneck ride to the end. There's just so much that happens! He does a great job of managing all the disparate plot threads so that the plot feels intriguing and complex rather than overwhelming. Instead, we get a great sense of how overwhelmed Hesina feels. She's being forced to keep a brittle empire together while war threatens from a neighboring nation. Internally, an unknown spy threatens from within the court.  She's at odds with a mother who openly reviles her and a brother who feels slighted. She feels pity for the soothsayers, who are being witchhunted as scapegoats for the king's murder, but cannot save them openly without courting rebellion.

To top it all, she's starting starting to fall for Akira, her mysterious criminal legal representative, who may be her only hope in preventing powerful courtiers from using the trial to railroad innocents. And as Hesina does her own investigation, she finds that there is much about her family she never knew. Take nothing for granted! With every new reveal, He reveals herself to be a master of red herrings, foreshadowing, and secrets. Everything is connected. But even if you pick up hints along the way, you will, if you're like me, still be astonished at how it all builds to explosion at the end.

I can show you the world       

The plot alone would make this book a worthwhile read, but it's strengthened with a foundation of believable characters and intricate worldbuilding. Yan is based on historical China, and He is good at giving enough details to make you feel embedded in the world without infodumps or over-explaining. In this inspiration she creates her own unique world, a world in which soothsayers were once depended on for fortunes and magic but were driven out by the mysterious forebears of Yan, the Eleven. Each chapter heading has a tenet from One and Two that comments subtly on the chapter content. And the way Yan's history relates to its present is so clever, I can't go into too much detail without spoiling. Suffice to say, He has solid sense of her world, and it shows.

I love all the messed up kids

Hesina is a wonderful narrator. She's headstrong, stubborn, clever, selfless but sometimes a little self-absorbed, and all of this comes through strongly in her voice. You can see her stepping into traps, but you can also completely believe why the circumstances would lead her there. She's flanked by Caiyan and Lilian, her adopted siblings, her greatest supports, and interesting enough on their own that I wanted to know more about them. I also loved her brother Sanjing, a fiery warrior who resents Hesina's easy closeness with Caiyan. Their sibling dynamic is so contentious, so believably fraught with misunderstanding and stubbornness!

When it came to romance, Akira is actually kind of lukewarm. I loved his moments of sarcasm and his clever lawyering, but I just felt a little too distant from him to be as invested in his relationship with Hesina as I could have been. On the other hand, I am totally invested in Sanjing's friendship with spitfire assassin Mei. But the romance wasn't a central theme, because there's just too much else going on to absorb my interest.

Magic meets thriller      

Descendant of the Crane is that rare fantasy that goes beyond the bounds of the genre to create something unique. While magic is certainly a part of the story, the thriller-like plot takes center stage. It was an exciting, breathtaking read that grew on me the more pages I turned, and left me wishing desperately for a sequel. It's a world that feels homelike, and characters I came to know intimately. Don't miss out on this gem.




My thoughts overall

He's debut is a forceful, genre-bending masterpiece inspired by Chinese history, with a generous touch of magic.

    Will I read this author again? Yes yes yes
    Will I continue this series? Please please everyone buy it so we can get a sequel
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