Cover Image: Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

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Member Reviews

Didn't realize this had been archived. I own four different editions of Descendant of the Crane and I don't know what else I can say that hasn't already been said. It's a beautiful book! 💖📚
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Ugh, what to say about this book?!

I was so looking forward to devouring this when I read the blurb and learned that it would be set in a Chinese-inspired world and culture. In the last few years there has been more of a shift towards Asian mythology and Asian-set fantasies, but most of these take place in Japan, so I was really looking forward to exploring a China-based one. The description also mentioned a team-up with a criminal, which is also right up my alley, so I was expecting a lot.

Alas, this book didn't at all live up to my expectations because it was so. darn. slow. I was bored out of my mind after about three chapters, but I kept pushing on expecting the pace and plot to pick up. Nope, not at all. It was a drag to read each chapter because nothing seemed to happen and anything that did happen seemed very unimportant. Besides that, I never felt a great connection to any of the characters. All of them seemed very blah to me and therefore didn't make me want to root for them or hate them. Even the "big" twist at the end was pretty predictable in my opinion.

I will give the book props for exploring good vs. evil and not making it a black and white issue. A lot more books have been focusing on this theme lately, and I thought the book did a good job of exploring the moral gray zone. But even that couldn't save this book from boring me to tears.
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Joan He's take on this Chinese-inspired fantasy failed to impress me. Princess Hesina is about to take the throne of Yan, a title that came with a price. In this case, the untimely death of her father, which might look like a natural death to all but not to Hesina. As Hesina tries to find evidence of foul play, she confronts a soothsayer, an offense that is considered high treason, she also faces the dilemma of who in the court is trustworthy and who isn't. And that is how she meets Akira, a robber and Hesina's last chance at getting justice for her father.

The story as such is full of plot holes and reads like a hasty, poorly narrated fiction novel. The character sketches are a hit or miss. While a few of them are well written, most are just boring, unpredictable and irrational. Most of the plot feels abrupt and written in haste, except the final chapters, which brings back the usual elements of a political conspiracy.

The second half of the story definitely left an impression on me and made me believe that the author could have given more time for the characters to grow, especially Hesina and Akira, who appear uncertain and mysterious most of the time. A plot oriented take that could have been written better.

With half-baked characters, sloppy writing and a plot without purpose, 'Descendant of the Crane' goes to my 'disappointed' basket.
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Descendant of the Crane is Joan He’s debut novel and I absolutely loved it. I’d expected to like this one but this surpassed even my high expectations for it.

I finished Descendant of the Crane last night and I already want to reread it. I thought I knew how the story would go but at almost every point I was wrong. He does a fantastic job of taking fantasy tropes and adding a dash of magic to create something new. Plus the world-building was good (with the potential for it to really expand in the future books). The plot was this great mix of murder mystery and coming-of-age tale that kept me engrossed from the very first chapter. It started off a tad slower but that really worked since it allowed the author to lay a solid foundation for an intense finale.

The characters were also all so vibrant. Hesina really jumped off the page for me and I loved seeing how she grew and changed throughout the novel. We mostly see the other characters through their relationship with Hesina but I thought that added an interesting element. I was never 100% sure if how she saw/interacted with the characters was actually representative of who they are. So it was fascinating to see how everything unfolded.

I’d recommend this one if you’re looking for a YA fantasy that feels fresh and new. I’m going to be keeping my fingers crossed that a sequel is announced soon!

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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I was really excited to read Descendant of the Crane because of all the hype in the Twitter community, but it fell a little flat for me, which is a shame as I think some people are going to love it! (Also, that cover is amazing!)

I’m always excited for fantasy that explores politics and the complex relationships hidden behind the facades of stable governments, so I thought I was going to love this. Hesina, the princess, must attempt to solve her father’s murder while also attempting to begin her new rule, despite an unsupportive Dowager Empress and a bunch of questionable acts in the empire’s history. Murder aside, magic users have been oppressed and persecuted, and there’s a very complicated set of siblings involved in the succession, so there’s plenty of space for things to go wrong!

