Cover Image: Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

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Member Reviews

*Note: Review will be live on the blog and at the link provided and Goodreads on January 8*

"If you want to understand a person, peer at his heart through the window of his prejudices and assumptions."

Descendant of the Crane follows the journey of Hesina of Yan as she searches for her father's true killer. Now the queen, Hesina holds the power to order a formal investigation and trial to identify the murderer. Yet the young leader's pursuit of justice is not so simple. Hesina hides her own act of treason from the public: seeking the assistance of soothes, clairvoyants rejected by society. To complicate matters, Hesina's representative in court, Akira, is a criminal himself, and the court desires a quick answer rather than a fair trial. Even worse, other kingdoms, sensing the new court's vulnerability, near closer to war. With the help of her royal siblings, Sanjing, Caiyan, Lillian, and Rou, and her representative, Akira, Hesina must quell public dissent and mediate court politics to find the king's murderer and save her kingdom.

What most distinguishes Joan He's debut novel is its characters. Hesina's siblings are flawed and nuanced, which make them all the more interesting. Sanjing, while a bold soldier, grapples with the implications of murdering the innocent and his weak relationships with his siblings. Caiyan is loyal to his sister, but his motivations are unclear. Lillian, too, is loyal, but less tolerant of Sanjing than her twin brother Caiyan. Hesina's mother is perfectly gray. Wracked by grief, she attempts to dissuade her daughter from taking the crown. Hesina herself acts in ways not easily classified as good or bad. Only a teenager, she struggles to reconcile the public image she must maintain with the consequences of her decisions.

These characters' actions and moral conflicts illuminate one of the novel's core questions: do the ends justify the means? The protagonists face demanding situations that force them to choose between losing the consensus of the public and hurting potentially innocent people. To preserve peace, Hesina would have to compromise her values. Should she choose to punish no one, however, a revolt could ensue, leaving her powerless to address her kingdom's greater problems. Descendant of the Crane's portrayal of difficult and even decision issues enhances the complexity of the characters and examines to what extent pain is forgivable if the decision-maker's intent was not malicious.

The court intrigue and gossip explore the effects of mob mentality and supplement one of the most enjoyable parts of the book: the trial to punish the king's murderer. In the informal (albeit entertaining) court proceedings, a rigid director presides over what can only be described as a search for a scapegoat. Rather than enforce a just trial and discover the true identity of the killer, many courtesans are willing to lie to achieve what is accepted within society, even if what is popular is wrong.

"What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray."

In the highlight of the middle of the book, Akira's dramatic counterarguments meet the antagonists' falsified evidence. While Akira brings up substantial points, his reasoning falls on many deaf ears that prefer echo chambers over equality.  The general public, meanwhile, becomes so polarized and susceptible to manipulation and propaganda that they are willing to engage in blackmail and witch hunts, becoming as corrupt as the worst members of court, to maintain the status quo.

Although the court drama and resulting conflicts accelerated the pace of the story, parts of Descendant of the Crane were, at times, difficult to follow. The roles of the sooths, the kingdom of Kendi'a, and the Eleven were initially confusing until later sub-plots clarified their significance. Hesina follows the advice of the first sooth woman she meets verbatim, even though the sooth advises the queen to make a prisoner her representative in court. Hesina's trust in this advice and her later romance with Akira felt rushed and underdeveloped-- a contrast to the slow pace of Hesina's quest for the crown in the first half of the novel. Later in the book, many conflicts ensue simultaneously, including a journey to Kendi'a, that distract from the search for the king's murderer. In these moments, the investigation into the king's killer, a major focus of the beginning of the book, felt like an afterthought.

