Descendant of the Crane

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

There is a lot of hype surrounding this book and it is very well deserved. I went into this book knowing very little about this book, but from the description it sounds like a standard nobility murder mystery with a dash of fantasy elements. But, while most mystery/thrillers are focused on the drama of actually catching the killer, Descendant of the Crane takes a more introspective look at the main character and the concept of “truth” in general. I loved how readers can see the time and effort that Joan He put into building her world and how intricate she made the court system.  I love her writing style and every chapter is prefaced by a quote from the Tenets of the Eleven which is this worlds “bible” for an easy comparison. The way in which these quotes are written really make One and Two their own characters with distinct voices of their own. Joan He did an awesome job making relatively believable characters all with their own distinct voices, which with a cast of characters this size it isn’t always easy.

I was not prepared to take this journey of truth with our mc Hesina. I was all for searching dark alleyways to find a killer but instead, I got taken on an introspective ride of what is “truth” and what is the true cost of it. Also, what is the true cost of remaking the world? Poor Hesina put way too much on her plate. Honestly, I was just curious to see how far she would go with her trial and whether she would take the Cersei Lannister route to get what she wanted.

But (thankfully) Hesina actually cares about people and had to wrestle with caring about her subjects and getting the truth she desired.  I would definitely say that there are some flaws in the logic of this book, but I feel like it could just be that some areas weren’t as fleshed out as I personally would have liked. But, I definitely didn’t understand why Hesina kept focusing more on her trial than the blossoming war on her borders. I just felt like once that crown got placed on her head she should have shifted focus to more administrative issues rather than just her own quest for justice. I highly doubt that while she’s running about her city that there weren’t other important matters beyond the trial for her fathers murder. Real life doesn’t work that way.

Also, not gonna lie, the twist ending is a little disappointing but I would like to see where it goes if this book becomes a series. I feel like there were enough threads left hanging to allow for a second book at least. My only other complaint is that the romance felt a little forced/sudden but at the same time it didn’t seem like it was trying to be more than just a simple attraction between two characters? I dunno it was a little confusing.

Overall, I had a lot of fun reading this story. I thought that the characters were all very distinctive and the writing style incredibly beautiful. I did find some plot holes and felt that there some areas that could have been explained much better or revealed a bit differently for more impact but despite those things, I would highly recommend this book for readers looking to break into YA fantasy but aren’t looking for something that is going need a huge commitment or be super confusion. This is an awesome introspective read that really takes readers for a ride!
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Let me begin by saying that I had toyed with the idea of reading this book for a long time. Months. The premise had me intrigued but there was just so much hype surrounding Joan He’s debut that I was, honestly, a little intimidated. Now, I’ve read over-hyped books before but most of those gripped me from the synopsis and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them anyway. Descendant of the Crane didn’t have that “must read now” pull for me and I wasn’t sure whether it was something I needed to read or not. At the end, curiosity won out. I’m not mad about it. 

I had a hard time getting into this. I actually stopped at 30% and went to Goodreads for reviews because I wanted to see if I was the only one having issues and whether it would be worth continuing. Again, there is so much love for this book that I had to keep on trucking. Pretty sure I would have been condemned like a sooth if I had put a DNF on my review. I can see the mob now. *shudder* Luckily, past the half way mark this turned around for me.

He’s writing is fantastic. I found that the pace of the book was on point and I wasn't getting bored, which is always a worry of mine especially if I’m not feeling the story right away. I feel like the world building wasn’t quite as extensive as I would have expected but I also don’t think it was needed. There was so much work put into the plot, the twists and the characters that too complicated of a world would have taken away from the story and have more of a negative effect on the reader rather than an immersive experience, which is what every reader wants. 

The characters are what makes this book something special. I am absolutely in love with the entire main cast. Lilian HAS to be my favorite. I mean, who doesn't love a girl who thinks food and clothes can solve all your problems? A girl after my own heart. And let's not forget about Rou. Sweet, adorable, squishy Rou. I want to keep him. The whole Hesina and Akira connection doesn't sit well with me, though. I feel like that is more of a forced friendship rather than a natural connection. It's a little awkward. I also had higher hopes for Hesina. A girl playing dress-up was not my idea of a Queen. It works for the book, but there is something so unbelievably naïve about her that it grates my teeth. I give her an A+ for enthusiasm but a ruler, she is not.

There was so much that I really enjoyed about this book but what stalled me in my reading was the unrelenting sense that I was missing something. There was so much action, underhanded politics and plot twists (holy HELL....the twists!) that I constantly had no idea what was going on and that made this a long read for me. If I wasn't constantly feeling lost, I know I would have flown through this book. 

