Cover Image: Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

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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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Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I read the description for this book and I was hooked. I put the release date on my calendar and prepared myself to wait. But I ended up not having to wait. I put in a request for an arc on NetGalley, fully expecting not to get it, but I am very grateful that I did. This is my first ever arc and my second (If you don't include Michelle Obama's audiobook) five star read of 2019. 

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own. 

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to avoid her responsibilities of the crown and dreams of an unremarkable life. But when her father, the king, is found dead, she's thrust into power. Now that she is the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom she has the power to take to trial the one thing on her mind; Her father didn't naturally die, he was murdered and the killer is someone close to her. Hesina's court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king's death for their own political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kindom of Kendi'a, whose ruler has been mustering for a war. Hesina is determined to find her father's actual killer and does something desperate: she gets aid from a soothsays - a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago. Using the information provided by the sooth, she finds Akira, a brilliant investigator who's also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. Hesina is unsure whether she can trust her own family and the future of Yan is at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

I can't get over how much I love this book. I bet I'm not the only one that struggles to express emotions after reading something that makes you full of them. Everything about this book is amazing and it deserves so much more than what I will say about it. The characters all have so much depth, I felt connected to all of them. The backstories and relationships between all of them are so delicate but deep. None of the relationships felt forced, they were pure and real, like Hesina and her mother or her (blood) brother. The world was also very intricate and I built up Yan in my head with all the details I was given within the book, it was as beautiful as it was written to be even though it was falling apart at the seams as the book went on. There were magical family secrets and twisted political games that were intriguing and irritating all at the same time. However the one thing that really made me mad, in the best way, were the plot twists. There were things I never expected to happen and right after reading one, another one happened! It was almost too much (it wasn't, but it had me triggered a lot). 

There was really only one thing I didn't like about the book and it was the very very beginning. It seemed the beginning started out abrupt and I was very confused about what was happening and who was who. It seemed like an odd place to start, but of course that's my own opinion. Once I understood what was happening and who everyone was, I started on the path of a phenomenal book.

I received an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review
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I can see this is a good book. I loved the world building. I really enjoyed the references to Chinese history - especially since I have studied it. This is a wonderful diverse novel and from what I've seen of the author on social media, she is super smart and has really thought out her writing and narratives, especially with regard to language. I just didn't really engage with the characters. The narrative just didn't capture me. I am certain that this is me failing as a reader rather than the book because objectively I can see that it's a good story, well written. For some unknown reason it didn't connect for me. Highly recommend for those looking for diverse fantasy reads though.
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Although author Joan He says DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE is a standalone novel, it absolutely begs to blossom into a series. This lush fantasy tale takes inspiration from Chinese history and legends and features political intrigue, murder, magic, and a fantastic heroine in a world steeped in deception and danger. An astonishingly assured debut, and I hope to read more from He very soon.
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3.5/5 stars 

This was one of those books for which I was extremely excited in 2019. The cover is GORGEOUS, the plot sounded super interesting, and I was keen to read something Asian-inspired (I haven't read many of those yet). I struggled trying to rate this, and I was pretty certain I was going to give it a higher rating until I got to the end. We'll get to why I found the resolution of this book to be quite weak. 

Overall, I enjoyed this. The main character, Hesina, is one of those characters who's soft and hard at the same time. She is kind and wants what's best for her loved ones and her kingdom, but she is also ruthless about protecting them. I liked that she was clever, and that she was a very active character - i.e. things weren't just happening to her, rather, she was a driving force behind the plot. 

From the summary, I assumed Hesina's enlisting the help of a soothsayer would play a major part in the plot, and that the soothsayer would be a major character. Thus I was quite surprised when the book begins with Hesina talking to the sooth, and then they're out of the picture shortly after. That wasn't at all what I had been expecting, so it all felt a bit too quick for me. Nonetheless, I was content to settle in and see where the rest of the story went. 

The story revolves around the fact that Hesina's father (the king) has died and she (his heir) wants to uncover the person responsible. In order to do this she must hold a trial and, according to the sooth's predictions, find someone to represent her in that trial. This representative, the sooth says, will be a convict with a rod. 

