Descendant of the Crane

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Descendant of the Crane was not a bad or a good book. I just think it was not a book for me, I had a hard time getting into the story and characters.
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Between my evolving taste in books and feeling like YA is inundated with fantasy these days, I have to admit I approached Descendent of the Crane with trepidation. I knew I wanted to love it (I mean, look at that cover you guys) but within the first few chapters I knew how I’d most likely feel about it by the end and I was right. Princess Hesina becomes Queen of Yan when her father is found dead but while others decree it a natural death, she believes it was murder and opens a formal investigation to prove it. Doing so opens up a pandora's box, especially when she turns to a soothsayer for help in spite of magic being outlawed and enlists a criminal named Akira to be her investigator. She’ll stop at nothing to get the truth but what price will she and others have to pay for it? A solid premise was there, which is why I wanted to read it in the first place, but unfortunately nothing wowed me. The characters were underdeveloped and the catalyst poorly introduced, and yet there was this expectation for the reader to immediately latch on and connect to Hestina’s journey for truth. Due to the lackluster writing and world plus character building, I never once felt connected to Hestina, nor anyone else in the book for that matter, and as a result I cared little for her ordeal. The second half does improve pacing-wise but it still wasn’t enough to raise my opinion.
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After her is father poisoned, Hesina will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But as she claims her throne as the new queen, and has to deal with the nation being on the verge of war, as well as her own duplicitous court.

I received a free copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

This book is beautifully written, and follows Hesina, who has lost the father she loves dearly. She is determined to bring his murderer to justice, and will even stoop so low as to visit a sooth (reviled magic-user), who sets her on the path to truth.

Have I mentioned this book is beautiful? It starts very simply with a girl, who grieve for her murdered father, and is supported by her adopted brother and sister. It slowly builds layers, with Hesina's strained relationship with her only blood relatives - her mother and brother Sanjing. How she has to fight for her right to the crown, even though she is the obvious heir.
And more graceful layers still, as the royal court is brought into focus, along with all the expectations and traditions that way young Hesina down.

Alongside her unlikely new ally, Akira, Hesina starts to see her kingdom through unfiltered eyes. She sees the unrest, the ongoing prejudice and hatred towards sooths, and the enemies snapping at her heels.

I loved how things unravelled, going in a completely different direction than I expected, as her kingdom's history still played a heavy hand, in this new queen's future.

There were a few minor blips, I found some of the sacrifices made on Hesina's behalf to be overly-dramatic and detracted from the unforgiving storyline that had been carefully established. Hesina's reaction to said sacrifices was realistic, but her numbness and inaction at a vital time felt suddenly against her character, and I lost a lot of respect for her.

Altogether, this was an intriguing and elegantly-written story, and I will definitely be continuing with the sequel.
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~~ I received an ARC copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ~~

This book honestly surprised me. Although I was intrigued with the premise, I feared that the world building would be either too complex or not fleshed out enough or that the main character would not draw my attention to keep me interested. Joan He's Descendant of the Crane is the beginning of a promising saga based in ancient Chinese culture. I enjoyed reading Hessina's journey and identified with both her insecurities and her drive. The plot has some interesting twists and turns that I honestly didn't expect. I lie the set up of the secondary and tertiary characters, and love that their intentions aren't one dimensional. I was definitely impressed by this story and can't wait to see what awaits Hessina in her future.
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I wanted to enjoy this YA fantasy steeped in Chinese culture, history, and lore. Yet while I liked those aspects, the writing left a lot to be desired. It's a debut novel so I feel bad pointing this out, but it reads like a writer wanting to be taken very seriously: quite a bit of ponderous, sober, dour pontificating about duty, rule, and the nature of power. The characters, alas, are interchangeable and unmemorable. Needed some wit, humour, or *something*.
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I have a lot to say about this one! The world-building is intense and magnificent. The characters are deep, beautifully crafted, and flawed. The magical theme was something different than I’ve ever experienced. However, the same repercussions are faced. 

The plot was good. I liked the idea of unraveling a mystery/whodunnit. I had just about every single character as a suspect at some point in time, I think. I trusted NO ONE. 

I can’t lie, I did get frustrated with Hesina’s choices at times. The blackmail was driving me insane. The trade-offs never felt worth what she was getting in return. I understood the why, but damn if I didn’t want to just kill the minister more times than not. 