Still, thanks to He's characters, the plot twists in this novel are unpredictable and exciting. It's a rare occasion that I am surprised by the conclusion of a book, but Descendant of the Crane packs some potent punches.
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The Descendant of the Crane has been one of my most anticipated books of 2019, but unfortunately, this one was not for me. The story itself pulled me in immediately, but it would at the same time make me lose interest. I read this book over the course of 4 months because I had the most difficult time connecting with the characters. This is such a shame because the concept is amazing and the writing is beautiful. But I just couldn't finish the book which leaves me unable to provide a review. I don’t feel comfortable review/rating (giving it a three-star rating via Netgalley)  the book since I didn’t finish it, but thank you regardless for approving me of this book.
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Thank you to NetGalley for an Advanced Reader Copy of this book! It was definitely different from the other books I’ve read. I had to stay up some nights reading to find out more. The book took some turns that I did not see coming! In the end I’m happy I read it. I will be going back to read the other books by this author! Thank you again to NetGalley!!
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DNF @ 15%

I was SUPER enjoying this and then I think I just got into a bad reading rut because I haven't touched it since April. So it's about time I set it aside for good. :(
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This book is so difficult to rate, because I wanted to love it, and it tried so hard to make me love it, but in the end I just...feel really lukewarm about it. So my 2.5 star rating really does embody the Goodreads definition of "it was ok" and not "this was terrible."

It started off promisingly: the writing was solid and the opening scene grabbed my attention. But almost immediately, I was put off by the slow pacing. I'm not sure what it is that makes me enjoy slow pacing in some novels and not in others, but I suspect it's the characters. And I just struggled to get a feel for the characters here. It's not even that I think they were badly written, because I actually think that they were decently fleshed out (except for Hesina, who I just could not get a grasp on), but for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to care about them at all. This became a significant problem as I continued through the rest of the book, which, while it does have several page-turning scenes, is ultimately bogged down by very uneven pacing.

It's a shame, because this is actually somewhat different from most of the YA fantasies I've come across recently (view spoiler). Its worldbuilding and magic system are both very, very intriguing, as is the general direction that the plot decides to go. I mean, there's investigation and courtroom drama here, which I've never seen before in YA fantasy. And as for the love interest, I found him...almost completely superfluous but I also think that he was a rather well-fleshed out character compared to most YA male characters. He didn't annoy me, and neither did the romance. In general I think that this book avoided and/or subverted a lot of common tropes, which made it feel like a fresh new take.

But by the end, I was also struggling to understand the motivations of various characters. We were told their motivations, certainly, but I didn't believe them, because I hadn't been shown enough to convince me. For example: (view spoiler) I'm just not convinced, and I also think that there is so much here that tries to be complex political intrigue but is really just contrived, convoluted nonsense that falls apart if you think about it too hard.

Speaking of difficult to understand characters, I struggled with Hesina so much. I just couldn't get a handle on her. She just flitted from one personality trait to the other so quickly that I felt like she was just a hodgepodge of random characteristics thrown together haphazardly to move the plot forward. All I got was that she loved her father. That's it.

It was an entertaining read at times, a slow read at others, and unfortunately not one that will leave any lasting impression on me.
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Gorgeous writing, beautiful world, and interesting characters. I'm interested what Joan He will put out in the future!
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I really enjoyed the Chinese cultural setting for the novel as well as the worldbuilding. The magical system was interesting and only explained slowly, letting you figure it out as the main character did. The plot was a mystery, and fairly well-done. I certainly didn't guess at the plot twists, and I did think about it throughout the day.
The prose was really well written. I loved how the author used slips in perception to illustrate emotions, giving us the feeling of experiencing things ourselves. There were some beautiful turns of phrase and descriptions. I also thought the quotes from the Tenants at the beginning of each chapter were masterful. They really added to the worldbuilding and tone of the story.
There was something missing from the book that keeps me from giving it more stars. The characters were... underdeveloped. They had all the parts of great characters but somehow I was never able to connect with any of them. I enjoyed following the plot, but I never felt like I understood or sympathized with Hesina. I can't pin it down, but it really brought down the story for me. Too much telling of her emotions and not enough showing? It would have been 4 stars if the character development had been better. I'll be on the lookout for the next one.
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I just couldn't get into this one.  I ended up DNFing it at around 30 percent.  It just seemed to not hold on to my interest even though the description seemed like it would.  Not much happened and the characters were not very dynamic.
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In my opinion, this book reads like a Chinese period wuxia drama. The world was so intricately crafted and mysterious. Hesina was such a strong female character that would inspire teens to strive for justice even when it's hard. I found the pacing a little slow but towards the end, it got really interesting. There were so many twists and turns that kept me on my toes. I appreciate the fact that it's a standalone but there's definitely room for companion novels in this world. This book is a solid debut and I would gladly read more from this author.
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2 stars.

