Cover Image: Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

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Member Reviews

Descent of the Crane is a 2019 YA Fantasy novel by debut author Joan He. It has been called a Chinese Game of Thrones, but I think that is unfair. It is certainly its own story, and despite some similarities, it treads its own path.

The story revolves around Princess Hesina, who finds herself prematurely taking the throne when her father, the King, unexpectedly dies; or is it murder? Should an investigation and throw the kingdom into chaos and paranoia? If it was murder, who can she trust? Her siblings join her along with the charming Akira who has his own secrets. They flirt with disaster sympathizing with the sooths (magic people) who are heavily persecuted while searching for truth in a corrupt court in an upside-down kingdom in a backwards world. Yes, we are still talking about fiction.

The story is fun and satisfying at times. Right when I started finding myself getting bored, something what pop up that would make it fun again. The world creation was quite enjoyable, but it felt like there were moments where characters were awkwardly talking about how the world works to get us the information. It was a bit forced on occasion, however it was great fun to explore He’s world, and her story did not disappoint. The story was the strength of the novel, while the characters were annoying at times. Akira was too much of a dream-boy, and Hesina was a self-pitying unconfident whiner. Throughout the novel she kept making everything about herself. If anything happened in her Kingdom that was bad, she blamed herself and whined about it. I get that it is a YA novel, and characters that lack self confidence are relatable for many people, but it felt excessive and a little self-centered. Despite these complaints, I did enjoy the read, and will be looking forward to the next installment.

If you are interested in the latest YA fantasy, then this will surely be one of the big debuts of the year. It doesn’t top my list of recent books in the genre, but it is a promising debut. If you do end up checking out the book, I recommend going to her website here; she has some amazing art, some relating to the book.
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After the mysterious death of her father, teenage Hesina finds herself thrown into the ruling of her currently-unstable kingdom (becoming Queen Hesina of Yan). She is convinced her father has been murdered, and will do anything to see to it that he gets an investigation and trial... even if that means committing treason.

Honestly, this didn’t sound like something I would normally read, but I decided to give it a try... and I’m so thankful I did!

Joan He’s writing is atmospheric and beautiful, and although the story started out slow, it ramped up at the end and was full of action. Hesina was loveable, and the rest of her blended family were all interesting characters. I honestly would want to continue reading a series about this family if the author decided to turn this into a series! I was definitely left wanting more.

Overall, I had fun, and I’m happy I read something out of my comfort zone!

Thanks to Net Galley and Albert Whitman & Company for an advanced copy. It’ll be out on April 2nd!
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I need to stop being so easily intrigued by pretty covers. The Descendant of the Crane has been described as a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones. Like George R.R. Martin’s epic saga, I wasn’t expecting rainbows and scenes of happiness. No, this book was dark and political.

The story begins with a King’s mysterious death. His daughter, our protagonist, Hesina, is to be crowned Queen, but can’t permit her father’s death to go unpunished. She is determined to discover the truth. The land is speckled with magical soothsayers whose abilities arouse fear across the kingdom. Despite the danger it entails, Hesina seeks the help of one of these mages. Ruling a whole kingdom is a challenge. Discovering truth which changes not only her faith, but the fate of her people, is on a whole other scale. 

I wish there was more magic. We’re introduced to these fearsome mages known as soothsayers but don’t see much of them in action. I would have been more engaged if there was more information about their abilities and their history; the blue fire was compelling, but we see little else. Moreover, the pacing was a little shaky at parts. What alleviated this however was the the final third of the book. A plethora of secrets are revealed, nobody is as they seem and the twists didn’t disappoint. 

I can see why this book has received so much hype; it’s a fascinating story of a Queen determined to stitch her kingdom’s wounds of centuries past back together. She’s growing from her insecurities, surviving her pain, and rising stronger and more determined than ever. It further illustrates how the public are often unable to handle the truth, leading to relentless persecution based on beliefs. Overall, this was compelling and woven impeccably throughout parts of the book. However, the court procedures didn’t interest me much and having little knowledge of Chinese culture, the world-building lost me at times. Nonetheless, the ending hints at an interesting sequel in which I’m eager to discover more of the character’s motivations and agendas. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Albert Whitman & Company for the eARC in exchange for an honest review!
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Thank you Netgalley for the digital ARC. I wanted so badly to love this book, and it seemingly had all the elements necessary for it to be a page turner. Unfortunately it not only fell flat, but I found myself unable to stick with the book for long periods of time which prolonged the inevitable.