The real star of this show, for me, was that ENDING! I know I should have seen it coming, and some of it I did, but I was blown away. Full redemption for everything I wasn't feeling throughout the rest of the book. Now, I need MORE. I had read somewhere that Descendant of the Crane was a standalone but after finishing, I'm hoping that there will be at least one more book. You can't end it like that Joan....it's not ok.

Obviously, I have a LOT of thoughts about this book. There are so many more but I don't want this review to be 6,000 pages. Descendant of the Crane is my most surprising book this year for sure and I am already considering reading it again. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book to read and give my honest (and very long) opinions.
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So, it's never surprising that there are always new releases that I'm excitedly anticipating, but it's always a surprise when I receive one through NetGalley!
In this review, I will be covering Descendent of the Crane by Joan He.

Title: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Publish Date: April 9, 2019 
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
Synopsis: "Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own. Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death…because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?
In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception."

I was really excited to read this, considering Joan He is a Chinese-American author and the story seemed culturally rich and captivating. Additionally, the first thing to catch my eye about this book was the cover, which was designed by Feifei Ruan. In an article, I had read that Ruan's imagery is very deliberate and specific- every layer has added meaning.
So, I finally just finished reading this afternoon. I'm completely blown away with Joan He's writing, and the ending made me want to run away to the mountaintops and beg the heavens for a second installment. Honestly, I had NO idea what to expect, especially since there was a mixture of fantasy and mystery. Honestly, I'm extremely impressed. I really enjoyed the intrigue with the investigation and the court with the give-and-take between Hesina's representative and the investigation bureau, which was presenting fake suspects and evidence. I don't remember reading any YA fantasy novel that incorporated crime/mystery elements into the story telling. Asides from that, I enjoyed Hesina's character. Extremely relatable and human, and struggling to keep her faith and will against all odds.
I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy themes of lies, trust, and betrayal. The ending with sting unexpectedly, but you'll be ready for more.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Hesina becomes queen after the death of her father, and is determined to find his murderer. But there are truths that do more harm than good...

Do you ever feel like you read a completely different book than everyone else?

The summary for this was incredibly intriguing—billed as an Asian GoT, with twists, turns, politics, war and feminist agency, I was beyond hooked. And all of the reviews from my Goodreads friends had me psyched and ready to rock on the hype train.

But.

This was not the book for me.

The premise and promise was so high, but I felt like the execution wasn't polished as neatly as it could have been.

It played out like a lot of other YA fantasy stories that I've been seeing lately—twists and turns, haphazard worldbuilding (some parts of this world were breathtakingly beautiful, and others popped out of nowhere 3/4 of the way through the book without context), and a heroine whose motivations, actions and words are going in three completely different directions. And secondary characters who are painfully one-dimensional. (view spoiler)

There are so many different things happening in this story—war, salt/water trades with a kingdom that is trying to go to war with them for some reason, evil ministers, sooths and oppression and magic, a where'd that come from? love interest with a tragically mysterious backstory, immortal people, a red herring trial, a maggot-eyed scout, a vanishing village subplot that literally vanishes faster than the villages did, distant mothers and more and more bunny trails and side plots that erupted and then vanished into the ether leaving more questions than answers.

Additionally, Hesina herself is probably one of the most frustrating queens I've ever seen. Where are her ministers? Where is any communication? Where are her guards, her ladies in waiting, her attendants, why are the people of court and her people all faceless blobs who gather at her feet and she doesn't know any of their names???Where the adults??

And finally, the question that's most pressing of all: WHO IS RUNNING THIS KINGDOM?

Because it sure as hell ain't Hesina.

Girl spends like three days doing paperwork, is like, f this shit, and hares off to save the sooths and stop a war, bungles it because she has no clue how logistics, alliances, communication and leadership actually work, and then blames herself for not changing centuries of oppression and ingrained racism and hatred after being on the job for three weeks.

Again. So much potential.

Anywho, don't take my review as gospel.

Many, many other people loved this book. Maybe you will too.

I'm just not one of them.

I received this ARC from NetGalley and Edelweiss for an honest review.
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I wish more people would talk about this hidden gem. Every single word of this story shows how much the author was committed to telling this story and telling it well. Imbued with the most intricate details and political intrigue ...it felt like I was in Game of Thrones but better. I could not stop reading after 25% of the book. 

