Cover Image: Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

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Member Reviews

This world is intricate and lush and bloody and incredible and I love every character-- even a couple of the ones that I hate. The atmosphere was well crafted and the tension (interpersonal, romantic, political, familial) was palpable. The plot was twisty and intriguing. I sincerely hope there will be more books in this world.
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Descendant of the Crane has long been on my list of most anticipated releases.  From the synopsis and cover I was expecting a layered and intelligent book full of mystery, magic, and maybe some betrayal.  It is with absolute delight that I report that Crane is all of this and so much more.  Set in a world influenced by traditional Chinese and Japanese culture, Crane is a murder mystery cloaked in politics, betrayal, magic, and family; however, at its core it is a story about growing up, making choices, and realizing that no one is perfect and things are rarely black and white.

The world building of Crane is fantastic, as is the mythology and the magical system.  The world feels lush and full, and the mythology and magical system is at once familiar and unique.  Joan He puts her own spin on a world that most of us are at least a little acquainted with, and so I felt comfortable in her world immediately, but I never felt bored.  I also really enjoyed all of the descriptions in the book, especially of the luxuries in the palace.  I swear sometimes I could feel the silk beneath my fingertips and smell the persimmons in the air.

Most of this story is firmly within the realm of gray area, and the characters are no exception.  He does a magnificent job of allowing the characters (everyone of them flawed) to speak on their own behalf, which allows the reader to decide for themselves if anyone is “good” or “bad.”  I loved that there truly are few such easy distinctions, and that characters can vacillate between the two.  Few people in life are truly one way or another, and I think He captured that beautifully.  

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the main character, Hesina, is a capable, intelligent, and relatable person.  She is flawed, she can act rashly and harshly, and she is often torn between the world she thought she knew and reality…things that all of us have experienced.  What I enjoyed so much about her character is that she learns from her mistakes, she makes difficult decisions, and—despite the tremendous amount of turmoil she endures—she never feels angsty.  Her inner monologues were interesting and full of doubt, but, thankfully, never tiresome.  Hesina is strong, and fierce, but she relies on others.  She pushes herself, but knows her limitations. She makes difficult decisions, and she acknowledges when she’s made an error.  I found her to be so much more nuanced and layered than most YA heroines, and her arc was a joy to read.

There are a few small issues that I had with the book, but most of them come from needing just a little more finesse with certain aspects.  For instance, the beginning was clunky and I found it difficult to immerse myself in the story initially.  The pacing was a little off at the beginning, although the second half was paced well and flowed very nicely.  While I enjoyed Hesina and the other characters very much, I did keep hoping for a few—namely Akira, Lillian, and Caiyan—to be more fully formed so that they would have a stronger presence.  My biggest issue with this story (and, even though it is the biggest, it is still relatively small) is the two large exposition dumps in the middle of the story.  I won’t go into specifics in order to avoid spoilers, but I will say that twice I found myself wishing that information had been spread out more deftly throughout the story rather than in one lump in a few paragraphs.  Lastly, I realize this is YA, but I need a little more sex appeal in my romance than this book gave me, although I have a feeling the next installment will be a little heavier in that arena.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book!  The political intriguing is fun and not stuffy, the mystery is truly mysterious (I was guessing right up until the end), the characters are engaging, and the story is multilayered and intelligent.  The underlying message that He presents, but never shoves at you, is one of the dangers of paranoia and fear of the Other, and how quickly such fear can lead people—even good people—to violence and hatred.  It’s a message that has always been important, but is even more imperative now.  It’s obvious that He thinks highly of her readers, and she has written a book that’s so much more than the typical YA fantasy.  The cliffhanger left me clamoring for the next book, and I certainly hope He doesn’t make us wait to long to continue Hesina’s journey with her!
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Rounding up for this review but in terms of personal enjoyment, it was probably less. The story and pace were uneven, there was no real depth to the characters and I couldn’t really care about any of them. I found the blend of fantasy/ legal/detective mash up confusing. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
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I received an ARC of this from Albert Whitman & Company through NetGalley.  All opinions within this review are my own.

To begin with some general thoughts on the novel, I found it immensely enjoyable!  It was incredibly well plotted, and truly read as if it was a labor of love.  There are some books that look as if they were written in a day and never touched again, and then there are treasures like "Descendant of the Crane" that took actual years for the author to write (according to the Acknowledgments at the end of the book), and truly showed.  

To dive into my version of the synopsis: Hesina’s father is dead, and while most believe that it was natural causes, she believes he was murdered. After consulting a magic wielder, against the laws in her kingdom, she has even more reason to believe this.  The wielder tells her to find a convict with a rod, who will help her in finding information and the truth about her father’s death.  But in finding this information, Hesina brings up many secrets about her beloved kingdom, and they make her question her very position within it and her place in the world.

The overall plot of this story was well-paced and intense for me.  Many times throughout my reading, I would keep think that I was nearing the end of the story, but it reality, I wasn't.  I find that so satisfying for this kind of a book, because every time I looked down my percentage of my book, I kept thinking, "This can't be near the end of the book.  This just can't.  I need more."  Needless to say, I found the overall length and pacing of the novel to be wonderful for the kind of story this is.  