I did enjoy the premise, the Chinese fantasy, the elements of surprise and mystery weaves throughout. All of that, however, did not make up for the flat characters and bizarre pacing. Our main character, Hesina, never saves the cat, and I could not get myself emotionally invested in the characters or their journeys thereafter. The pacing left me confused and struggling to slog through the pages. There were times I found myself going back a page or two certain I had missed something important only to find an intense scene was written so speedily, I was unable to be there in the moment. Other parts drug on for pages that felt unnecessary. This pacing issue was never resolved, even up the very last pages.

While I didn’t hate the book, I won’t be reading the next installment.
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I loved the entire concept of this novel! Teen fantasy has been an ever growing genre over the last couple years and lots of times these books fall into the same tropes. This book however, is unique and gripping. The writing is intricate and the story well developed, I was hooked until the very end. I cannot wait to see what comes next in this series.
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This book opens with the death of the King and his daughter Princess Hesina of Yan is convinced he was murdered. She pushes to get an investigation and trial opened up which leads to more mysteries, magic, political intrigue and plot twists. 

This book was not bad, sadly though I could easily put it down. I’d say it’s a combination of historical-like fiction, fantasy and mystery wrapped into one.
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Unfortunately, I was very disappointed by this book. It just didn't work for me and I really wish it had because I wanted to love it. Overall I just didn't care about anything that happened in this book. I didn't care about any of the characters or what happened to them. I felt the plot and pacing were so slow and some of the reveals and climax moments were entertaining but not enough to make up for the rest of the book where it felt like nothing was really happening. Even the actual ending was disappointing and I never like finishing a book feeling like I wasted my time. It really is a shame because I love a fantasy world with lots of political scheming but something about this book just never clicked for me.
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This has a great plot! The betrayal is heartbreaking and hard to see coming. Fun adventure and the cover art is beautiful!
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THIS BOOK. I've been raving about it to friends for a while. Joan paints in vivid and detailed strokes, creating a gorgeous and full-formed world. The main character is incredibly relatable as she tries to be the daughter her father would have wanted and the best queen her people need, even as she struggles to survive the machinations of her court. The side characters all have their unique personalities and are purposeful to the plot. And the twists (yes, plural) are effective and definitely will surprise in the best of ways. 
5 stars is way too little to do this book justice.
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While I wouldn't describe Descendant of the Crane as an "Asian Game of Thrones" (because to compare anything to Game of Thrones is setting up the reader with unreachable expectations), it was still a compelling and wonderful read. The author executed the plot twists with ease, I had no idea they were coming. The writing style kept the reader interested and engaged. The parallels of actual Chinese culture are well placed and leave the reader wanting to learn more. I also loved how authentic the characters were, each of them are well-enough developed that I was genuinely interested in each of them.
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At least this book managed to get me out of a slump of not being able to actually finish anything, even if my interest started to wane towards the end... I'm not sure if it's what I'm reading at the moment or more about me. 

Anyway, on to Descendant of the Crane, which had all the makings of a book I would really like and which mostly lived up to what I was expecting. The basic premise is that it's the start of a series and book 1 is all about the accession to the throne of Hesina on the sudden death of her father - she's convinced he was murdered and a good-sized section of the book deals with her investigations and the subsequent trial (including attempts by less savoury elements of the court to scapegoat someone they dislike). 

Our setting is a kingdom where a previous monarchy was overthrown by eleven rebels who then instituted a rule based on the Tenets they'd written, including institutionalised hatred and violence towards 'sooths' - people with powers around influencing the future, whose blood burns as a convenient way of identifying them. As a result, the sooths are now in hiding in Hesina's kingdom even as she's looking for a way to overturn the current system (while staying queen). One of the neighbouring kingdoms is enslaving the self-same sooths but using them as weapons, which only helps to inflame the hatred against them in Hesina's kingdom.

At the start of the book, Hesina has consulted one of the sooths herself even though this act is considered treasonous, and ends up recruiting a thief from the dungeons as her advocate and assistant throughout the court process. Akira naturally has a hidden history and all sorts of convenient skills which turn up when needed and Hesina just keeps pursuing him romantically even though he's consistently spurning her advances. Seriously, this sucks when the roles are reversed and is equally unappealing when it's this way around, one of the things I least liked about the book. 

At the end of the book, Hesina finds herself in hot water and someone within her family turns against her, to the point where she and Akira have to flee. What puzzled me was that the author then chooses to finish this particular part of the series with a chapter explaining why that person was not bad really and is actually working for Hesina's benefit in the long run. That would, to my mind, have worked much better as a reveal later on in the series.