Akira was...interesting. It was clear he wasn’t just a normal guy/thief. What he was hiding had to be huge. 

The whole Eleven thing could be confusing. In fact, the entire beginning was had me lost. It did get better as the story went on. 

Also, pacing was an issue at times. After an intense scene, it would get dull and be lacking in action for quite some time. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this!
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This book exceeded any and all expectations I had before, during and after reading it!! I am absolutely floored by how quickly and completely it drew me in and ensnared me. If you're looking for a wild emotional rollercoaster ride with courtly intrigue and a gut punching plot? read on...

There were a slew of things going on simultaneously and almost nothing was as it seemed on the surface. It wasn't until the epilogue that I got the full breadth and scope of the book. There was a regicide trial. There was a war brewing. There was a budding/highly unlikely romance slowly percolating. There were magical people being persecuted and there were rampant duplicitous actions abound. 

Our MC, Hesina, ascends the throne early on but who can she trust? Can she trust anyone? Can she even trust her fallible memories? She is young, malleable, impetuous, head strong, stubborn and a bit naive SO is she ready to rule? Is she ready to rule a country on the brink of war? With nefarious people and deeds amiss, can she navigate court and ferret out her father's murderer? I was swiftly swept up in the beauty of the writing, the plot, the world building and most of all the complex loveable/loatheable characters. There were twists and turns... even the turns had turns. I got to a point where I found myself saying (to myself) "I've read enough books in my life to see where this is going" I sat with a sneer on my face and then BAM!!! our MC was sitting in the dirt and the game totally changed. Not only didn't I see major plot twists ahead of time, I apparently had no idea what game was being played altogether. As you can imagine this left me wanting.. nay, needing more. I couldn't stop reading. I made excuses to hide away and read just a bit more. I waited in my daughter's car rider line, at school, an hour early just so I could continue reading. I read while the rest of the family watched t.v. together. I skipped meals and read through the dead of the night. I was addicted... in the best possible sense. I was a puppet on Joan He's strings and reacted just as she commanded. I loved then loathed then loved then felt conflicted right on cue... AND that ending... it slayed me!! I might have cried. Okay, I did cry but I dare you not to shed some (completely understandable) tears. I was swept up in all of the emotions. I am still reeling days after finishing the book. I let it sit and ruminate in my mind to see if the endorphin high would wear off but I am still just as touched and obsessed as when I read the very last word. I desperately wish I could start over again, naive to what lay ahead...experience this book anew. BUT alas...it will have to live on in my memories and of course in my favorites list. 

Over all: I LOVED this book!! It deftly elicited all the Feels. It ran me through the gamut of emotions and surprised me at almost every turn. I did guess one twist but that seems paltry compared to how many there were that I failed to foresee. This is going straight to my favorites list and I will wait until the end of time for book #2!! If you're still reading this... what are you waiting for?? Go and pick this one up toot sweet!

~ Enjoy 


*** I was given a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ***
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SO GOOD! I absolutely loved this book. The plot twists were amazing and well-written so that they flowed with the story and made so much sense when provided with the evidence from the author.

Pay close attention to everything you read in this book, because within the words are the clues for the end!
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Mixed feelings here. If you enjoy Chinese fantasy with lots of complicated political intrigue, this might be for you. There is some good world-building here, but it took me awhile to get it all straight. 

While the heroine (princess-turned-queen) is billed as strong and determined, I sometimes found her weak and struggling to keep up with the political mayhem. To be fair, she IS young. There’s also racism, treason, and quite a few twists, with the ending being open-ended enough to lead to possible sequels. It also felt a bit over long to me. 

Some will enjoy, I found myself a bit ambivalent. 

Thanks to #NetGalley and #AlbertWhitman&Co for the ARC. The opinions are strictly my own.
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Overall:
I enjoy books in several different ways for several different reasons, but it’s been quite some time since I’ve read a book that flowed so seamlessly and fluidly that I couldn’t tell how much I’d read or how long I’d been reading. Descendant of the Crane was one of the most hyped up books of 2019 that I’ve seen, and I can now see why. Joan He manages to weave a very creative fantasy while only toeing the line of what can be considered fantasy, an immense amount of political intrigue, and one of the most compelling main characters I’ve read all year. While I am an absolute glutton for political intrigue fantasies, that in itself isn’t usually enough to leave me as emotionally raw and vulnerable as Descendant of the Crane did and that’s because this book, in a very natural manner such that you don’t even notice, transitions from a generic political/historical fantasy to a tale about morals versus duty. The concepts of belief and choice are the true foundations and are weaved so well into the story and Hesina’s character that the reader cannot help but drown in the very same helpless anxiety of “what can I possibly do?”