I will say this about the book: It is loaded with politics.  If you are a reader and lover of George R. R. Martin's ability to create political ties and intrigue, then you will also enjoy this novel, as it plays on the same ideas.  While this is a kind of fantasy novel, it is more focused on the kingdom than anything else.  There is magic, and is brought many times and seen many times in the book, but it is not the sole focus of it, which I found to be refreshing.  I like seeing things that differ from the norm, and this differed in a lot of ways.

There is a small romantic interest in this novel, but it is incredibly minuscule compared to the rest of the novel.  It doesn't even really get started until about 75% of the way through the novel, but you can see the bonds start to form earlier.  Slow burn romances like this are really great, and I liked how the ending set up for how this romance will likely be played out in the future.

As far as the magic system goes, there isn't much of one.  The only "magical" things associated with this novel is the fact that there are magic wielders, called soothsayers.  Throughout the entire novel, the history of the soothsayers and the humans is interwoven into the everyday things associated within the world.  It is not info-dumpy, and each kernel of information that we get about the soothsayers, their history, and their abilities is digestible and makes sense with the story.  

Along with that, the world itself is not much of anything, except that it has a kind of Asian influence.  There are four rival kingdoms that are mentioned, but the story mostly focuses on one, Yan, and brings in another at important moments, Kendi'a.  The story essentially takes place in Yan, so there is not much movement throughout the story.  However, the novel played at some mention of possible kingdom-related politics that may come into play more in a future novel.  This made the world more compelling, and kept the story more grounded as there was a shift between the isolated kingdom to what surrounds it, and how it differs from the other kingdoms, even if there were minor details shared.  It made an impact on what is possible to come in the future.

Hesina as a main character was by far one of the most compelling and complex characters I have ever met, mostly because of the kinds of relationships she had with other characters.  Some were strained for different reasons, others were more tight-knit.  Her emotions towards those characters and the events of the story felt real, raw, and each emotion and thought to me felt warranted and important to the story.  I truly felt that she was a real person, and I was watching as her world seemed to be falling apart in front of her eyes.  

The other characters in this story were so well developed as well, even though the reader never sees a scene from their perspective.  Each character had a distinct voice and perspective that separated them from the others, and their interactions with Hesina made them more compelling.  I almost wanted stories from their perspectives because I wanted to know more about what they thought about the events that were taking place.  But I knew that with the book being already large by itself, that would have been WAY too much to ask, and I was immensely impressed with how He was able to construct each of them with their own nuances and characterizations.

Overall, I found the novel to be more intriguing and entertaining by all accounts.  While not filled with extensive amounts of magic, it was enough given the fact that the story is not so much about the magic itself, but about a character trying to find justice for her father's death.  I look forward to a possible second novel in this story, and to other stories by He.

Rating: 5/5 stars
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“But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.”

Friends, this book gripped me from the first page to the very last. Descendant of the Crane is a stunning debut fantasy that delivers on the “Chinese version of Game of Thrones” comparison that I’ve seen. This is a fast paced and action packed book that you cannot miss!

The plot of the book seems simple enough: the king died mysteriously and his daughter launches an investigation because she’s convinced it was murder and is determined to uncover the truth. But it is so much more than that. It turns out the truth is more than just with the king’s death, but the 300 year history of the country following the revolution against the previous empire. The oppressed rose up to make things more equal for everyone… except for the sooths. I appreciated Hesina’s sympathy for the sooths and the moral dilemma she faces while having to also not increase tensions and fear for her people.

“A dead king. A deceived populace. A truth seeker. Sounds like a story that could end very well or very poorly, and I want to spectate.”

The thread that runs throughout this narrative is essentially the philosophical debate on whether the ends justify the means and how far we are willing to go in order to fight for what we think is right. Hesina’s dogged pursuit of the truth causes her to commit treason by seeking the guidance of a sooth, and in a court where everyone’s motives are questioned trust is hard to come by. A friend of mine said in her review that she “suspected herself, and she isn’t even in the book” — if that isn’t the most accurate representation of the unease and stakes that Hesina faces, I don’t know what is.

“Justice was her only way to say thank you. To say goodbye. To say I love you too.”

He manages to weave lush descriptions and heart-warming character development alongside this story. I fell in love with Hesina, Caiyan, and Lilian immediately and their sibling banter brings me to life. Her close friendships with them, and a budding friendship with Akira, acts as a foil to the tough relationship that she has with both her mother and brother Sanjing. The complex relationships and emotions all play into the decisions that Hesina makes and feel very authentic.

We all know that I am all about worldbuilding, and I was not disappointed here! There is a complex backstory and hundreds of years of history but it is given to us in small doses, never really leaving the reader in the dark for long. While we dive straight into the story from the beginning, my hunger to read more was out of intrigue rather than confusion. One funny anecdote that lies SOLELY on my own lack of reading comprehension is that I thought someone died that wound up alive and well several chapters later. 😂😂😂 I went back and clearly saw that I missed the word “messenger.” I am glad I was wrong!