TWO THINGS: holy plot twists and omg beautiful prose. I am a massive fan of Joan He from reading her debut novel. I am so sad we have to wait a year ...A YEAR ...for the sequel.
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This fantasy novel is unlike anything I have read before. Most fantasy novel (besides being western based) are focused on action scenes, exploring new places, tricking people and lots and lots of action. Descendant of the Crane is all in the internal court — everything that happens behind the scene when a war is brewing.

This Chinese-inspired fantasy was filled with people with magical abilities called sooth — think of their powers as a mix of X-Men and element bending from The Last Airbender. Sooths in this world are hated and the people in Yan go as far as murdering their neighbors to get rid of the sooths — all because it is what their saviors from centuries from before declared.

After the death of her father, Hesina becomes the Queen of Yan and starts an investigation of her father’s death. While the majority of the novel involves trying to figure out who murdered the previous king and trying to stop a brewing war it also deals with all the stages of grief. One of the major factor’s of the novel is the focus of what grief can do to someone and how it can affect your decisions.

This politically complex novel included a beautiful slow-burn romance that never once overpowered the main plot. I’d say the romance is probably one of the least important plot points. However, the main plots in the novel were weak and uninteresting. The subplot points were more interesting than the main one.

Majority of the problems thrown to Hesina were orchestrated by a single man — and Hesina knew this, but did nothing. I could not understand why. Being queen means you are capable of getting rid of people from the court or making them disappear. It definitely gave her the power to make a convict into a scholar for her own personal purposes. She just let this old crook ruin everything she was doing when she could have stopped him on multiple occasions. He was made into a big “antagonist” but he had no substance to him. There was a whole plot point on how to deal with the person — and it ended with him not being dealt with which was silly. I feel that making the crowned prince of the neighboring country more of a mysterious antagonist would have made a more interesting plot point.

Due to the weak plot, the deaths in the novel did not hurt. They felt random and a bit unnecessary. The plot twists were “okay” I was more concerned about what was gonna happen with the neighboring kingdom and the sooth than the trail.

However, this book series has potential and I can see it’s potential. I definitely look forward to reading the sequel.

If you guys want to read a Chinese inspired fantasy you should definitely give this book a shot. The imagery is beautiful. The magic is intriguing and new. The world building and history is truly fascinating.
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CW: scenes involving cutting (voluntary & involuntary), execution by burning/hanging

Fans of political intrigue and machinations, secrets and deceit along the lines of Game of Thrones and the Earth Kingdom Ba Sing Se in Avatar the Last Airbender will find a deliciously well-written story in Joan He's debut.

Hesina is in turmoil after the death of her father. With a country to run, a mysterious death to uncover, and so much uncertainty about both, what is she to do with so few allies in a court full of corners that hide troubles waiting to bite her in the back?

Bringing together her representative (Akira), her adoptive siblings (Lillian & Caiyain), her brother (Sanjing), and others, Hesina will face much darkness and worry, without and within, in her quest for justice.

This is a hard review to write because I so want to just shout about it. The last few chapters had me yelling at my phone because of the developments that kept coming. Let me say now that Joan He is my favorite writer for cliffhangers and chapter endings. They were SUPERB and not just one, oh no. Chapter after chapter and I kept coming back for more, no matter how much my heart started hurting and my brain started twisting around all these new surprises.

The court intrigue from numerous angles, coupled with the trial regarding the murder of Hesina's father, was pretty interesting. There were some what I think of as "side quests", like Hesina going on a voyage for political negotiation with a neighboring country, that seemed a bit confusing. It felt like added some slowness to the pacing, though in hindsight the meeting was necessary. It wasn't that the writing itself became affected, but at that stage the plotting choice made it seem like the story wasn't sure what it wanted to be: a court drama, an epic travel tale, etc.

Things did get better, though, and Descendant of the Crane because so engaging that it was difficult to put down. Hesina was such a solid character, so well built with her humanity. She had strength, she had weakness, she had so many qualities that built her up into a person that, even with so much put upon her, from a murder trial to betrayals being uncovered and more, she still tried. There were outside forces making her question her very being and still she was doing her best.

I wanted so much for her to succeed as things were going along because you could see that she was a person who could have faith put in her, even if there were others that ended up feeling differently.

The supporting cast was equally as interesting, whether it was Lillian and her good humor and love of Hesina, Sanjin's bullheaded loyalty, Caiyan's intelligence, Rou's utter sweetness. Then, however, there were the shadowy figures of the court: Xia Zhong (Hesina's Minister of Rites); her own mother. If I as a reader were wary of these people surrounding her, how on earth must have Hesina have felt, trying to govern Yan while dealing with all of these loving and/or suspicious people? It's enough to wreck the best of us!

