Descendant of the Crane

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

THIS WAS SUCH AN AWESOME READ! I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, the mythos, and the world that Joan He created. I was sucked in from page 1 and couldn't get enough of this luscious world. The plotline kept me thoroughly intrigued and the twist at the end had me gasping out loud! I cannot wait to get the sequel in my hands and devour it!
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Originally Reviewed At: Mother.Gamer.Writer
Rating: 3 out of 5 Controllers 
Review Source: NetGalley
Reviewer: Ariel

Oh boy, was this one a rollercoaster. Descendant of the Crane is the YA debut from Joan He and it is one heck of a debut. There’s magic, courtroom drama, politics, and a mission to find who killed the king. If these sound like your cup of tea, I would recommend picking this one up!

Hesina is the princess of Yan, and when her father passes away she finds herself taking on the role of queen. The Imperial Doctress declares that the king died of natural causes, but Hesina has reason to believe that he was actually murdered. With the help of her siblings and a freed criminal, Hesina is determined to discover who her father’s murderer is and see them punished for it.

There is a LOT that happens in this book. We start out with Hesina and her adopted brother, Caiyan, headed to the Red Light District in order to enlist the help of a soothsayer. Sooths are banned and Hesina is committing treason even by seeking one out, but she is determined to find her father’s murderer. While the Silver Iris, the sooth who helps Hesina, can’t tell her who the murderer is, she does point her in the direction of someone who can help her, a convict who is currently imprisoned at the palace. The convict, Akira, becomes Hesina’s representative in the investigation into her father’s death.

The first half of the book reads like a police procedural, with trials and political machinations everywhere. Honestly, the first half of the book was a little slow for my personal tastes. BUT THEN there is a huge twist about halfway through the book that will leave you dumbfounded. This is when things really start to pick up as Hesina finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew.

While I was excited about the first twist that occurred, there were so many twists and turns in the second half of the book that I felt like it was giving me whiplash. I went on Goodreads to see when the second book was coming out only to learn that this is a stand-alone novel which was such a bummer. Without spoiling anything, if you are someone who needs their books to have endings that are tied up in a nice little bow, this may not be the book for you.

While the plot was a little hot and cold for me, the world that Joan He has created is so beautiful and vivid that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. The world is inspired by China and I loved the descriptions of the clothes and the palace, and really just everything. I also fell head over heels in love with the characters. Hesina didn’t always make smart decisions, but she was trying her best. And the side characters were amazing. Akira, Caiyan, Lillian (Caiyan’s twin) and Sanjing (Hesina’s biological twin) all had such strong personalities.

Overall, I give Descendant of the Crane 3 out of 5 stars. The plot was a little slow for the first half of the book, and I felt like there were way too many plot twists in the second half, but the writing is absolutely beautiful and the characters are great.
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Thank you for proving us with an ARC of Descendant of the Crane but unfortunately it was not selected to be featured in our April box.
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By the time I downloaded the book to read I already heard so many good things about it from the diversity to the actual plot and I was pretty excited, but once I started reading I just couldn't get into the story and I really wanted to. I'm hoping I can try to go through it again but it was moving a bit slow for me. I can see why so many people enjoy it so I don't discourage anyone from reading. 

2.5/5 stars
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3.5/5 stars, rounded down for the weirdness of that conclusion (don’t worry, I’ll rant about it).

Though promising in its concept and a definite win for Asian representation in fiction (and especially in YA), Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane falls flat in its execution, especially its madness-inducing ending to an otherwise decent tale. Seriously, I went into this book super excited, felt pretty good—though not totally mesmerized—for most of it, and then got to the end and couldn’t help but wonder…what the actual heck?? There was so much that was good about this book, and it all died in the last few chapters.

Quick summary, put in more colloquial terms, even though the blurb mostly gets it right:
Hesina is the princess of the kingdom of Yan, set to inherit the throne upon her father’s death. Surprise, surprise, her father dies…but Hesina is pretty sure it wasn’t an accident, as she found traces of poison escaping his body before the royal coroner arrived. So she seeks out the help of a Sooth to find more information on what happened, and she is told only that a specific convict will be able to help her if he acts as her representative in court. Hesina pulls some strings, gets the convict (whose name is Akira) to act as her defender, and the rest of the novel unfolds as a web of courtroom drama, political intrigue, and a hint of magic. There’s a dash of romance, some sibling drama, and of course, plenty of secrets to be unearthed. Though stressed beyond belief, Hesina is confident she can find the killer.