Descendant of the Crane also features a compelling cast of characters with complex relationships that leave you unsure of how you feel about the events of the narrative. It’s very hard to love or hate anyone or their actions because Joan He manages to capture the three-dimensional nature of anything from siblings to institutional oppression to the various motivations a person could have for a variety of actions. I’m absolutely breath-taken by the multi-faceted story that Joan He managed to fit in a book that took me only 3 evenings to read.

Plot:
Descendant of the Crane knows no slow moment. I wouldn’t describe it as fast paced, but more like a steady crescendo. Most plots flow like waves where they ebb and wane until they hit the climax. Descendant of the Crane, however, maintains a momentum that only continues to build and ends with a resolution that feels more like a rubber band that really should have snapped but is still somehow defying physics and in tact.

The book starts with Hesina determined to get justice for her father, whom she was believed to be poisoned. But as she takes over as queen, we start to see all the political and social forces of this kingdom at play. What I absolutely adored about the plot was the way the different portions of it transitioned into one another, and I never once questioned why something was happening. Joan He set up the dominoes of the plot so well that every subsequent plot path made logical sense to me. And every single plot twist was set up and timed perfectly. Sometimes in books like these you KNOW things aren’t what they seem, and you’re smart enough to go into reading it with some amount of suspicion towards every character in the book. That makes it difficult to truly surprise the reader. Descendant of the Crane uses an intricate domino like plot structure such that you’ve got an idea that Hesina’s can’t trust everyone that she does, but you can’t really predict when that’ll happen. Which then kills you because the reason you THOUGHT that plot twist was going to happen isn’t the reason at all. Absolutely GENIUS.

Characters:
I fell in love with the characters of Descendant of the Crane so fast, I was making them my new family just 25% of the way in. I know I talk about how much I love every female main character I’ve read about this entire year, but Hesina really hits it home for me. Main characters in fantasies are usually marked by being special in some way. A prodigy in something or the other. Something that gives them the one-up over everyone else. Hesina does not fit that mold at all. She is described at average at everything from academics to fighting. She’s not particularly beautiful, but not ugly. Aside from the fact that she’s a princess and heir to the throne of Yan–which doesn’t mean much because Yan’s monarchy is quite limited and they live in more of a socialist society–Hesina is incredibly ordinary. But that’s what made her feel so real. She’s aggressive but vulnerable, naive but calculating, determined but also ready to curl up into a ball and just leave it all behind. She reacts to situations exactly how I’d imagine I would if i were a 17 year old princess who lost the parent I was the closest to and inherited a kingdom built on hatred.

The other characters are just as compelling. Lilian is a ray of sunshine and when she’s around, you just know that everything will be okay, even if it’s for a moment. Sanjing tore my heart because he’s the most realistic portrayal of a 16 year old boy I’ve ever seen in a fantasy novel, and his relationship with Hesina clawed at my soul. Caiyan is everything you want him to be and everything you don’t want him to be. Not to spoil anything, but the fact that he spends the ENTIRE book calling Hesina “milady” even though he’s her adopted brother…oof. And Akira was a breath of fresh air. He’s mysterious and goofy, but none of that hides a broody interior. In fact, he had a lot of reasons to turn out to be the Broody YA Love Interest guy, but he doesn’t and I loved him. Also Rou. I’m love him too. I JUST WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THESE GUYS GIVE ME A BOOK 2.

Last note: Hesina’s mom…oh man. One of the most interesting characters in the book. I hate and love her simultaneously and the fact that I can’t decide which feeling to go with is POWERFUL.

