Descendant of the Crane

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

“She’d never bothered to see it wasn’t about her. It’d never been about her. Not all stories were hers to narrate.”

TW: Death, Torture, Oppression
Bechdel Test: Passes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder mayhem magic     

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

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

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

I can show you the world       

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

I love all the messed up kids

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

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

Magic meets thriller      

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




My thoughts overall

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

    Will I read this author again? Yes yes yes
    Will I continue this series? Please please everyone buy it so we can get a sequel
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A wonderfully entertaining Chinese inspired fantasy novel! I loved the worldbuilding and how so much of the lore was incorporated but never felt overwhelming or info-dumpy. My only negative would be the romance, even though I like both characters I just feel they lacked romantic chemistry.
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So I read this as an e-arc from netgalley so bear in mind that some things I say might not be in the finished copy. The formatting of this book was very strange and it honestly confused me a lot. As an example we would randomly jump from scene to scene without any kind of a cohesive structure. This lead to me thinking I had somehow missed a page. However I found that it was just how the book was structured. This might have been fixed in the final copy. 

My next thing is more of the gripe, this book was very boring. I never really had a desire to pick it back up, I found the characters to be bland and unremarkable. The plot seemed to jump around a lot and it didn't really make too much sense. We would randomly get a little interesting tidbit and then it never got resolved in a satisfying way so you are left questioning about it. I believe this will be a series by the ending of this book so this might be something that gets explored in future books. 

Suffice to say this just really wasn't the book for me which is sad because I was really looking forward to it.
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Descendant Of The Crane by Joan He has an absolutely gorgeous cover. It also had some praise from someone who I tend to trust. So, dear friends, I was quite hyped up for this book. As it turns out though, this wasn't really the book for me. However, I think that it could be THE book for many other readers - especially people who are typically underrepresented in books.

Descendant Of The Crane follows main character Hesina as she's about to take over ruling the Yan empire. You see, her father has died. Hesina suspects it was not by his own hand and so, launches an investigation/trial. Meanwhile, her kingdom is gearing up against people who are sooths/magic users. And there's some border tensions. Also, some internal drama too. So, Hesina has this guy, Akira, who is mysterious, hired to conduct the investigation. And well, she learns much more than she bargained for.

So, what didn't work for me? I guess the pacing was just very slow. I felt disengaged from the story. It seemed like it was hard to get a real sense of the world in which we are dropped into. Also, I felt like I was at a distance from Hesina. She keeps her cards close to the chest, which is fine. However, just not for me. I think that readers who are more discerning and more patient than I am will like this book. But personally, it just wasn't my thing. That said, there's a whole lot of potential and I think that eventually I'll check out some more of He's work in the future. Maybe this was a case of wrong book at the wrong time.
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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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