Oh, but there’s one problem: going to a Sooth is considered treason of the highest order, due to a long-bred hatred of those with magical abilities, so Hesina’s entire case started with her breaking the law. Oops.

First, I do need to give credit where credit is due. Joan He did a lot right in this book. There were some very cool elements, including the fact that the language the Yan people spoke appeared to be close (if not identical) to actual Chinese. I took several years of Mandarin in high school/college, and I actually recognized some of the phrases and terms used by characters. It was a nice nod to Chinese culture even within a fictional world. I also loved the commentary He was able to put in about prejudice and manipulation by those in positions of power. So many of Yan’s problems derive from things they learned from The Eleven, a group of criminals who overthrew the ruling class centuries ago and implemented the laws against Sooths. Not unlike other regimes in our history, the Eleven saw that the Sooths were profiting from their abilities and blamed them for society’s problems, condemning them to an incredibly painful death merely for existing. Even though people sympathized with the Sooths, especially as time went on, nobody would actually stand up to defend them because it went against the teachings of the Eleven. Criticism of blind dogmatism? I’m here for it. The female friendship between Hesina and her adopted sister Lilian was so wholesome; it actually made me smile. And finally, the intricate court politics were very well executed. Most characters in the novel have hidden agendas driving their actions, and much of Hesina’s work includes finding those agendas, pinpointing weaknesses, and knowing who to bribe (and when, and how) in order to get the answers she needs.

There were a couple major plot twists as well, and I don’t know whether to consider them good or bad. Yeah, they shocked me, but I was annoyed that they weren’t foreshadowed at all and honestly seemed pretty out of line with their corresponding characters’ beliefs. If you’ve read the book, you probably know what I’m referring to; I’m not going to list spoilers.

But, of course, there were some issues that kept me from rating this higher. The first is super trivial, but it drove me nuts how many times the author mentioned Hesina becoming nauseous and/or dizzy. Yes, Hesina has a lot on her plate and comes across a lot of traumatic stuff, but that doesn’t mean that we need to constantly hear about her tasting bile or seeing the room start to spin before her. There are other ways to show shock and horror and pain. The second is a problem I have with a lot of YA, though we see it in adult fiction too: the insta-love between Hesina and Akira. Right from the beginning, you know she’s going to fall for him. We see her admiring his physique before she even knows him, for crying out loud! But even when the two of them do start to become romantically involved, the chemistry just isn’t there. It feels like the only reason Hesina likes him is that he is the first guy she’s met who doesn’t treat her differently just because she’s the queen. If there’s romance between characters, it needs to have a basis in…something. Witty banter, or shared experiences, or something, but this one just didn’t do it for me

And now, the rant you’ve all been waiting for: WHAT WAS THAT ENDING??? I’m going to try to do this without spoilers, so here goes nothing:

When you spend an entire novel looking at complex personal politics, character continuity is important. There was none of that in the final few chapters. A character makes a very bold choice ((view spoiler)[Lilian’s sacrificing her own life (hide spoiler)]) for the flimsiest of reasons, and it makes very little sense that they treat it as if it was “the only option.” A character has a crap-ton of secrets revealed in the epilogue ((view spoiler)[namely, that Caiyan is a Sooth and also has been plotting Hesina’s whole life to get her to leave the kingdom?? (hide spoiler)]), but those secrets aren’t followed up on at all, nor were they even remotely hinted at during any point in the book. The truth about Hesina’s father is uncovered, but there is no follow-through on what will happen on that front, because Hesina becomes distracted by other, more important issues ([but seriously, what’s going to happen with her dad? So he’s One of Eleven and faked his own death and is now in a coma of sorts. Is he going to wake up? What will happen when he comes back? Is he aware of what’s happening around him? (hide spoiler)]).

BUT WORST OF ALL, THERE’S NO SEQUEL.
Seriously, I would be fine with the cliffhangers and ambiguity if I knew there was more to come on this front, but as of now, the author has said that there may be some companion novels but there won’t be a sequel. If that’s the case, I cannot forgive the roughness of this ending. There are too many things unsolved, and not in the satisfactory way that some books can achieve. It just feels like she didn’t know how to conclude, so she threw some twists in and let them sit. If a sequel was in the works, I would have rated this a step higher, because this was a lot of great setup…the payoff just wasn’t there.