There's a couple of bombshells dropped by the author along the way that tip this firmly into fantasy from mock-history, as it's revealed that certain individuals are actually functionally immortal - the search for this had been considered scandalous on the part of the previous regime, so it's passed over a bit more lightly than I'd expected. Maybe this will get picked up later on down the line?

So, in the end it wasn't the worst thing I've ever read and I'm mildly interested in where it'll go next but it will probably be one of those series I'll pick up via the library or if it's on sale. No pre-orders for this one, I'm afraid!
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Prepare to have your socks knocked off.  This book is going to bring out ferocity, anger, pain, and sadness. It is wonderfully written and beautifully poetic. Each character has a back story that unfolds in ways you aren’t expecting. You root for one side then switch as you find out more and more. Perfect for fans of fantasy, retribution, and magic. But be forewarned that this book will destroy you with each page and require some serious reflection before you can move on.
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The political maneuvering and world building in this book were phenomal. Joan He painted a beautiful picture including details about the setting I didn't even know I needed but ultimately enjoyed.

That being said, I didn't love it as much as I'd expected. I enjoyed the twists and reveals at the end, but the first 60% of the book was hard to get through, and the romantic storyline hinted at in the synopsis was a bit of a letdown. While the setting was interesting, I didn't fall in love with any of the characters and there wasn't quite enough action or intrigue to keep my attention.

All in all, a solid 3.5 with a little bump because I loved getting to know the world. Perfect for fans of Shadow of the Fox, Six of Crows, or Furyborn.
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My introduction to this book was actually through Leigh Bardugo's Goodreads interview to promote King of Scars. Given how much I loved the Six of Crows duology, I thought anything that Bardugo was recommending was definitely worth a look, so I requested this on NetGalley and was chuffed to be approved.
There is so much great stuff going on in this book - Joan He draws a richly detailed world based on Chinese culture, seen through the eyes of newly crowned queen Hesina. Packed with court intrigue and banned magic, the atmosphere really oozes out of the pages of this book, and the imagery is rich with evocative scenery and sumptuous descriptions.
The pacing is a little choppy and uneven - some scenes rocket by, months passing as we gallop across the country on horseback, and some plod ponderously past, lingering on seemingly unimportant details. Hesina also has a lot of siblings, for reasons I can't quite understand - one full brother, also an Imperial royal sibling and a general of the army, two adopted siblings, twins, who she seems closest to, and one half-brother, child of the Imperial consort and with whom Hesina has a fraught relationship. All these different elements mean that her family relationships are massively fractured - and this isn't to even mention her mother, who hates her for completely inexplicable reasons, and her dead father, whose murder is the catalyst for the whole story.

There were elements of this book that I wasn't so keen on - I know that YA is based around teen characters, but the fact that Hesina's whole team of investigators is made up of her siblings and a convict, and they're all under the age of twenty, is stretching the bounds of imagination a little, especially when you think that this is an investigation into the murder of a king.
As well as that, the final chapters of the book - and especially the epilogue - were choppy and unfinished, and didn't actually wrap up the story. The author pegs this as a standalone, but by the end of the book, nothing has been resolved, which I hate. The characters are poised on the brink of great change, but that change isn't coming in this book.
I knew that was going to happen as I sped towards the climactic ending, because there just wasn't enough time left to resolve everything satisfactorily. I can see why the author did it, and definitely the action cuts off at a natural breaking point, but there is just so much unresolved in this book I can't in all honesty see it as a fulfilling ending.

I did really like the style of writing, thought Hesina was a great main character, and loved the depiction of sooths and their magic system. I also really liked the blind hatred of the populace and Hesina's slow unpicking of her long-held beliefs. Nothing in this book was resolved easily, and there was court intrigue to beat the band. And with so many siblings running around, Hesina had a whole host of complex relationships to unpick. But the book as a whole left me slightly unsatisfied. 
I'll definitely read a sequel, if there is one, but I don't know how much I can really classify this one as a standalone.
That cover, though? Stunning.
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Initial Thoughts: Just been approved for an e-arc of one of my most anticipated 2019 releases!! This cover combined with the Chinese-inspired A Game of Thrones comparison has me anticipating great things from this one.

Review: "Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own." From this very first line of the synopsis I knew this was going to be the book for me.

"A well-conceived costume is a new identity." From this very first line of the actual book I knew I was going to be immersed in all the political scheming, court intrigue, and high-stakes action that I had been so highly anticipating. And I was not wrong.