Unfortunately, I simply wasn’t invested enough in Hesina to be particularly fussed about the various intrigues and betrayals of her life. I think that a deeper look into her interior thoughts and feelings at the beginning would have set this up so that I cared more about what happened to her, because I honestly felt a little like I’d tuned into a film a third of the way in, and never quite caught up on why anything was a big deal. The stakes are high and have international effects, but we see so few characters that I felt very detached from the danger and importance of certain actions, and Hesina often seemed to be operating completely in the dark. Everything is very limited to Hesina’s viewpoint, which is clever in showing her confusion as she comes up against complicated history and politics, and I think this would have been much more enjoyable for me if I had cared about her.

The descriptions of the architecture and clothing are lovely and vivid, and the Chinese-inspired setting is unusual in YA fantasy without being added for the sake of diversity. I liked that there was minimal romance. I would have loved if the story had kept to the single line of the investigation into the king’s murder, as the courtroom scene near the start of the story is one of the most interesting in the book. I think this mostly comes down to a matter of taste – I was hoping for something twisty and political, like The Goblin Emperor, and I got something much more YA coming-of-age-y. In fact, it really reminded me of Ash Princess. It’s no bad thing, but it didn’t suit me. Three out of five stars, with a caveat that with different expectations you may read a wholly different book!
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We need diverse books! This book fills a hole I didn't realize we had and we need so much! It's a Chinese inspired fantasy with lots of intrigue,  action and (of course) some romance. It was such an enjoyable read and I think it will be well received.
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Something that I have become a little tired of is reading story that could be a full, adult fantasy novel, or even just a murder mystery novel like this one is (with fantasy elements) but someone along the way said it might survive better in YA. This isn’t to downtalk YA, keep in mind that much like ‘millennial’ is misused to describe teenagers, people assume YA is meant for teenagers too, and it is, but it is also for young adults such as people in their early to mid twenties. So I get that YA can be adult, I expect that. The elements that tire me about YA is that the main characters have to be 16-18 years old. I’ve mentioned before that the kind of YA I like the best is when the story is compelling and interesting and I forget all about how old the main characters are – it’s mentioned so infrequently and everyone acts so maturely that the story and characters stand on their own independent of the YA indicator. I haven’t been requesting many YA ARCs because of this. I’m tired of reading the same beginning of every book: “She was only 16 when she faced this terrible choice/journey/job” or “She had just turned 18 with her whole life ahead of her when…” and now that I’ve read too many, I see it everywhere and I can’t get past it.

This story escapes this particular criticism through the clever use of royal succession. Hasima’s father the king dies, and the royal doctress rules it a natural death and sends a decree out to the people of this, but Hasima discovers poison during his autopsy and decides to use her new powers as queen to call for an investigation into his death. Only problem is that her kingdom works under strange rules based on a history of fearing soothsayers and magic wielders. In an attempt to make society safer and more just, her kingdom is ripe for misuse and corruption, especially after the king’s death. Many people have knowledge of how the system works, and can therefore take advantage of its loopholes and dark places.

Many of the decisions made in this book are based on a set of Tenets written by the Eleven, a group of revolutionaries that overthrew the soothsayer Emperor and “freed” the people from the “evil” influence and oppression of magic. The philosophy behind these tenets is questioned, discussed, and sometimes ignored, but I really enjoyed thinking about how such clear teachings could be used to oppress and scapegoat a people in favor of saving a separate people. I like to think about how people can take advantage of things and about whether or not those actions are justified.

The major reveal, which I won’t spoil here, comes in several parts. More people are involved than you think, and the truth isn’t anything you could possibly have guessed until it happens and you’ll be like “oh right, duh, of course.” I was very sick for the past week and a half or so, and it’s possible that my usual instincts weren’t up to snuff here, but Joan He did a great job keeping me interested and reading, and unfurling the truth slowly enough that reading the entire book was worthwhile and rewarding.