Fans of intrigue, of twists, and of mysteries will find such a well woven story that they'll likely want to go back and start reading Descendant of the Crane all over again once the last page is complete. All the better to pick up every last juicy, well crafted clue Joan He wove into her debut novel.
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Descendant of the Crane tells the story about Hesina, a seventeen year old girl who very suddenly has to ascend the throne after the murder of her father. After becoming queen, she makes it her mission to find her father’s killer and is thrust into the world of manipulative and crafty politics and discovers that life is not quite so black and white as she originally thought. With the help of Akira, a criminal with surprising talents, and her adoptive siblings, Hesina has to navigate her way through the muddy waters that are royal court intrigue.

This book went in a completely different direction than I was expecting it to, I loved it! Just going off the summary, I was thinking there’d be a lot more emphasis on the soothsayer aspect of it and that wasn’t necessarily the case. This is political drama and murder mystery first and foremost, and you’ll have no problem being sucked into the rich tale that Joan He has created. The world feels real and tangible; obvious care has been taken to bring this Chinese history inspired world to life and I appreciate the amount of world building done so that we get an idea how things work.

I loved the Hesina as a character! She feels well rounded and thought out; even though she’s young and inexperience, she takes the responsibility now left to her as next in line for the throne and seeks to honour her father’s life and memory by figuring out how he died and who is responsible. Akira, Lilian and Caiyan are all excellent secondary characters and provide a great balance to Hesina, while also helping to drive the plot forward. Everything comes together to create a really interesting whodunnit!

Even though the ending is definitely left open for more, I felt satisfied with the story we were given.  This is a beautiful tale full of political intrigue and delves into the reality that morality is not always black or white.
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Publishers have described Joan He's debut novel "Descendant of the Crane" as a Chinese "Game of Thrones," but it’s like "Game of Thrones" if the action never strayed far from King's Landing (while this "Game of Thrones" reader thinks the most interesting bits and characters are stationed in Winterfell, the Dothraki sea and far up North at The Wall.)

That's to say: Don't expect "Descendant of the Crane" to be "Game of Thrones." At least "Game of Thrones" gave us Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister and other characters that made our blood boil or freeze. Hearing their voices and stories gave us reason to suffer through the scorching never-ending summers and nonsense going on at King's Landing. (And the alternating and multiple points of view in George R.R. Martin's books helped us keep skimming even if we despised some characters.)

He, who began writing "Descendant of the Crane" in 2013 while a senior in high school, doesn't offer the same courtesies.

Instead, we're stuck with one protagonist who's like a stranger who seems nice enough: inexperienced too-young child-queen Yan Hesina (the last name comes first in Chinese) of Yan, whose promotion came at the expense of her father's sudden and mysterious death. She isn't as insufferable as other child-rulers we know (like Joffrey Baratheon), but that's because despite a 416-page journey where she's the protagonist, you still feel like you hardly know 17-year-old 殿下 (pronounced "De-Anne Sa" and translates to "Highness") Hesina (鹤斯那, whose name translates to "Is the crane dead yet?" and sounds more like Hauck-Say-Na in Cantonese), even by the book's end.

Part of that distance and lack of voice may be due to the fact that He's ruler doesn't seem to know herself and spends the entire novel trying to figure out who she is and why her father died (Yes, this is one of those books about finding yourself). Or maybe that reserve and distance stems from culture (which finds hugs and intimacy foreign). But to the detriment of the novel (it's hard to care about the book when you're not invested in the main character), "Descendant of the Crane" is a book built more on forced plot twists than characterization — as if it was a serialized T.V. soap opera that relied on cliffhangers to keep running.

Rather than explain how her fictional world works at its introduction, He hides her mahjong tiles, playing keep-away with necessary information like the meaning of words and how to properly pronounce characters' names (sometimes until she can make a big move or reveal). In Twitter threads, He explains it's not for lack of trying; she didn't know how to properly articulate Chinese words and their meanings and expects Western audiences to automatically pronounce words wrong anyway.

Still, she could be better. Words are important. 

Because like a sentence lacking punctuation, her book lacks clarity. When you're pronouncing things wrong the whole time, words lack meaning and you don't realize until the very end that a phrase like "ONE of the ELEVEN" isn't a random statistic or any one person out of a peoples called the Eleven, but that "ONE of the ELEVEN" is actually a title that refers to one very specific and important god-like person who supposedly invented a kingdom's rule of law 300 years ago. Those differences matter. (A lawsuit has arose from the lack of an Oxford comma).