Fantasy books following the inner-workings of the royal court and with society's ruling members as their central characters are my favourite to read about. What this book did, inside this much-used outline, is deliver the reader something entirely new. The book begun with treason, was followed by murder, and the stakes were only ever raised from there. My trust was tested with each twist added to this deliciously dark tale and even as I bonded with the unforgettable cast of characters I knew I could never trust them, or the author, with what was going to be delivered next.

Joan He made not one fault in this meticulously constructed story-line, this vivid world, and these entirely unique and authentic characters. I was enchanted by her words and immersed inside her world. This book lived up to every one of the crazy high expectations I placed upon it. I was in absolute adoration of the writing, throughout, and in utter denial over how shook the ending had me, as I turned the final page.
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3.5 out of 5 stars

In short, the pacing was a little shaky in some parts of the book, but the twists, reveals and themes behind the book were amazing. Not all the characters are deep, but they don't have to be. The characters that make it worth reading to the end if you're unsure to continue part way through are Hesina's father and Caiyan. The worldbuilding is hit or miss depending on where you are in the book.

The layers of the characters peel back as the story progresses because the plot revolves around a mystery, but I found the cast to lack depth and/or characterization for the majority of the book. Hesina seemed naive at first, but she does grow on you as she learns more about the mystery of her father's death. However, Hesina also seemed to lack a distinct personality and much of what we know about her is related to her family (understandable) and presented in the form of flashbacks. Li Lian is an example of having the opposite problem: she has distinct characterization, but it would have been nice to see more of her by herself. This also applies to Caiyan to a lesser extent in the beginning, but that is remedied later on. 

The plot was slow to get into for 2/3 of the story - I wasn't partial to the court procedures. The inclusion of Akira's character didn't seem particularly relevant outside of the court besides being the designated love interest, though he has potential for growth if there are more installments in the series.  

I love that this is a Chinese-inspired fantasy, I can't get enough of it. The food descriptions are great, and overall I find that if you're into period C-dramas, it's no problem in envisioning what this world is like plus the add-on fantasy elements. In the same vein, if you are familiar with C-dramas the worldbuilding outside of the established setting of Yan may be lacking. 

On the surface level, the choice of which Chinese terms to keep as is and which ones to translate into English was odd, and some italicized terms were repeated too often even when the audience was already introduced to the meaning. For example dianxia, hanfu, and wansui are perfectly fine to keep as is, but other terms like yuejing (menstruation) seems oddly placed when the English term would have been acceptable to use. This may just be nitpicking on my part, but I would say it's to evoke a sense of aesthetic in the reader's mind that "this is ye olde Chinese" if they are unfamiliar with period C-drama/historical aesthetics. I honestly prefer retaining certain terms untranslated in Chinese, but the logic for each individual choice in DOTC is unclear, especially when there are examples like pai fang archways (memorial archway-archways). 

The writing doesn't make learning about the outside kingdoms and international releations interesting because it's mixed in with the court trials, which is by far the most boring sections of the book for me. There are a few chapters where Hesina meets with the crown prince of another country, and the incorporation of the soothsayers in these scenes is intriguing and well done. 

The strongest aspect of DOTC is the thematic leanings within the text in relation to the revolutionary changes in the kingdom of Yan brought by the Eleven. It plays into the perceptions and fear the public can hold when they are not privvy to the truth or are unable to handle it, leading to persecution based of beliefs and alignments to sooths (though this can be applied to other groups for IRL parallel). This is all very compelling. It's woven strongly in some parts of the book more than others, but always manages to resurface at the right times, which is when I enjoyed DOTC the most. I only wish Hesina as a main character had a better grasp of handling this sort of large scale understanding of her people, but I suspect she will grow into it if this continues as a series. 

I'd think more focus on international relations and the soothsayers (basically anything outside the imperial palace where Hesina and co. reside) would have done this book wonders in keeping my engaged. However, we don't see enough of the world ouside of Hesina's home to actually *see* more of the sooths, their magic, and the history and mysteries regarding the Eleven who ushered in a new era in the kingdom. We get some of this content, but I don't feel it's nearly enough to build up to the great ending we got, since instead we are shown a plethora of scenes where Hesina is getting lost in flashbacks, doing paperwork and repeating the words 'truth' and 'lie' like buzzwords. I  know Descendant of the Crane in the end is about Hesina and her family, and the ending revelations about them all is worth reading the next book (if there are more!) and keeping an eye on Joan He's work as she grows as a writer.
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This cover is stunning. I knew the second I saw it and read the synopsis I was going to need this book in my hands! Thank you NetGalley and Albert Whitman & Company for allowing me to read the advance readers copy. 