I am confused about how a sequel might address the ending. There is a lot left undone, and only vague indications of how it’s going to get dealt with. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything because most of the charm of this book is its mysteries, but I’m not aching for a sequel. Honestly the way this book ends just made me say “yeah, that’s what happens. Now everyone can get what they want and live their lives.” Maybe I feel this way because this story was more plot-driven than character-driven, and I feel less connected to the characters so I don’t care as much about what happens to them. My only loyalty was to the mystery, and now that I know the answers, the characters don’t seem to mean as much.

You should definitely pick this one up if you like murder mysteries. The magic that would make this a fantasy novel is ancillary, the real action is in the whodunnit and overall it is masterfully done. Go get you some.
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I received a free eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This by no means affected my opinion of it.


I must say, I was one of DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE's biggest fans out there. I was drawn to the blurb and cover, and ready for a good read. Unfortunately, what could have been a great book was marred by its own dragged-out pacing and repetitive nature. On the surface, DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE is elegantly written with beautiful, lush cinematic prose you could get lost in. But that is precisely the problem: the writing meanders on and on and you feel as though you have been reading forever. Another thing I had a quibble with was even when the chapters picked up steam, it felt like elements were missing here and there as if the storyline was rushed to compensate for the lost time!

I did, however, enjoy the worldbuilding. It is utterly Chinese and does not fall into the trap of being culturally diverse by name or language only, like so many other YA books out there. If only Joan He sprinkled the same magic onto her characters - they were rather weak and lacked significant development or complexity. Hesina also does come across as rather shallow and naive at times, which I dare say lessened my love for the book. I did love the twists and political atmosphere, though it was not nearly as intriguing as the 'Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones' pitch made it seem. In short, my Chinese soul hurts, but I am willing to read the sequel to this disappointing but nevertheless entertaining story.
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This is a DNF. I wasn't a fan of the writing style which made it hard to get into the story. The pace was a little slower, and eventually I had to let this story go.
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What I Liked
UMMMMM okay... WOW??? This book was amazing. The cast of characters is so rich and distinct, the magic of the sooths is unique and tragic, and the political workings of the palace kind of made my head spin. Hesina is relatably steadfast, stubborn, and means to do good. The twists all along the way were wonderful. Some I saw coming, and some came out of nowhere, and some were like...

Me: Hey what if such-and-such happens?
Me: Nah that would never--

What I Would Have Liked to See
Sometimes the action was unclear, but that might have been because I was reading too fast because I needed to see what happened next!!

My Favorite!
Lilian! Her attitude, her style, that comic relief. LILIAN!

When Hesina's king father dies under mysterious circumstances, she must be the queen her kingdom needs while trying to figure out the truth of his death. But sometimes truths are better left unlearned, and secrets are better left buried.
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When Princess Hesina’s father dies, she is suddenly thrust into power. She is now the ruler of an unstable country, nearly at war with its neighbouring country, full of political corruption, and a country that has outlawed and oppressed soothsayers, magic users, for centuries. While others think her father died of natural causes, Hesina believes he was murdered. A trial ensues but her entire court is filled with deceivers and those using her father’s death for political gain. In order to find out the truth, Hesina commits a treasonous act, punishable by death – she enlists the help of a soothsayer.

Descendant of the Crane is a Chinese-inspired fantasy that is by far one my favourite reads so far of 2019 – and will probably stay as one of my favourite books, especially fantasy, of all time. If I could, this would get far more than five stars from me. It has everything you would want in a fantasy – an immersive and descriptive world, a thrilling court of politics, lots of betrayal and deception, and intense mystery, a masterfully crafted story, and a brilliantly complex and flawed protagonist.