“What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good Kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.”

Characters: Complicated but boring
Writing: Slow, overly descriptive, SLOW
Plot: Could have been cool (murder, trial, betrayal, oh my!), but instead put me to sleep

I DNF'd this the first time around and it was pretty torturous to make it all the way through the second time but I did it! Albeit I skimmed a little, but I did it.

I was so excited to read this one but unfortunately it fell short of my expectations. The back end world-building of a kingdom that fears its Sooths to the point of genocide was intriguing. However, the immediate conflict, the murder of Hesina's father and her investigation into it, failed to catch my attention. There were some minor plot twists that did surprise me, but even these couldn't revive the novel for me.

The pros:
-interesting concept
-complicated characters

The cons:
-execution of plot
-slow-moving and boring
-iffy world-building
-characters that didn't inspire any feeling
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To be honest I could not get into this book. Partly it was due to the formatting of this review copy. I can overlook some things but sentences were broken apart and there would be entire pages without any indentation. Story wise, it just didn't grab me the way I would have liked.
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Princess Hesina of Yan had never really wanted to rule her country, but after her father's murder she has no choice. As the eldest in her family, she has to take the responsibility of the throne, and chooses to pursue the truth about her father's murder. This exposes corruption, lies, illegal magic, and political intrigue that she had never wanted to be part of. In the midst of all of this, she has to decide what is best for her country as well as for her family.

I find it hard to believe that this is Joan He's first novel. It's so intricately plotted, with nuanced details that develop over time. Hesina's journey on the edges of legality, first by consulting a soothsayer despite that being a treasonous act, all the way to the end of the novel, is well done. We're as naive as she is at the start of the novel, and the court intrigue, strained relationships within her family and the troubled history of her country all naturally are revealed as the novel progresses. It's heavily influenced by Chinese culture and history, which adds to the ethereal beauty of the story, and a lingering melancholy as Hesina loses her innocence and trust in others.

The action in the novel is less of the sword and sorcery variety, though there are elements of that at times, and more of the spoken word. It's fitting that chapters open up with the words of One and Two, the primary founders of the country, because they had set up the culture and the fear of soothsayers and magic upon which a lot of Yan is based. Everything in the story flows smoothly, so that the plot twists and character beats feel inevitable. Nothing feels out of place here, and every single one of the characters feels real. They all carry secrets, and the weight of history behind every part of the book really adds to sense of inevitability. Joan He's word choices are also very lyrical, reminding me of the brush strokes of the different characters that make up the written language. Because of this, I devoured this book in a single day.
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If you're looking for a book set in a Chinese-inspired fantasy world, maybe this is the one for you! It's very suspenseful, filled with treachery on the road to finding the truth. 

Unfortunately I did not finish reading this book (stopped around halfway through). The pacing didn't suit my tastes and the writing doesn't flow very well. I also had a hard time connecting with the characters. The main character came across as very spoiled and didn't learn from her mistakes. She lacked character consistency, thinking one thing and then jumping to the other end of the spectrum, which her actions reflected. This happened with a lot of plot-important things.
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Descendant of the Crane was one of my MOST anticipated debut novels this year -- and man, it did not disappoint. Overflowing with betrayals, political intrigue, sibling bonds, magic, and heart-stopping twists, Joan He's Chinese-inspired fantasy was worth every page I couldn't help but turn.
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I loved this book. The East Asian setting is beautiful, the political intrigue is intricate, but the main plot is definitely the whodunnit-style investigation and trial of the main character’s father’s murderer. Complex and difficult family relationships add some depth, and the world building is nicely rounded out with both cynical and idealistic quotes from the religious text (Tenets Of the Eleven). There’s always another secret and the reveals are beautifully timed. I loved the chessmaster-style finale and am really looking forward to the sequel.
A Chinese (YA) version of the Goblin Emperor. Very good.
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Disclosure.  I am one of the sales reps for this title.  I waited until after my selling season to read it just in case I did not like it. (Difficult to sell a title one does not care for.)  No worries here.  The book is great.  Well worth anyone's time to read.
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I really enjoyed this one with my whole heart and soul. I ended up reading this while cohosting a book club with some of my dear friends, and i think I enjoyed it the most, but it was just such a powerful read to me. I cannot wait to continue on with the series and I cannot wait to see what comes next!
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This was such an interesting book set in a beautiful Chinese setting. The characters were all so well written and you really felt for Hesina and everything she was going through.
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Princess Hesina is brought suddenly into power when her father, King Wen, is killed. The kingdom of Yan is unstable and edging closer and closer to war, and the balancing act of keeping the people in line is trickier as Hesina's attention is divided; she's convinced her father was murdered. This book is all about her journey to get justice or discover that the cost is simply too high - something that will probably break her, if she's not able to properly honour her father's memory.  