It's not just words that aren't explained (if at all) until much later than necessary (perhaps during a plot twist when you're trying to grasp what's going on?), but entire concepts that couldn't have been the fault of lousy Chinese-to-English translations. This is a book that would do well with tonal accents on Chinese pinyin, footnotes, an appendix, glossary, map and family tree. Perhaps these items are included in the published book, but these were not included in the advanced reader's copy of the novel.

The result is an advanced reader's copy that feels more like a promising first draft than a finished, soon-to-be published Asian-inspired YA fantasy novel.

Still, there are signs of better things to come. Just as a ruler learns to rule by ruling, a writer learns to write by writing. "Descendant of the Crane" may be a flawed first book containing messy and lazy writing, but beneath the words and concepts lost in translation is a world of characters (like Hesina's adopted brother Yan Caiyan, the intriguing voice in the book's epilogue) and neighboring kingdoms (like Kendi'a) we want to better understand.

I foresee a possible sequel to "Descendant of the Crane" in He's future.

Joan He's "Descendant of the Crane" will be published April 9, 2019. I received a free eARC of “Descendant of the Crane” from NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.
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Descendant of the Crane is about Princess Hesina, soon to take on the role of Queen, who is on a mission to find out who murdered her father. Her investigations start to reveal more and more political turmoil within and without her kingdom, and more traitors among her own advisors than she thought. 

I love love love the world building of this book, even within the first twenty pages itself. There is a rich history just beneath the surface that has me itching to pick up and finish this book at odd and inappropriate times of the day and night. The character relationships read as strong and deep, with complex familial and political bonds to bolder and destroy them at a moment's notice.

I find that the comparison to Game of Thrones sells this book short. While the far reaching political and fantastical network has the breadth of Game of Thrones, the culture puts Descendant of the Crane in an entirely different stratosphere. Culture is the core of this book and that is what feeds into the narrative of this book, not the other way around. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have read of Descendant of the Crane and cannot wait to finish this book!!
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Descendant of the Crane is one of the most hyped books of spring 2019, and let me say this: it totally lives up to the hype. This is one of the most tightly-plotted, well-characterized, and beautifully written books I've read in a while. I read Descendant of the Crane in almost one sitting; I became so absorbed in Hesina's story that I was disoriented for the rest of the day. Also, my neck hurts from the whiplash I got from this book's plot twists.

Hesina was such a wonderful character. She's a seventeen-year-old girl thrown into a mess of court intrigue and power dynamics she wasn't ready for, and it shows. A lot of YA shows their strong female characters as decisive and powerful, yet Hesina manages to be a pillar of stability while doubts plague her and everyone around her seems to be trying to undermine her position as queen in some way. She keeps stubbornly on the path she eked out for herself despite all the challenges and self-doubt and she doesn't give up even when it's offered, which is what I adore about Hesina.

I really liked all the other major characters too, and I'm so excited for my five character cards to come in the mail after this. I think my favourites are Akira and Lilian, but Caiyan is definitely the most fascinating character and the one I was most drawn to throughout the book. The shades of moral greyness that Descendant shows in its characters is so complex. Hesina, Caiyan, Lilian, Akira, and Sanjing all do great things that turn out terrible, and terrible things for the pursuit of greatness. All but Akira are related to each other, and I loved the intricate and often tense family dynamics. Big screwed-up families are a trope I love, and Descendant's was so well written.

The plot took a bit to get rolling, but once it did, it didn't stop--it was a snowball of a plot, collecting secrets and plot twists and betrayal as it went. I've heard many people say they were completely blindsided by the plot twists. I guessed many of them (because there was adequate foreshadowing, but not because it was predictable), but there were still parts that had my mouth dropping open in shock, and my brain was constantly throwing out predictions. This book kept me on my toes while reading. I had to be absorbed in it, or I couldn't keep up with everything that was going on.

Joan He crafts such a complex, beautiful, and creative world, and ties it all together with gorgeous writing. I loved all the Chinese-inspired aesthetics, mythology, and history. The sooths were so fascinating to read about, especially because it was approached from the perspective of a non-sooth. The lore behind the world also had me hooked, and I'm not usually a person who pays attention to the lore. Hesina's world--Yan, Kendi'a, the sooths, the Imperial Palace and its court--was all so vivid and lively.

Descendant of the Crane is a definite must-read fantasy and should not be missed. If you like political intrigue, interesting family dynamics and a cast of morally-grey characters, and well-crafted fantasy settings, you'll love Descendant of the Crane.
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Holy moly the plot twists in this book are unreal. This book was not what I was expecting at all, it was so much better. I thought this was a standalone but with that ending I don't know how there cannot be a second book... I need answers!