Setting/Worldbuilding:
Descendant of the Crane takes place in a fictional kingdom inspired by China where the people were once ruled by greedy monarchs that used soothsayers to secure their rule. That system was eventually torn down by a group of revolutionaries called The Eleven, who then reinstated a more fair system of government and society by rewriting the law and identifying a scapegoat–the soothsayers. So now you’ve got a kingdom that’s almost perfect. Every bit of inequality is snuffed out. The government has an effective anti-corruption system, the education and job market are based on merit and not nepotism. But all of this is built upon a festering hatred of the soothsayers. The worldbuilding is rich and well thought out, but what I loved most about it was the way He captured the public. She depicts them as a volatile crowd that are quick to descend into a mob like mentality, particularly when they’re never challenged to think critically. This serves as one of the conflicts for Hesina, who has to somehow figure out how to change a population’s opinion that has been socialized within her kingdom for over 300 years. I also loved reading about The Eleven and the themes of history, legends, and truth. It’s not a good political and historical fantasy if it doesn’t address the manipulation of the past and how it’s taught in the future.

Writing Style:
Joan He has one of the most balanced writing styles I have ever come across. Most authors I’ve seen vary between being description heavy, dialogue heavy, or relying on plot to carry the story over the writing and voice. He, however, strikes a perfect blend of description and pace. Her imagery is gorgeous and has your mouth watering at the idea of strolling through a persimmon garden even if you’ve never eaten a persimmon before. But she also uses her words and tone to create an atmospheric effect when her main goal isn’t to describe the scene. For example: whenever she recalls a story of Hesina and her father, her writing softens such that you automatically picture it like a hazy vignette taking place on a calm and clear sunny day. When it rains, she doesn’t have to say that it’s dark and dreary. She simply states that the rain starts to fall, and the context of that scene fills in the dark or grave atmosphere for us. Her writing really appealed to me because it let me lose track of my progress in the story. I feel like the phrase “it flowed like water” is too simple to describe the experience I had, but it’s best way I can currently think of wording that.
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Descendant of the Crane was a really pleasant surprise. It's actually one of the better, more creative YA fantasies I've read, taking influence from Chinese culture and exploring morally grey areas in a story full of political machinations and twists. I hope this book doesn't get buried under the pile of generic YA fantasies with flashier covers and dramatic names like "Queen of Blood/Ash/Shadows/Fire".

It's a quieter book than I had first imagined. The promise of a kingdom in turmoil and a ban on the magic once practiced by soothsayers sounds familiar in this genre, not unlike other action-packed fantasies. However, it is much more focused on political maneuvering and a young woman's bildungsroman as she discovers that not everything is black and white, and sometimes you are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Oh, and there's also a compelling murder mystery and courtroom drama.

Joan He avoids dropping characters into "good" or "evil" boxes, allowing the villains (both the obvious ones and the not so obvious) to be multilayered and have realistic motivations for their actions that go beyond "Muahaha, I'm evil". As Hesina adjusts to her new power as queen, she finds herself relating to her enemies and questioning the purely benevolent view she always held of her father. I like how the author doesn’t stop at the surface, but instead explores complex emotions.

The story begins with Hesina illegally visiting a soothsayer for information about her father's - the former king's - death. She knows there was foul play and wants to find out who was responsible. The soothsayer cannot tell her the culprit, but she can point her in the direction of someone who will help her find out. Enter sexy ex-convict-turned-lawyer: Akira.

What follows is Hesina's attempt to get justice for her father and prevent war at the same time. Along the way, she uncovers secrets and betrayals. The murder mystery aspect - plus the thrilling courtroom scenes - were done so well here. So much better than the recent Four Dead Queens.

I really enjoyed it when Hesina was forced to play a role as queen. Part of her story arc is learning how sometimes, unfortunately, it is necessary to lie or do "bad" for the greater good. It's a hard pill for her to swallow.

I have a couple of minor quibbles. The first is that sometimes the pacing needed work. Overall, I appreciated the slower, more political plot, but there were parts of the book that went on too long and felt dragged out, but truthfully this could be said for about 95% of YA fantasy debuts.

The second is that this is one of those books that I think would have been better as an adult novel. There is something a bit off by all these rulers and military leaders being around 16 or 17 years old. As it is, the novel is mostly chaste, despite the inclusion of such as brothels. It feels almost deliberately cleaned up for a younger audience, and I think it is a shame that a sexy character like Akira is wasted on a romance lacking in steam.

I still enjoyed it a lot, though. I have to point out that this is NOT a standalone and is left set up for a sequel. You can bet I'll be reading it.
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I'm not sure I can accurately describe how stunning this book is. Beautiful prose so artfully woven it reads like one's own thoughts. Flawless world-building. Believable character growth. It is a story of a girl who aims to get justice for her father's murder, but it is also so much more. It is a story about loss, betrayal, heartbreak, prejudice, and hope. It is about humanity, the good and the bad, and learning to grow, seeking the truth, fighting for change despite what the past dictates. 