It is a slow-paced book, which doesn’t always work for me but Joan He managed to create such a turbulent atmosphere where one wrong move by our characters could have drastic consequences which made this a thrilling and suspenseful read.

What I loved most about this is that finally, we have a ruler that really understands power and rule. Hesina also truly grapples with what it really means to be a good ruler too. Placate the majority and continue with the status quo in order to protect your own rule or commit to change and progress and challenge that oppression and hatred despite the consequences? She questions everything she does and, frankly, it is refreshing.

“What is power? Hesina had thought it was wielding the knife, or getting someone to wield it for her. Now she realized it was neither of those things. Power was yielding. It was taking the bloodstained knife out of a thousand frenzied hands and making it her alone.”

The political intrigue in this book is masterfully done. I adore books that feature political intrique, it is a surefire way to make me love a book. I loved how Hesina handled the politics, the deception, and the dangers of court. It was truly invigorating and kept me fully invested despite the slow pace. Descendant of the Crane featured so many twists and turns, morally ambiguous characters, betrayal and deception, and so much conflict. You think she’s done with the reveals and THEN YOU READ THE EPILOGUE. shit.

Hesina is right up there with some of my all-time favourite characters. She is a brilliantly complex and flawed character. She is a ruler but also an oppressor. She makes hard and sometimes wrong decisions that tend to have disastrous consequences. While she wants to change her country for the better, she fears her own people’s resistance to change – she feeds their hatred and prejudice because she is scared to confront them and their prejudice. I loved watching her learn and grow throughout the book.

Also, the romance is so lovely.

Overall, Descendant of the Crane is an impressive and powerful debut, and I will read ANYTHING Joan He writes. Listen to the hype, this book definitely delivers.
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I admit it, the cover got me. Look at it, it’s so beautiful. The plot sounded intriguing too, so I was excited to read this. I was a little less excited when I started, because it is very slow to get going and for a long time I worried I wouldn’t like it at all.

Thankfully it picks up. However, if you’re here for action and excitement, you will probably be disappointed. If you’re more a fan of political machinations, moral ambiguity that comes in considerably more shades than fifty and repeated demonstrations that no one, NO ONE, can be trusted, then this will be catnip for you, my Machiavellian friend.

Family rifts, hints of romance, political troubles, potential revolution, the threat of war, possible coups, prejudice, murder, poison and mystery are just a few things that Hesina has to cope with throughout this book. Oh, and betrayal. Much betrayal. All the betrayals. Trust no one. Seriously, no one is to be trusted. She can’t even trust herself at times.

It’s slow-going and ruthless at times. I spent a lot of chapters wondering how much I cared, until another plot twist turned out more like a knife in the ribs and I realised I did care, deeply, about what happened to these characters, in this place, in this time. It’s subtle and compelling, and I struggle to believe it’s a standalone, because that ending left so many things undone that surely, surely there will be more. (In other words, publishers, give us more. Please. This story isn’t nearly done yet.) In all an enjoyable debut. I look forward to reading more from this author soon.
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As informed as I like to think I am, I do miss a book or two. Or several. Things are just sort of helter-skelter here in the House of Gosch – especially with this BRAND NEW JOB approaching its first day here right quick – but I’m still making sure that I’m on top of things. Especially books.

So let me tell you, I’m so glad I didn’t sleep on this hit debut. Shoutout to all my bros on Twitter for causing all kinds of a ruckus about this book and bringing it to my attention!

This book, of course, is THE DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by the fantastic Joan He.

Princess Hesina of Yan is about to become queen, but she’s more concerned about her feather’s murder than anything else. She’ll stoop to any low to find out what happened, including the treasonous act of consulting the long-ostracized soothsayers.

What proceeds is one part murder mystery, one part historical fantasy, and a complete whirlwind of emotion-driven tension that leaves you begging for more.