Hesina is a little too trusting, which is probably her biggest flaw. However she has so many qualities that makes her character so likable. For one she's a 'sympathizer' which literally just means she's a decent person who doesn't discriminate. I liked how her various relationships with her siblings are shown. She has a very strained relationship with her brother Sanjing, distances herself from their half brother Rou (the outcome of an affair her father had), but is very close to the brother and sister her father adopted - Caiyan and Lillian.

I want to talk about romance in this book, and this part may be a little spoilery so feel free to skip this next bit if you don't want to know. As a person who hates (but secretly loves) cringey romance in any book, I was a little happy (but secretly disappointed) that there wasn't much romance in this book. Enter Akira, sexy convict who Hesina blushes around quite a lot. I was waiting for that 'falls in to bed moment' (I obviously read too much fanfiction with more sex than storyline) but the moment never came in this and while I was a little disappointed, it was refreshing for the main character to actually talk to the hot guy and go no further than kissing.
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Her, against a seasoned court. Her, against the tides of war. Her, against the king's assassin.”
This books cover drew me in from day one. So gorgeous. The action is explosive. The characters so wonderfully written. 5/5.
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"This fate had chosen her. It was only now, seventeen years later, that she chose it back"

* * * * 
4 / 5

I love books like Descendant of the Crane: rich in political intrigue, soft, and beautiful and strange. Books full of myth and legend and mystery. Books with a main character that is somewhat unusual; Princess Hesina of Yan is willing to take up her crown, rather than being a rebellious and slightly bratty teenage girl, and she takes the advice of her advisors and trusts in her friends and siblings. It was a refreshing read.

"Her, against a seasoned court. Her, against the tides of war. Her, against the king's assassin"

The country of Yan has an interesting history. It used to be a land of magic, populated by soothsayers who can read the future and, when their skin is cut, their blood burns into flame. Then the Eleven came. Men and women who changed the country, who brought religion and order and rebellion and outlawed the existence of sooths. They wrote their tenets that dictated how society should operate and created a religion of sorts. The King of Yan was wise and beloved and then suddenly dead in a flowerbed, leaving behind Hesina, her younger brother, her half-brother, and two other children plucked from poverty and raised on the orders of the king.

Hesina valiantly and passionately believes in the processes of Yan and she seeks the truth via a court trial. But she also does something desperate, seeking the help of a sooth who leads her to the dungeons and a man called Akira to present her case in court. The trial leads us on a wild and peculiar journey to the truth and the truth itself is bizarre. At one of the big reveals, I put my Kindle down and just thought: “what”. It was clever and unexpected and straight up whack and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

"It'd never been about her. Not all stories were hers to narrate"

Descendant of the Crane is a slow read, ambling through political intrigue, murky truths and half lies, through the difficulties of family and loyalty, through the pain of betrayal and a desperate need to know the truth and the shock of realising that nothing is as you thought. It is steeped in myth and felt like a new, original take on a classic YA fantasy trope.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for an ARC of Descendant of the Crane.
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I loved this book. This cover is gorgeous and I recommend because this novel was beautifully written,  the characters were very intriguing. Thank you NetGalley and Albert Whitman & Company for allowing me to read the advance readers copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Descendant of the Crane by Joan He was published by Albert Whitman Company and will be available on the shelves on April 9th, 2019. This is He's debut novel.

This novel starts with the princess, Hesina, committing treason in order to find her father's murderer. The sooth, a magic user who can predict the future, instructs her to find a convict with a rod who will help her in her task. Thus begins Hesina's journey of lies and crimes in order to unveil the truth, but the further she digs, the more she discovers the horrors of her kingdom and everything her father left to her. From family squabbles to threats of war, to sooths being hunted in the streets, to games of power with political officials, this book does a great job in lulling you into a sense of calm. You think you know what's going on and what's going to happen only to be blindsided by a twist you never saw coming. After the shock, you think you have things figured out, only to be smacked in another direction by another plot twist.

I really loved this book. It reminded me of Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman, possibly because of the writing style or maybe the characters. 

The characters are great, each with their own personalities and goals yet everything they do is colored by Hesina's perspective of them. Even the ones she struggles to trust or forgive, though her perspective does change as the events of the book shape her and those around her. 

This is a great book. It's calm and easy to read while taking multiple sharp twists just when you're lulled into thinking you know what's going on. The ending sets up for a sequel, including a "villain" whose intentions are righteous, which I would be interested in reading if it ever comes out, but it also settles in a way that you are free to come up with your own continuation.