All in all, not a bad read, but man, am I annoyed. Read it to support diverse authors, and enjoy the plotting and twists, but be forewarned that you may be left with a LOT of questions when you’re done, and no promise of an answer
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You start reading this book, suddenly the story gets you hooked and you can not stop reading until you reach the end. However, I have been left with a few doubts: what happened to the concubine Fei and Mei? will Hesina continue to make the wrong decisions? Will One wake up again? My biggest doubt is: will the Sooth be saved? 
Please, this book needs a sequel, and I need to read that sequel!
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Oh. My. Gosh. This was a beautiful story and I just.... I can't get these characters out of my head. They're perfect.
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Thank you Netgalley/Publisher for an approved arc of this title for an honest review in return.

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I find it was more of a creative YA fantasy. Hopefully this book doesn't get underrated cause it's a good one to still read. I was constantly on edge and kept me guessing until the end.
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This took me forever and a half to read! But completion feels nice.

I was really really confused about what was going on during the entire first half or so of the book. The main things that really stuck with me were: Chinese period drama in book form, empress queen female leader, and Japanese guy.

It was probably the format, but my ereader wasn't particularly compatible with the intro formatting to each of the chapters, so I had a tendency to skip the whole "ONE/TWO of the ELEVEN" thing. After the first big reveal about the ex-emperor, the other just clicked in place. Very cliché, not altogether sensible, but I guess it made things slightly more interesting?

Overall, I feel like the characters weren't much, just names associated with actions. People were given personas, but beyond those personas they couldn't really hold their own.

I didn't really understand the motivations of any of the characters either, why they did what they did and why the main plot and investigation took the turn that they did.

I liked Akira the most probably, but still not enough to really bring much to the story. Beautiful cover though, and I love the cultural aspect that existed.

My thanks to Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for the ARC and adventure!
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"A dead king," said the convict. "A deceived populace. A truth seeker. Sounds like a story that could end very well or very poorly, and I want to spectate."


Every now and again, you pick up a book and it'll transport you through time and space. It'll be your be-all and end-all for however many pages. It'll consume you wholly, until you are one with the book and the book is one with you. 

Descendant of the Crane is one such book. Beautifully written, expertly plotted and wonderfully executed, I began reading with a sense of foreboding but was quickly enamored by He's storytelling. There is something magical, haunting and lyrical about Descendant that no other books has managed to emulate so far. Not only is it beautifully, poetically written, but the plot itself is so perfectly construed, so wonderfully built, that it is easy to lose oneself in the labyrinth of its pages.

Princess Hesina of Yan never expected to become queen, but after her father's untimely -- and frankly surprising -- death, she has no choice but to step up and take the crown. After requesting the help of a soothsayer (highly illegal and punishable by death) in uncovering the truth of her father's passing, Hesina launches a kingdom-wide investigation that threatens the very foundations of Yan, and her own, existence.

When they arrived at the red-light district's peeling archway, an ember sparked in the girl's stomach. Some came to the seediest business quarter of the imperial city to buy warmth. But she?
She had come to buy justice.


Enlisting the help of her adoptive siblings and a convict with a rod, Hesina finds herself traversing the royal life of court, politics and betrayal. Hesina is a spell-binding character. Her love for her father, her determination and her steadfastness is admirable. Even when everything is against her, she pursues justice with a one-track mind, both terrified and sure of herself. I was in awe of her character and found her to be incredibly relatable in mind and spirit. 

I also enjoyed that this isn't a typical YA where strained parental relationships are only ever acknowledged in times of need. Hesina's taut relationship with her mother is very present, and it thwarts her decisions each and every time. Hesina constantly questions herself thanks to her mother's lack of warmth towards her, and even in Hesina's time of need, she finds herself hoping for her mother's love.

"My blessing, is it?" Her mother's hair, quilled with gold pins, was jet-black like Hesina's. Time didn't touch her, or these chambers, which had been painstakingly preserved for the few days a year she visited.
Being here made Hesina feel six again. The orchids hanging from the beamed ceiling looked like sneering faces, and her knees ached with the memory of kneeling against the russet huanghuali floors. "Yes," Hesina answered, keeping her voice flat, cool, and stripped of hope.
"Do you have a trusted scribe?"
But a little always crept back in. "I do. I can summon--"
"Good. You may forge the blessing, because you will never receive one from me."