So to start this book would have been even better if the ARC on net galley had been proofed a little more. I'm not going to lie, it made it very difficult to read, and the beginning of that chapters almost impossible. I have it on goo authority that it's already been fixed and that the new copies that were sent out to readers via mail and physical copies are not this way. Which is good because to deter from from the story would be a. waste, it was written too well and the plot and characters are great. 

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He was beautifully written, the world building was almost perfect and the characters were very intriguing. This is all due to Joan He stunning ability to craft scenes and paint vivid pictures with her writing. 

Basic overview of the story is a princess/queen will do anything to keep her kingdom safe. She is strong and fierce but has her own flaws. The trials and tribulations she faces through out the book will keep you interested until the end of the book. Descendant of the Crane has very light romance, almost non existent and lots of political and regal intrigue and twists. 
Grated there are a few slow pockets through out the book, and the ending is something that will leave you wondering. Which I don't like for a stand alone, but this is just my personal opinion. 

Overall a good read and I recommend. I can't wait to see what everyone else thinks!!
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I requested Descendant of the Crane from Netgalley because the cover is amazing, the premise sounded fascinating and I was intrigued by the combination of fantasy and mystery.

It's #ownvoices.


I loved this book. It was such a fun read and I couldn't put it down. I read it on the airplane and I finished it really quickly.

As I mentioned in my post Thoughts On: Series vs Standalones, I have been frustrated with first novels in fantasy series. They usually just focus on the build up and there isn't much plot. But my goodness! This title! It is one of the few fantasy book series starter that has been published in 20xx that has a full plot and is complete in itself, and when I got to the end I was very satisfied with how complete it felt.

There were so many funny bits which definitely alleviated the seriousness of the novel, and it was intriguing to see how humour interacted with the severity of certain situations.

I liked how detailed and complex the plot is, and the end is definitely not clear from the beginning.

The title was fascinating and it was interesting to see how it was woven into the storyline.


This book is great! I enjoyed it so much and I am so excited for book 2!

Trigger warnings: death, murder, violence.
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Somber but brilliantly written, this fantastical tale of cat and mouse will be loved by fans of Renee Ahdieh and Leigh Bardugo.
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Descendant of the Crane is billed as the Chinese Game of Thrones, and while I've never read nor seen it, I can definitely tell you that this comparison is 100% accurate. The plot? I couldn't put this book down. The writing? I wanted to highlight something on every page. The characters? I would lay down my life for all of them. You honestly need to put this book on your tbr lists; it's one of my favorite 2019 releases, and I actually kinda hate that I got to read it as an ARC because how am I going to live until the sequel releases??

This is a debut, which, honestly, shows that Joan He is coming for all of us with her future books. For this to be her first ever book published? Astounding. The writing is amazing and mesmerizing; the worldbuilding is spectacular (she really helps you understand all of the different little aspects of the world without info dumping); and the plot was so intricately planned that, despite seeing the first plot twist coming, I was completely blindsided by the 1234567890 twists afterwards. I was honestly the "pikachu_with_his_mouth_open.jpg" meme the entire second half of this book.

And the plot progresses at such a balanced pace, not too fast and not too slow. I honestly couldn't put it down because every point would lead to another scene that led to another scene that I couldn't take my eyes off of. Your eyes will be glued to the page. And the concept of the trial was very intriguing, mostly because I haven't really read anything similar in YA fantasy.

All of the characters are so great, I loved all of them (even the one at the end who [redacted] iykyk)! Hesina, the main character, is a girl after my own heart. Her character arc is so poignant as she searches for the truth about her father with the help of a convict, Akira, and her siblings, Caiyan, Lilian, and Sanjing.

Speaking of her siblings, I loved seeing their relationships. Caiyan and Lilian were taken in by Hesina and Sanjing's father, so they aren't related by blood, but Hesina loves them as if they were. Sanjing, on the other hand, has more of a complex relationship with them, and it's interesting to see how Hesina deals with this, as he scorns Hesina for her close relationship with the twins. Also, Hesina has a tense relationship with her mother although there are reasons for that that she'll find out...

One of my few issues was the romance. I loved Hesina and Akira as characters, but to me, it just felt like she had a crush on him? It felt a little insta-lovey to me, but that could just be me. Hopefully their relationship will be further developed in the next book.

This book was a captivating, enthralling masterpiece of a debut. It's been months, and I'm still not over that ending! Joan He's writing is amazing, the worldbuilding is expansive, and the plot will hypnotize you, with its stupefying twists and turns. You won't be able to put The Descendant of the Crane down. Pick this #ownvoices Chinese fantasy up on April 2! (And pssst, I have it on good authority that you'll get some really cool goodies if you preorder.)
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