I like the romance that starts between Hesina and Akira, her convict turned representative and friend. It's a slow burn that never takes over the plot and even when both sides accept it, the story doesn't focus on it any more than a small comfort to have an ally in the turmoil.

This book kept me guessing to the end and I'll admit, I was annoyed with myself for not spotting the villain sooner. There are several clues but at the same time, Hesina's insistence that it can't be true is enough to convince you of it.

There are a few points that feel a bit long but it also builds up the world, the history, and the crisis that is coming.

If you enjoy a light historical fantasy set in Chinese culture with mystery and treason and immortality, I recommend this book. Another thank you to NetGalley for an early copy. Remember to pick up Descendant of the Crane by Joan He on April 9th.
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Rating: 5/5 stars
I love books that focus on magic and political intrigue. It makes for some good drama when done right. 
I literally sped through this book and could not put it down. It is that good. 
Something else that I really love about this story is that it isn’t just about magic, royalty, and political intrigue, but it focuses on a mystery that the Queen must discover. And once she discovers the layers, could it ultimately break her?
The world building, the culture, and the characters were just done very well. The writing was amazing, and I just really, really loved this book. Definitely one of my favorites of 2019.
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recently i’ve been reading and reviewing a lot of asian-inspired fantasy books, and there’s so many more on my anticipated releases list, which brings me so much joy! to see all these new voices tell stories from their own cultures and have their characters be heard and seen by the world, especially by those who can finally see themselves in fiction is truly wondrous, and i’m so glad this is happening. i, myself, am not of asian descend, but i still really appreciate this small but important step in the publishing world and i hope that it continues to make way for more and more new voices to emerge and tell their histories and stories for the world, because it’s what they deserve.

i really wanted to include that in my review, because i’m not often so vocal about the topic of diversity, but i feel like i, along with everyone else, should be speaking up. there’s a long way to go, and i know that i also can be doing a lot more to support books by authors of colour, so i will continue trying to do better.

anyway, this blog post is about my humble onion (opinion, for those who are not on twitter) on joan he’s debut novel – descendant of the crane. it is a chinese inspired fantasy novel that comes out on april 9th and you should hurry up and pre-order it because it’s amazing.

descendant of the crane tells the story of a young princess, hesina, whose kingdom is shaken after the sudden death of her father, the king. hesina is certain that it was murder, not a natural death, thus, she pursues the truth through legal actions by opening up a trial. during the course of the trial, she uncovers devastating truths about her kingdom and her family, and her notion of truth and justice are thrown into a whirlwind as hesina struggles to regain balance with her emotions, and her unstable kingdom.

i know that description sounds pretty generic, but trust me on this – there is so much to this story that no synopsis can ever capture. i truly did not do it justice, as the book truly unfurls and blossoms as you’re reading. joan he has an incredible talent to keep your eyes glued to the page by providing you with just enough bits of information to tide you over while simultaneously teasing you with what’s to come.

we’re thrust into hesina’s world straight away, which was quite shocking at first, but it is done really well i must say. the way the author hands out information feels natural and everything is revealed gradually as we explore more and more of the world instead of it all being dumped onto us as a giant landfill of information. there is some confusion, at first, as there is with all fantasy books where the world is unfamiliar for the reader, but what’s important is that it does not appear unfamiliar. personally, i much prefer being thrown into a world with no context whatsoever, and then gradually learn what’s happening – which is exactly the case with descendant of the crane.

characters are all introduced in the same way – gradually and well spaced-out. as we’re at the mercy of hesina’s navigation, we meet the cast through her whenever the need arises for her to meet someone new. none of them felt flat or one-dimensional, as everyone had their own purpose to serve and own gains to pursue, which is quite important for a character – just because they’re not the protagonist of this story, does not mean they’re not protagonists in their own. we are slowly introduced and acquainted with all the people that hesina crosses paths with, and despite the third person limited, we see them grow and transform throughout the novel.

the same can be said about hesina herself – she changes radically from the beginning of the book, yet still manages to be true to who she is. i have to admit, at first she felt very detached and quite passive as a narrator, but as the story progresses, hesina, too, relaxes into the page. if at the beginning, you’re being kept at a distance, by the end the walls have crumbled and you’re allowed to step inside through the rubble.

another thing i really want to mention is how refreshing it was to finally see a princess who isn’t a rebellious teenager whose dream was never to rule a country. despite what the official synopsis says, hesina accepts the weight on her shoulders and accepts the responsibilities of the crown – something not often seen in ya fiction! she is unapologetic in her title, which i’m so here for.