I mean, it’s been a long while, it feels, since a book’s demanded me to stay up past my old person bedtime of 9:30 to finish it, but that’s what happened. The back half of this book just pinned me to the bed and said, “Son if you do not finish this book it’ll eat you alive ’til morning.”

My response, in this situation? “Hell, dude. You got a good point.”

There’s a lot of elegant writing, couple with a lot of vicious scenes. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but every time I think of how to describe what goes on, it feels more and more like a Shakespearean tragedy (you know, if he could get on Joan’s level and write the sort of tension that we’re seeing here).

(In case you weren’t aware, me and Billy don’t have the best relationship. Anyone who shows him up is golden in my book.)

If you’re searching for that quick summer read, this isn’t it. You don’t want to just fly through this book, dear reader – this is a book to be savored, to be enjoyed, until that very moment where it grips you to let you know that by not finishing the story, it’s going to haunt you for the rest of your days. (On that note, please remember that I may also haunt you if you don’t finish this book. Because I want you to read it.)

Joan, whatever you’re doing, keep at it. Readers? Get this book. You may not thank me after your all-nighter to finish it, but you’ll thank me at some point.

Check out the full podcast review BEWARE THE NIGHT on iTunes, Spotify, or Awesound!
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I cannot stop thinking about this book! I really hope there are plans for a sequel. I need more Hesina and Akira, Mei and Sanjing, soothsayers and everything else. Initially, I wanted to take my time with it, but that plan quickly went out the window. I couldn't flip through the pages fast enough! Descendent of the Crane is easily one of my favorite reads this year!

All of the characters were fascinating and unique. Lilian was sassy and always had a smile for her friends. It was obvious how much she cared about her brother and sister. She still used an affectionate childhood nickname for Hesina, and always brought laughter to their conversations. Lilian was loving, sarcastic, and always put her family first. Her twin brother, Caiyan, was more reserved and quiet, but she never failed to tease a smile from him.

Caiyan and Lilian were Hesina's adopted siblings, but they didn't see it that way. They were family, and that's all that mattered. They put each other's interests before their own, and I think that really shaped the overall story. However, they did keep secrets that eventually damaged their relationships, despite having good intentions. Their actions stemmed from love and a desire to keep each other safe. It was tragically complicated, and my heart hurt for all three of them.

Sanjing is Hesina's blood brother, but the two were at odds more often than not. They saw the world differently, but both took their roles very seriously. They both had their people's best interests at heart, but had very opposing ideas about how to keep everyone safe. Their relationship felt very honest and realistic. They're teenagers with responsibilities they're not entirely ready for, facing threats from outside and inside their city. It was hard to know who to trust, because everyone had their own agenda. Sanjing and Hesina do love one another, but it's understandably complicated.

Akira was a very interesting character that the author doesn't elaborate on very much. He plays a crucial role in the story, but his past remains a mystery. We're not even told if Akira is his real name. We know some minor details about experiences he's had, but nothing really significant. The author hints at important details, and I really hope he's fleshed out more in a future book. I really enjoyed him as a character, and his interactions with people were often meaningful. He doesn't always say a lot, but he's very observant and knowledgeable.

Rou was incredibly sweet and always had a something kind to say to his siblings. He may only be a half-sibling, but he still referred to Hesina as his sister. He was there for her when no one else was, and showed a hidden bravery that I hadn't expected. He's loyal and willing to do whatever it takes for his family, even if they've been less-than-friendly towards him in the past.

The Silver Iris, Mei and her shadows, and even some of the council members, were all very well-written, and I enjoyed learning about them. I even liked learning about the characters that were easy to hate, because they all had a role to play within the story. There were a lot of hidden agendas and surprises that I didn't anticipate, and I enjoyed being kept on my toes.

I know this post has been mostly about the characters, because they're truly amazing, but the story itself was fantastic and impossibly creative. I loved the rich history the author created, and I hope we learn more about soothsayers and the Eleven in the future. I think they've both committed atrocities, although I don't think either group anticipated how long their hate and destruction would continue.