Yes, a rod as in a big stick, I guess. Though I must say I appreciated the number of jokes Hesina's adoptive sister, Lilian, made about wanting to see the convict's "rod." Ha. That said, I found this a bit confusing, since I wasn't clear on the importance of the whole convict/rod thing in general. It's possible I was just reading too fast and missed something, but I wasn't clear on how the sooth's prediction actually helped Hesina in the end. Yes, Akira (the convict) was a good investigator but...I feel like that needed to be revisited near the end of the book so that I could make those connections.

Moving on.

The major plot points of this book are going to be difficult to explain without spoilers, because the story is essentially about Hesina uncovering bits and pieces of information about her father, his death, the sooths, and her kingdom in general. The kingdom's laws revolve around 'the Tenets' written hundreds of years ago by a group called the Eleven, and it is those laws that declare the sooths dangerous and sentences them to "death by a thousand cuts." But Hesina is convinced someone murdered her father and goes against the Tenets to get to the bottom of the mystery.

It was interesting to see her uncover the pieces of her father's past, but there were quite a few things that confused me. 

For example, in the middle of the book Hesina travels all the way to the middle of somewhere to meet with the High Prince of Kendi'a. She's accompanied by a swordswoman named Mei who essentially pops out of absolutely nowhere and then ends up having an important role in the story (?). Then there's a showdown with the High Prince that involves a very brief conversation followed by some revelations. 

Why did Hesina travel all the way to meet him in the first place, just to come all the way home again? It seemed like a way of filling pages. He could have written her a letter. He could have come to her instead. That's also the only scene the High Prince actually appears in throughout the entire book, and it felt very out of place to me. I don't know, man. It's hard to explain, but it just didn't work for me. 

I did enjoy all the tidbits of culture in this novel. It was interesting and I felt immersed in the setting even if I didn't quite feel immersed in the characters and their relationships. Overall, I had a good time reading it. I just needed more. More conversation between Hesina and Akira, who becomes the love interest. Their interactions weren't deep enough for me to feel anything, with the exception of one actual conversation they have near the end of the book, and even that kind of just skims the surface. And though I liked Hesina, her reactions to things were...odd. There were many revelations that should have had her (and me!) feeling ALL TYPES OF WAYS. Although her feelings were explained, I didn't feel it. I should have been horrified and heartbroken and etc., etc. along with her. But I was just...there. It's hard to describe.

Stop reading here if you want literally NO spoilers. I'm not going to spoil the ending or anything, but I am going to go into a little more detail in this next part so you can understand why the resolution didn't work for me. 

So. Over the course of the story Hesina finds out the truth of what happened to her father with Akira's help, but very little is actually resolved. By the time we reach the ending, her kingdom is more out of control than ever. Things are more chaotic than they were at the beginning of the book. War is still looming, and the High Prince is still a threat. The sooths are still hated, and so is Hesina. She's betrayed numerous times by numerous characters, except that some of these betrayals are real, and some aren't. Or are they? Or aren't they? Honestly, it's just confusing. I felt like the rug kept being pulled out from under my feet and then the author was all, "Just kidding! Here's the real shock. Or maybe not!" 

It reminded me of the end of Caraval, where there's too much happening and you can't figure out anyone's motives and you just give up on trying to determine what the heck is going on. And then once I finally thought I'd gotten to the REAL, actual betrayal, the epilogue came along and made me second guess THAT, too. It tried to spin it so that everything that happened in the earlier half of the book was part of some "grand plan" where the manipulators knew exactly what Hesina would do and what the outcomes would be. This annoyed me because I don't think it gave Hesina enough credit as a character. 

Sorry if this was confusing, but it was really hard to write this given that some of the most important plot points of this book would be considered major spoilers. Hopefully I communicated my confusion enough that you understand what I'm talking about. I wasn't as profoundly lost in this book like I was in Wicked Saints - hereafter to be referred to as surely the most confusing book I will read in 2019 - but I was left questioning the logic of many things. I know a lot of this will likely be resolved in the next book, but considering this book isn't even out yet, I feel like it should have provided at least SOME closure instead of leaving every. single. conflict. hanging. 

