Cover Image: Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

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Member Reviews

I'm not really sure how to review this one. I went into Descendant of the Crane with such high expectations that I think I built myself up too much and was slightly let down.

Even within the first few chapters I just had this feeling it wasn't going to be my favorite. It jumps right into a scene and I was entirely confused for more chapters than I want to admit. The overall story was okay but I think it could have been executed better. There was a twist ending that could have been amazing but ended up falling way flat for me. It just had so much potential I couldn't help but be disappointed. Throughout the story things just felt.. scattered? I don't even really know how to put it. I'll just leave it at I was confused the majority of the time about what was even happening.

As for the characters they also left me feeling almost nothing. Our main character was very immature and naive, and while I understand this is a Young Adult novel so I shouldn't pick out things like the character being immature but it just really keeps you from connecting to her. We get almost no back story on her and I had no reason to want her to succeed in this story. Even the side characters weren't much better. There is no development for any of them and not having a care about the characters kept me from enjoying this book.

I'm also incredibly confused about my feelings towards this book because it seems everyone enjoyed it but me, and I don't understand why. It was lacking in everything I look for in a good book. Maybe that's just my preference? Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind for this story? I have the hardcover so maybe I'll give it some time and try to read it again, I don't know if my feelings will change though.
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4 “Politics & Courtroom in Fantasy” Stars

ARC via NetGalley.

Thank you, Albert Whitman Company!!!

For avid YA Fantasy readers, it’s rare to come across a book that feels different from everything else out there. Publishers more often than not prefer to invest their money in formulas that have done well in the past—sometimes I hate it, sometimes I understand, because I’ve been guilty multiple times of searching for similar books after I’m done reading something that I liked a lot. Who hasn’t done that?

But isn’t it exciting when you also get to read something amazing that feels unique? Fresh? This is the feeling I got when I finished Descendant of the Crane.

If this intro isn’t enough to convince you to buy this book, then the cover should do it. Have you seen that beauty???

Though this book has a main character that is also a royal, she isn’t your average white princess who also happens to be a special snowflake. Sure there’s something unique about her, but it isn’t the focus of the story in any way or not even the driving force behind her actions. It’s something I’m betting will be explored more in the sequel (and no, this isn’t a standalone) but it doesn’t make a huge difference in this debut. Hesina, the protagonist, doesn’t rely on magical solutions to fix the problems that arise, most of which she created herself. She makes tough calls—and sometimes doesn’t even make them, which yeah infuriated me a little, but made her more flawed and human.

Hesina isn’t perfect, and neither is the book, which is why I’m not rating it five stars, but watching Hesina (and the book) grow was a fulfilling experience. I’ll be honest here and say I almost stopped reading at some point in the middle, because one of the twists was pretty obvious to me and it irked me that Hesina couldn’t see it. Having said that, I’m extremely happy I kept going because while I was right about the twist, I was SO WRONG about the motivation. It feels like Joan He wrote that final chapter just to tell me: you thought you knew what was going on, huh? Well, I surprised you, didn’t I?

She sure did.

She also surprised me with a few other twists, with a protagonist that made me feel, with a story filled of intrigue and politics, and a debut that deserves a lot more buzz that it’s getting. The narrative is quite smart, the world is inspired by Chinese culture, the writing is good, most of the characters are twisted in a good way (though some of them could use a little more work), there’s a hint of romance and the love interest is someone who interested me from the very beginning. Yes, the pacing is a little slow, but the fact that there’s a murder mystery helps keep readers engage. By the way, I LOVED seeing courtroom scenes in a YA Fantasy. More, please.

Because of all the above, I’m rooting for Descendant of the Crane. I hope this book gets the recognition it deserves. I highly recommend it to YA Fantasy readers looking for a fresh read from a new and promising writer.
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As beautiful as the cover      

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


Murder mayhem magic     

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

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

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


I can show you the world       

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


I love all the messed up kids

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

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


Magic meets thriller      

Descendant of the Crane is that rare fantasy that goes beyond the bounds of the genre to create something unique. While magic is certainly a part of the story, the thriller-like plot takes center stage. It was an exciting, breathtaking read that grew on me the more pages I turned, and left me wishing desperately for a sequel. It's a world that feels homelike, and characters I came to know intimately. Don't miss out on this gem.
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It was engaging from the beginning, holding the viewer’s attention with it’s rich world and mystery. When realising it was the first in a series, I was at once irritated, realising that I was already waiting for the sequel of a book that itself was not out yet; and ecstatic that there would be more from these characters and this world. 
#IndigoEmployee
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3.5 stars 

Thanks to Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for a digital galley in exchange for an honest review 

This little gem may have escaped my notice if I hadn't seen a list of highly anticipated YA novels for 2019. Reeling from the death of a beloved father, the teen regent Hessina is hell bent on finding the person or persons who may be responsible. Plenty of twists and lots of back stabbing betrayals ensue and it isn't long before Hessina wonders- who can I trust?

There is potential left here for a sequel and despite a little bit of a slow start in the beginning, I soon was swept away by this tale.
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A Chinese inspired Game of Thrones like world! An intricate Chinese fantasy full of twists and treachery while keeping to a singular goal: the truth. The writing and characters were all beautifully described, capturing your attention but never demanding. The pacing was a bit slow at first, but definitely picked up in the second third of the book. 

Honestly, no review I write can do this book justice.
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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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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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