Descendant of the Crane is extraordinary.
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We are absolutely in the midst of a Golden Age for YA high fantasy, Descendant of the Crane just dropped the mic of maybe the best fantasy of 2019. 

There are twists, betrayals, and blade sharp intrigue dripping from the pages of Descendant of the Crane, Joan He just catapulted herself into the upper echelon of authors who are changing the perception of YA.
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Excuse me Joan He. Who gave you the right? This book threw me for so many loops in my three days of reading it. I was constantly itching to pick it back up and to find out what the hell was going on with all of these incredible characters. There were about seven plot twists that made me audibly yell. This is easily one of my new favorite book. Incredible, fascinating and brilliantly crafted. If you like politics heavy slow paced fantasy do not miss this one.
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**I was provided with an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**

Descendant of the Crane is an enthralling debut novel full of vivid world-building and a mystifying plot. It’s a Chinese inspired fantasy full of complex familial relationships, court politics and a hell of a lot of twists. I’m honestly still struggling to put my thoughts into words.

The story follows Princess Hesina, who has grown up cherishing certain secrets of the palace that her father, the emperor shared with her. 
Following her father’s death – or as Hesina believes, murder - she steps up to inherit her role as ruler as a means to find justice. However, this entails being thrown into a world of more secrets than she initially asked for. A world full of corruption and power hungry individuals. A world controlled through the words of the Tenets – an ancient text asserting the philosophies of the revolutionaries who centuries back marshalled a new era for the kingdom. A world governed by a primordial prejudice against “soothsayers” – people who are able to wield magic, any association with whom is regarded as an act of treason. 

In this world full of deception Hesina has to stand her ground and fight for what she wants. By her side are her siblings –Caiyan, Lilian, Sanjing, and Rou, a mysterious convict who goes by the name Akira and the lessons she learnt from her father. 

Joan’s narrative does well in voicing the determination and naivety of the young queen from the start. Hesina’s overall character development - from a carefree, inexperienced adolescent to a persevering monarch set out to do what is right for all of her people - was GREAT! However, I did feel that some of Hesina’s decisions and indifference towards certain characters were unrealistic.  

Towards the beginning I felt that the events occurring in the plot were progressing quite rapidly, but as the rich history and politics of the world were fed into the story it set a good pace. The case of the emperor’s death took centre stage hence the book felt more like a mystery with an air of historical fiction rather than a fantasy. 

The fantasy elements to me felt slightly overshadowed by the happenings of the imperial court and the strong themes of trust and doubt, truth and lies. Nonetheless, this is not to say that the fantasy elements were lacking in any way. The soothsayers and their magic was really interesting! I just hope that if we are to get a sequel that we get to see more about them. It would also be interesting if we were able to learn more about the surrounding territories of Ning, Ci and Kendi’a. Other than a few scenes taking place at the borderlands and the mention of political agreements and commerce, the narrative doesn’t really focus anywhere other than the kingdom of Yan.   

My favourite parts of the story were probably the flashbacks Hesina had of her father. Family was another very prominent theme within this book and the character relationships overall, in particular the sibling relationships, were really well written. The main thing I had a problem with understanding was the relationship between Hesina and Akira…
Akira intrigued me from the beginning with how he easily slipped into the role he was given but the confidence Hesina gave him didn’t entirely make sense to me. Also the romance?? It was never intense and had the impression of being slow burn but as I was reading I just felt that there was something missing in order for it all to work.  

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Descendant of the Crane. It is a clever tale that you won’t be able to put down and will keep you guessing until the end! And let me tell you now that end was really something!
Final Rating - 4.25/5 Stars
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Princess Hesina finds herself queen after her father unexpectedly dies. Suspicious of the circumstances of his death, she commits treason to ask a soothsayer--whose very existence is illegal--whether her father was murdered. She receives confirmation that he was murdered, but that the killer is unknown and that one particular person will help her find out the truth. Amidst the challenge of establishing herself as a competent ruler and threat of war with a neighboring nation, Hesina launches an investigation into her father's murder, an act which begins to expose the corruption in court politics and the fragile peace built on inequality within Yan.