Although the book starts off with a brief snapshot of the King and Princess, of him teaching her seemingly everything, Hesina is still somehow quite inexperienced with the politics of a royal court. Despite thinking her father has been murdered she still trusts people she hasn't been given much reason/evidence to trust (and it's in such a delicate time to - surely she understands that her kingdom could dissolve into war at any given moment if she's not careful?). This makes the start of the book rather slow and, at times, frustrating. She was born a princess - surely if they had any respect for their family and their people her whole life would have been set around preparing her for this moment, even if it has come a little earlier than hoped?

It's also confusing that there's no additional security measures - where are the guards, or councils of scholars, or even an advisor? Moreover, where were the King's (surely he had them), OR why didn't he have them - or why weren't they used to working with Hesina and where are they now? 

This effects the world building, making it feel rather lacking and unrealistic. That, and the addition that the length of time between wars, persecution of certain groups of people, and the lack of people with high skills despite the years of education made little to no sense.

The first few chapters felt a bit chaotic and it wasn't always clear what was happening (I think in a 'trying to be mysterious' way), but I wanted to follow Hesina's journey for justice. At 400 pages though, with significant pacing problems, this simply didn't work out. I'm behind in my reviews due to continued illness, and I have to get on with it. 

Especially seeing as the less said about the love interest, Akira, the better. 

I didn't really feel much of a connection for any of the characters, but the relationship between Hesina and her siblings (both by blood, and adopted) were probably the best thing about this book, raising it to three stars. Some of the twists were delivered well, but you only care about twists if you've been drawn into the plot and care about the stakes. Sadly, I wasn't.
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Descendant of the Crane is Joan He's young adult debut. The story is about Princess Hesina of Yan whose father just died. As his oldest child, she is to become queen of their kingdom. Which is something she does not really want, but will still do because as queen, she will be able to open up a trial to find out who killed her father. In this case, she is the only one who honestly believes he was murdered since she found him. This includes her own mother as well as nearly everyone around her. 

Hesina of has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But, when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her. Her court is filled with dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. 

Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago. If you haven’t guessed, sooths main power is predicting the future. Hesina is told to beware of the devil of lies, and that her only hope may lie in the hands of a convict. Akira is said convict and he is as brilliant as he is secretive. Akira is your typical mysterious “dangerous” boy who ticks all the misunderstood bad boy boxes that are seen in nearly all young adult tropes these days.

Thus, the start of her reign as queen becomes filled with a murder investigation. You never know who to trust, or what anyone’s motives are until revelations happen too fast to do anything about them. Hesina was a bit too trusting of everyone. She's got a good heart, and means what she says about making sure her people are taken care of, but there are those close to her that are eager to see her fall. Hesina has four siblings: a brother a year younger who is a general (Yan Sanjing), two adopted siblings (a twin brother Caiyan and sister Lilian who Hesina is very close too), and a younger half-brother (Rou) who Hesina’s hardly speaks to since it is a daily reminder of her father’s infidelity.

Unfortunately, Hesina's relationship with Yan was so very strained which was pretty sad considering he was one of the few who could have been a steady presence for her when she is confronted by backstabbing and betrayal. My one major complaint in this entire book just happens to be the ending. There is nothing on the authors web page, nor on Goodreads, or anywhere else about a possible sequel. For me, there absolutely needs to be a sequel. You can't just leave things hanging in perpetuity forever without giving readers like me an answer. 

Overall, this Chinese-inspired fantasy combines two elements politics and a murder mystery. If there were to be a sequel, I would have hopes that I could find time to read it to see what happens next for Hesina.
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