Descendant of the Crane is ripe in distrust, political drama and mystery. Joan He has penned a tale that'll live through the ages, beautifully influenced by Chinese culture and nuanced with more than the pages suggest. Even the romance is ever so subtle and takes a backseat for most of the book, not daring to impose or be rushed. 

"Bring the fury of the kingdom to your doorstep, to your husbands and wives and parents. Have your little bonfire now, and sizzle later like moths in a flame."


Read this book. Writers, bloggers, readers, take note of this book. Don't let it fly under the radar. 

All quotes have been taken from an uncorrected proof and may be subject to change in the final copy. Thanks to Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review.
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Actual rating: 2.5 stars

Oh, it sure does hurt a little when you end up not liking a book as much as you thought you would.

Thank you to Albert Whitman & Company and NetGalley for giving me a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed the court politics and political intrigue of this book. At first it took me at least ten chapters to be fully engrossed in this world as I had a bit of a hard time following what was going on. I liked how this isn’t a story about the main character, Hesina, becoming a queen, but rather how she manages her life as a queen. I have to be honest here, I’m not sure she’s made for the job. She is very bent on figuring out who murdered her father and it takes her places that perhaps would have been better if she had stayed away. The last few chapters of the book bumped up the book a good half a star. There are a decent amount of shocking revelations and twist I never saw coming.

I don’t have a favorite character, or one that I felt particularly drawn, too. The struggle is here that I didn’t feel for any one of them, unfortunately. I liked the twins, Caiyan and Lillian, one was very stoic while the other seemed a little carefree. I’m not sure what to make of the supposed “love interest” for Hesina named Akira. He was a mystery, but the little bits of backstory he revealed to Hesina didn’t do anything to convince me to like him. Granted, without him, many things wouldn’t have been solved in regards to the dead king and the soothes. I will say the betrayal of one character in particular surprised me completely and made me sad. I never saw it coming!

Despite how I feel about the book, I enjoyed the writing style. He does wonders weaving an intricate story, and I adored how this is a Chinese-inspired story. I truly felt like I was transported to another world, and it was like a story and a side I didn’t know I was missing. While this book wasn’t for me, I plan to keep an eye out on what else He has in store for her readers.
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**I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.**
Wow  this book was brutal.  The pace was very slow and that made it difficult to get into the story.  Epic/ high fantasy is often difficult for me because I need action.  The writing is beautiful but, it was a little much at times.  
If you like Asian inspired fantasy that is not afraid to be gritty, the. This might be the book for you.
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Damn, I did not see that ending coming. 

Descendant of the Crane blends Chinese culture, magic, and political intrigue into one tasty and addictive morsel of a story. An amazing read for any YA fantasy lover!
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This book. Wow. This book was written beautifully. I have no complaints about the writing at all. It didn't read like most YA fantasy novels. It didn't have non-stop action. But it had twists and I did not see that ending coming at all! This was a slow burn. I can't wait to read more from this author!
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So I started this in February and finally got around to finishing it. The first half was kind of boring. It moved really slow, and I didn't really like Hesina or understand her motivations as a character, a daughter, and a queen. About half way through the book, the action starts to pick up, and the plot really gets moving. We get to see some revelations, and just twist after twist is thrown at us. I really enjoyed the ending and I'm curious to see if this story will continue. I ended up really like Hesina and her resolve. I wish we had gotten to know the side characters more...but at the same time, keeping them a mystery served the plot.

Overall, this had some great political intrigue and writing, but the plot moved a little slow at first which hindered my enjoyment.
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Thank you to Netgalley and AW Teen for providing me with an ARC of this book. 