That said, I did enjoy reading this. Joan is a very good writer and I'll read the next instalment. I just think this book would have been better if some of the less-important scenes in the middle were cut and some actual resolution was added, so that the reader isn't left feeling so yanked-around for no payoff.
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WHat A BOOK !!! I think it has been a perfect hell of a ride reading this Game of thrones inspired Chinese story. I am huge fan of fantasy stories and I cant help saying but I absolutely adored this book. Especially the second half of the book was just so great , with betrayals, deceptions and what not to complement the story line . 
I cannot wait to read more of the story .
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Thank you to Albert Whitman Company and Netgalley for the Arc copy.

Honestly this was a complete cover request for me, it’s utterly gorgeous and this is definitely a case of DO judge a book by it’s cover as the words inside were just as beautiful.  It’s not often that books leave me lost for words with where to start but truly Descendant of the Crane is something pretty special. Every time I thought I had the genre pegged in this own voice story the tables turned, from YA fantasy, to thriller, to mystery, to court room drama; Descendant has a bit of everything and they are all seamlessly woven together in a delicate tale of intrigue and misdirection. It would be remiss of me however to let the brilliance of the last 2/3 gloss over the fact that it wasn’t the easiest book to get into. It must always be a hard decision to find the right place in the story to start but given the mythology and magics in play, some detailed background early on would have helped as I often felt like I was on the back foot in the opening chapters. The story does fall into place by the conclusion of the first of the three parts though, however, the quotes from the Tenets at the start of each chapter never flowed well for me.

Descendant celebrates all that is good about standalone novels. Does it have the potential to expand; yes, but I’m glad it didn’t as I absolutely adored the ending and the trust was put in the reader to consider the future. It would have been easy to spread such a intense tale over 2 or 3 books but by being a standalone it means that there are just wave after wave of twists and turns really bringing the reader into Hesina’s world where the feelings of confusion, elation, and betrayal are acutely felt.

The characters are wonderful though and I felt like I had really bonded with Hesina by the end, so much weight on her shoulders and the distance and indifference of her mother really tugged at me as I’m a parent myself.  Akira is a really complex character and we are left guessing for much of the time but he’s effortless in all he does, and his Atticus Finch esq approach to trials was jaw dropping at times. All the characters are layered though and that’s what helps Descendant really pack a punch, so much mystery surrounding so many of the players both large and small, the comparisons to Game of Thrones is well founded and means I will say little else about them!

Despite the shaky start once everything had fallen into place in my mind I found it a difficult book to put down. The attention to detail from the clothing to the buildings, the descriptions about books and engravings felt alive in my mind, like I could almost reach out and feel them. Despite this though Joan He created a world that felt very muted (not dull!) but it was clearly against a back drop of mourning and it was a really subtle way of reminding the reader that actually everything is not okay. The magic system was wonderfully simple and the way it walked side by side with Hesina growing with each discovery left the lines feeling blurred.

Descendant of the Crane is a great stand alone read which will leave your head spinning and your jaw on the floor, just give it the time to get there!
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Joan He writes a compelling tale full of intrigue and heart. Descendant of the Crane tackles the realities of palace life and rulership all in a coming-of-age story. He's characters are relatable and authentic, while the plot moves with purpose. I can't wait for the next book!

When Princess Hesina's father is murdered, she knows her destiny involves finding his killer and brining them to justice. Supported by her brothers, sister, and a mysterious convict, Hesina dives into a life-changing investigation and political intrigue. Hesina will need bravery and loyalty in order to surmount the challenges that lay ahead, as nothing is as it seems.
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I am happy to be reviewing it on Women's Day because one of the main things i absolutely loved about this book is that it imposes no gender expectations or roles on its characters. 
You can rule, you can go to war, you can study, just do what you do best - whether you are a man or a woman.
It is very refreshing, especially so for YA, and i think we need more of this for teenagers, both male and female. 

Figure who you are as a person, what you stand for, what are your beliefs, what is important for you and what can not be sacrificed - these are basically the main questions Descendant of the Crane places in front of the characters and in front of you. 

I like books where the characters are not all good or all bad, that only makes them one dimensional. Joan He manages to paint her main character quite thoroughly in this regard but i felt that maybe a bit more was needed on some of the supporting characters. Or at least i would've wanted that and i don't think it would've robbed anything from how their stories developed.

I am also hoping for if not continuation but at least more books in the same universe! :) 
No pressure, Ms. He ;) 

All in all i am thoroughly impressed and have already mentioned it as a recommendation to my friend's daughter :D
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