I really loved the Descendent of the Crane and hope there will be a sequel! The ending left the story somewhat resolved, but definitely open for more. It hasn't concluded, but I'm okay with where the author left things.

Originally posted at Do You Dog-ear? on April 23, 2019.
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Descendant of the Crane was much more political and twisty than the standard YA tropes out there. It was a refreshing deviation from "the chosen one" protagonist, to focus more on a main character that doesn't have it all figured out, seems to be one step behind the antagonizing forces and relies on the wrong people. Although written in third person perspective, the narration of the story is singularly focused on what Hessina knows and sees--most often the reader only knows and interprets information from Hessina's perspective. This is a difficult technique to accomplish well without using first person, and I think it helped the plot immensely. 

The pacing of this is slow and there are minimal big action scenes. But, what this story lacks in in your face excitement, it makes up with an intriguing mystery that the reader and Hessina are racing to solve before it's too late.  

This is a great first novel from Joan He, and I would recommend it to anyone.
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Thank you to Netgalley and publisher for the advance copy for an honest review. 

Wow. Let's start with the beautiful cover. That's a cover that would draw you in across the street. Gorgeous! 

What a story...fantastic political mystery set in Chinese history. Hesina ascends the throne when her father dies...under mysterious circumstances.  She sets about an investigation.  As with most things , open the kettle of fish and she finds out a lot more than she planned. 

The entire family is great. Book 2 will have big shoes to fill in terms of answers! 

I'd definitely recommend this book to friends that like fantasy and Asian culture!
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I had such high hopes for this title, I was so excited to receive a copy. Unfortunately it wasn't quite for me. The book is well written but I felt the plot was mediocre and could have been fleshed out a little further. The family system is not well-explained (all Hesina's siblings) and the magic system and sooths could have been better explained. The cover is amazing and I'm so glad the Teen section is becoming a bit more diverse with fantasy stories set in various cultures.
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I had high hopes for this book, and I was SO excited when I was given an early reader e-copy, I just wish I had finished it sooner! This is how I summarize Descendant of the Crane: Hessina, a reluctant and yet capable Princess is forced into ruling her kingdom. She finds out that her kingdom has many MANY secrets, and she must decide if she wants to rule the kingdom as it has been ruled for hundreds of years, or if changes should be made. I love her growth as a character throughout the book. I love her vulnerability and strength as well as her willingness to learn and sacrifice for others. I truly connected with Hessina. I also enjoyed the twists and turns that the story took. Unexpected things happened, and even when I wasn't happy about the events, they made for wonderful plot twists! This is a book that I want to own in physical form asap! Thank you SO much NetGalley and AWTeen for the opportunity to read this book!
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Descendant of the Crane is a book that will grip you and not let go until you've finished the final pages. The twists and turns of this book had me reeling, and you can tell that it was all set up very carefully. I loved the cast of characters and their dynamics, especially the sibling and parent-child relationships. The author didn't pull any punches, and the ending was probably by far the most shocking and devastating moment in the story, rendering the reader shaken and speechless. This is a book I won't forget, and I hope that the sequels/companions will be published so that I can dive deeper into this wonderfully-crafted Chinese-inspired world.
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So excited to have finally read this!
This political fantasy is inspired by Chinese history and introduces us to unforgettable characters as they try to figure out who us telling the truth. Hesina ascends to the throne after her father, the Emperor, dies mysteriously. She becomes convinced that he was poisoned, so uses her new power to start an investigation, unaware that the truths she will uncover could shake her beliefs and the very foundations of her country.
I loved all four of the siblings at the centre of this family and how the inspiration from Chinese history was melded with fantasy to create an interesting world. I had a LOT of questions about Akira, many of which I'm hoping will be answered in the next book. I think that I will need to reread this before Book 2 comes out as everyone is so complicated!
Full review to come on my blog!
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