supporting characters are usually not my forte and for the most part remain underappreciated by me, but i have to say, i fell in love with lilian. she was bubbly, but also sharp when she needed to be. her strength was subdued; joan he masterfully shows it through her clothing, which was such a nice touch – it teaches you that power is not only how you yield your swords, or your words. i just loved her character so much.

let me take this opportunity to also subtly hint at my intrigue by the crown prince of kendi’a and poorly concealed hopes we see more of him. if there is more. there has to be. (please)

the writing in this book is gorgeous and so well-done? i’ve mentioned previously how everything is revealed gradually, and the same applies to the writing style itself. it also manages to be quite straight-forward and incredibly poetic at the same time, which made is all the easier and more enjoyable to read. i sped through this book in a week – in between lectures and assignments, otherwise it would have been a day or two at most, it flowed that well. i don’t usually bookmark anything other than angsty ship moments, but i’ve so many highlights of truly amazing quotes from this book, just going through them makes me want to quit university and go beg joan he for writing advice instead.

as a political intrigue ho, i have to say i fell for all the complex threads of plot. honestly, a surefire way to make me like your book – make it angst and political. hesina is one bad b*tch when it comes to this, and i loved how she handled her court – especially xia zhong, that rat. akira, too, was awesome in his prosecutor ways that it almost made me want to pursue a law degree instead. joking aside, i really really enjoyed how joan he handles the politics in this book; it’s clear she has a knack for threading intrigue.

(i’m not going to talk about all the plot twists, i will need at least fifteen to thirty business to even begin the recovery process.)

overall, descendant of the crane is an incredibly powerful debut with a strong voice that is sure to take your breath away. the world is lush with richness, culture, politics, and compelling characters you’ll be able to connect and empathize with. i cannot recommend it enough, honestly, it’s real good. trust me on this and go add this book to your collection.
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This is a wonderful book full of awesome, strong women, family bonds, political upheaval, and so many plot twists that make you gasp out loud and want to cry! Hesina is the a character that the reader can watch grow throughout the story from a princess who isn't sure of herself into a queen who wants to save her country and will sacrifice herself to do so.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.

Descendant of the Crane gets ALL MY STARS. Everyone else can GO HOME. This is the only political fantasy I want to read for the rest of my life, and I need the next one STAT. 

First: That cover. I left the image huge so you all can see the gorgeous detail in the artwork. That color palette, the crane's beak intersecting the N, the Chinese-inspired style, ugh! It's so atmospheric and matches the book perfectly. Look, I'm not an artist, but even I know this is DAMN GOOD. 

Let's talk book! To put it bluntly, there's not a thing I didn't love. 

Characters: All so real! So, so fleshed out and I cared about all of them. I didn't know the pitch was Chinese Game of Thrones, so when someone got hurt, I was genuinely surprised and sad. Caiyan, Lilian, Akira, Sanjing: I MUST PROTECT. Excellent side characters, and usually I hate side characters, but these ones found their way into my heart. Their relationships to Hesina, each other, and to their kingdom were great to read about.

Hesina was an amazing main character. I respected her so much as a queen and as a daughter, and reading from her perspective was such a treat. The most important part about Hesina, though, was that she isn't righteous. She seeks justice in ways that bend laws sometimes. This whole book was an excellent exploration of morals, and how nothing and nobody is black and white. 

Plot: The political intrigue and mystery aspects were incredibly well-done. I loved the courtroom drama, and how clever everything was. Also, the plot twists! I was constantly surprised by the plot, and I was just along for the ride. I loved it. Predictable fantasy is the worst, and Descendant of the Crane is so inventive and refreshing. It sped up towards the end, and the beginning-middle is a bit slow, so that's my one quibble, but it doesn't affect the storytelling that much. Otherwise, it's a fantastic read.

World: I want to read so many stories about these kingdoms. I liked the foundation on the Tenets, which made the legal system super interesting, as well as social dynamics between the sooths and everyone else. Speaking of, I'd love to see more exploration of the sooths' powers. I found what was in the book fascinating and I think it'd be awesome to read a book focused on a character who was a sooth. I'd also like to see different kingdoms! I don't have a physical copy of the book (yet?), but a MAP would be fantastic. Basically, everything explored in Descendant of the Crane gave me twenty more questions and a burning desire to read everything by Joan He. 

Overall: Descendant of the Crane is in the running for my favorite fantasy of 2019. I love everything about it, and it hits 5/5 stars for me.
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