Descendant of the Crane follows a girl named Hesina whose father, the king, she has found murdered. Once she is crowned, she is determined to get to the truth of his death. What she finds though is that sometimes the truth is better left uncovered. 
I thought that this was an intense and intriguing political fantasy. If you are looking for a book that has a heavy emphasis on politics and the inner workings of palace life, definitely pick this up. This is an Asian inspired fantasy as well which I found really intriguing. I loved learned all the new things about this world and learning about things that I didn't know about before. I thought Joan He did a great job in her descriptions of this world and how this political system works. I would also encourage you to seek out own voices reviewers to get the best possible opinions on how this world was handled.
It's been awhile since I've read a heavy political fantasy and I really enjoyed this one. I thought it was interesting to unravel the secrets of Hesina's world and everything happening around her. Hesina was a character who grew so much and really grew on me as the book went on. I loved being able to see her journey. 
The reason this book didn't get a full five stars from me was that there was a few things I wasn't too convinced on. The first was the romance. I would have honestly preferred for it not to be there as it felt rushed and out of place to me. Along with that, I would have liked to gotten more to a gradual reveal about the romantic interest past. 
I also felt that this book, although a stand alone, was left pretty open ended for another book. The epilogue, at least to me, felt like it was a lot of information dumped on me that explains everything that happened. I would have wished that also would have been spread out more throughout the book. This book is open to a second book and I would be very interested to see more from this world in the future. 
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a fantastic political fantasy novel. It showed a lot about truth and how sometimes the truth is much different than what we perceive. This was a fantastic book and I can't wait to read more from Joan He.
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This was great mix of Chinese mythology and a murder mystery. I actually enjoyed it so much. The mystery was well plotted out and the court room drama the perfect touch. I think that the relationships between characters were strong and well crafted. The writing was very lyrical and visual. It was quite stunning.
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An intriguing, well-written fantasy-mystery with thrilling twists. Hesina is an interesting and enjoyable narrator, and I was a fan of hers from the beginning. Interesting plot twists, political intrigue, and a wily cast of characters kept me engrossed. Definitely has YA-Adult crossover appeal. I do think this title could've gone a little darker/edgier and been written for an adult audience, as certain parts felt a bit "safe," but overall, I really enjoyed He's debut.
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This book was great, but a little overhyped for me. So in this review I'm going to try and be objective and see past the fact that I wasn't blown away by how fantastic it was and focus on the stuff that I did really like. I loved the characters. Hesina was a really deep, well thought out character. Joan He did a fantastic job of showing the pressures that are put on rulers and how much it takes to be a good one. 

The murder mystery element was also a fantastic addition. We need more murder mystery fantasy novels. Especially with the high political stakes that this was had. It was made even better by the twists that were revealed later in the book. There was some stuff I guessed, but wow, there was one very major thing I just did not see coming! 

I liked the different factions, the sooths and those that wanted them gone, the neighbouring countries that are ready to use that to their advantage. I liked how much of Hesina's work was a balancing act between all of it, as well as how she quite clearly had a side despite not being able to show it in her role as queen. 

I really really liked this world and these characters and overall, while I didn't get that feeling of amazement and love that I expected to get from this book, I just want to see more of this world.
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Wow. How can a single person describe his/her feelings about this novel? 

It was fascinating, outstanding, positively scandalous, and absolutely incredible. Joan He really hit it out of the ballpark with this book, and I'm excited, as both a person of color and reader, to see where He takes this plot and characters. 

Hesina, our protagonist, finds herself thrown into unfortunate situations when her father, the ruler of Yan, dies. However, I can see why others may say this issue is too easily pressed and folded away into the story without another notice because the death really was too sudden and quickly settled without proper consideration given. In this case, Hesina is properly maddened by the murder of her father, but we, the reader, are not as moved as can be. I was mildly disappointed to say that Hesina's motivation only slightly touched my heart. I think He could have paid more attention towards detailing her protagonist's rage and motivation. 

Nevertheless, the story plods on until we meet the Soothsayer, who then pushes Hesina and Akira, our criminal love interest, whose past and motivations are neatly hidden, together. This love story was a bud that I wasn't too fascinated by, but I supposed all YA novels need a solid love interest for the protagonist. Bonus points for the criminal aspect, although that, too, isn't wildly creative. Why can't we get a "Podrick" character for once?

The best part about this entire novel is how He deliberately ensures that Hesina never quite gets her way. After all, readers get sick and goddamn tired about how easily protagonists can manipulate entire court systems, political hierarchies, and monarchies with a simple triumphant huzzah in the court room. I like how Hesina struggles to succeed her father's legacies and teachings whilst also pondering her lack of power and experience in a court that has lived before her and will live after her. Hesina's power struggles are real, and they truly do leap off the page. The sheer sizzle of her rage and frustration is a nice touch.

"What is truth? Seek it. Write it. Good kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray."

Descendant of the Crane is a fascinating YA addition to the growing hoard of literature, but it stands out with legitimate power struggles and a headstrong, albeit weak, protagonist. 

3.5 stars.
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