I feel as if this novel is incomplete. The author says it is written as a standalone with the potential for a series, but it ends before much of the story is resolved, with one character taking a course of action that I felt was not adequately foreshadowed (requiring liberal use of flashbacks at the end to explain) and another character left in an unexpectedly difficult spot. I suspect the author planned a sprawling, intricate drama but found herself forced to cut it down to fit a single, possibly standalone novel. Thus, some of the story arcs seem oddly truncated and many characters feel underused. Honestly, I would have preferred it if the author had either cut certain plot arcs to streamline the story or been given the room to expand them enough to do them justice. I like what she was doing, and wish she was able to do more.

I like Hesina's character. She's smart, but young, idealistic, and insecure, reeling from her beloved father's death and forced to make decisions about extremely difficult problems that are out of her depth.

All in all, I think this is a good debut and I am utterly thrilled at the presence of more Asian-inspired fantasy in the genre. I hope this turns into a series, and I look forward to reading what He writes next.
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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 well-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!
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This book gave me so much whiplash--especially at the end! Part magical fantasy, part courtroom drama and part murder investigation, there's a lot of plot in this one. 

The question of who killed the king is dangled over us as the new queen has to attempt to navigate her country's legal system as well as the court of public opinion. Hesina additionally goes up against her own advisors, ministers and even her own people. There's a complex political structure in Yan that did away with the 'unquestioned tyrannical king' that usually exist in stories like this, which I really appreciated. There's also a religious cult-like mindset that invades the population and mimics some of the abuses of power and widespread fear & animosity that parts of the world are dealing with today. Both the audience and the characters are asked, is it better to try to appease a mob or to dismantle it? 

"In trying times, truth is the first thing we betray."

Hesina has a pretty large and complicated family, with an adopted brother and sister, a half-brother and a full brother along with her father, mother who doesn't live with them and the courtesan mother of said half-brother. There's resentment and anger bubbling beneath the surface at all times, and it at times was difficult to follow people's motivations. Sometimes even after the explanations of some characters' actions, I was still left confused on why.

I don't know if this is a theme with the fantasy books I've read lately or just in general, but it seems like the endings are always set up for a sequel. Which is fine, but I like to know that going into the book, so I can rate it as a stand-alone or one of a series. If this was a stand-alone then I feel like it left me with some questions, but if there's more coming, then the epilogue was the perfect post/mid-credits scene like out of a Marvel movie. You'll be itching for more!
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It's rare that I find myself so completely infatuated with a book. I gush about a few, sure, but I mean this one was the sort that from the first chapter you knew you were reading something quite amazing. Not only does it engage you in the first chapter but there was not one character that I wasn't completely interested in, there were no slumps or any boring filling, it was pure gold from start to finish. Usually, I do a pros and cons list when I write a review on my blog and this time the cons will be superfluous ones. I'm sure there are faults but anything that might have stood out to me didn't due to beautiful prose and quite talented world-building skills. But more than anything, Joan He had a way of making you feel for her characters in a way that I really hadn't in probably over a decade of reading. This isn't a 'Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones.' This is an amazing work of fiction all on its own, He's story is her own with no shadows of GoT and she can clearly stand on her own two feet without such a comparison needed. I felt honored in being able to read an eARC of this and I'm grateful for the chance to read such an amazing book. Of course, this is all my own opinion and others will not feel the same but, I stick by what I've said. It's quickly been shelved on my favorites on GR and I will be closely watching for anything else Joan He will come out with from now on.
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I very much admire the complexities that went into writing this deeply intricate political fantasy. It's definitely the kind of tale that relies on the reader keeping up, reading between the lines, and appreciating the Chinese #ownvoices culture that's woven lovingly through every chapter. Total admiration for the author!

The world was very intriguing, although it left me with many questions on the politics of how things ran (why it was so controversial for Hesina to launch an inquiry and trial about her father's death, I'm still not sure). But the amazing setting and descriptions were beautiful and so carefully written. You can tell so much thought and planning went into this novel.

My comprehension of the lot was a little scattered, unfortunately, leaving me lost. But I'd definitely recommend this book to everyone who craves epic fantasy that's about plot twists and court politics and the backstabby trickery of not knowing who to trust in your own home. And the ending definitely drops you off a cliffhanger that you desperately need answers to!
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