I think the reason this book spoke to me so deeply is that it deals with the very real anxieties of seeking truth and justice, and just how far we will go to achieve those ends. It’s the anxiety-ridden coming-of-age story that translates really well to my life presently. (Of course, I am not ruling a kingdom and trying to avenge my father’s death.) Hesina’s story parallels well with my own loss of idealism and my internal struggle to buck against these structures to fight for what’s right.

Overall there are not enough positive things that I can say about this book: it’s fast paced and captivating from the first page with intricate worldbuilding that is doled out in just the right doses and characters that you cannot help but love. The twists and reveals will keep you guessing and gasping until the very end, and then have you craving more of this story. I sincerely hope that He gets to share more with us, and I will be anxiously waiting to read it & anything else that she writes.

Many thanks to Albert Whitman Company for sending me an eARC via NetGalley for my honest review! Quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC and may not match final publication.
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This plot was incredibly well woven, incredibly gripping. I was left guessing right up until the end. I loved the characters, I loved the dynamic between everyone, I loved the friendships.
The only thing that left me a little dissatisfied was the ending. I still can't believe that this was a standalone novel because I was just left with the feeling that this was unfinished.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a digital copy of this book. Wow! This book is stunning. It is not your typical YA novel of cliches and Katniss type characters. This book is well written and plotted. The setting is beautiful. I was drawn into the story from the first sentence. I will definitely be purchasing it for the library and actively sharing it with students.
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Descendant of the Crane was not a bad or a good book. I just think it was not a book for me, I had a hard time getting into the story and characters.
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Between my evolving taste in books and feeling like YA is inundated with fantasy these days, I have to admit I approached Descendent of the Crane with trepidation. I knew I wanted to love it (I mean, look at that cover you guys) but within the first few chapters I knew how I’d most likely feel about it by the end and I was right. Princess Hesina becomes Queen of Yan when her father is found dead but while others decree it a natural death, she believes it was murder and opens a formal investigation to prove it. Doing so opens up a pandora's box, especially when she turns to a soothsayer for help in spite of magic being outlawed and enlists a criminal named Akira to be her investigator. She’ll stop at nothing to get the truth but what price will she and others have to pay for it? A solid premise was there, which is why I wanted to read it in the first place, but unfortunately nothing wowed me. The characters were underdeveloped and the catalyst poorly introduced, and yet there was this expectation for the reader to immediately latch on and connect to Hestina’s journey for truth. Due to the lackluster writing and world plus character building, I never once felt connected to Hestina, nor anyone else in the book for that matter, and as a result I cared little for her ordeal. The second half does improve pacing-wise but it still wasn’t enough to raise my opinion.
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After her is father poisoned, Hesina will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But as she claims her throne as the new queen, and has to deal with the nation being on the verge of war, as well as her own duplicitous court.

I received a free copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

This book is beautifully written, and follows Hesina, who has lost the father she loves dearly. She is determined to bring his murderer to justice, and will even stoop so low as to visit a sooth (reviled magic-user), who sets her on the path to truth.

Have I mentioned this book is beautiful? It starts very simply with a girl, who grieve for her murdered father, and is supported by her adopted brother and sister. It slowly builds layers, with Hesina's strained relationship with her only blood relatives - her mother and brother Sanjing. How she has to fight for her right to the crown, even though she is the obvious heir.
And more graceful layers still, as the royal court is brought into focus, along with all the expectations and traditions that way young Hesina down.

Alongside her unlikely new ally, Akira, Hesina starts to see her kingdom through unfiltered eyes. She sees the unrest, the ongoing prejudice and hatred towards sooths, and the enemies snapping at her heels.

I loved how things unravelled, going in a completely different direction than I expected, as her kingdom's history still played a heavy hand, in this new queen's future.

There were a few minor blips, I found some of the sacrifices made on Hesina's behalf to be overly-dramatic and detracted from the unforgiving storyline that had been carefully established. Hesina's reaction to said sacrifices was realistic, but her numbness and inaction at a vital time felt suddenly against her character, and I lost a lot of respect for her.

Altogether, this was an intriguing and elegantly-written story, and I will definitely be continuing with the sequel.
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~~ I received an ARC copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ~~

This book honestly surprised me. Although I was intrigued with the premise, I feared that the world building would be either too complex or not fleshed out enough or that the main character would not draw my attention to keep me interested. Joan He's Descendant of the Crane is the beginning of a promising saga based in ancient Chinese culture. I enjoyed reading Hessina's journey and identified with both her insecurities and her drive. The plot has some interesting twists and turns that I honestly didn't expect. I lie the set up of the secondary and tertiary characters, and love that their intentions aren't one dimensional. I was definitely impressed by this story and can't wait to see what awaits Hessina in her future.
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I wanted to enjoy this YA fantasy steeped in Chinese culture, history, and lore. Yet while I liked those aspects, the writing left a lot to be desired. It's a debut novel so I feel bad pointing this out, but it reads like a writer wanting to be taken very seriously: quite a bit of ponderous, sober, dour pontificating about duty, rule, and the nature of power. The characters, alas, are interchangeable and unmemorable. Needed some wit, humour, or *something*.
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I have a lot to say about this one! The world-building is intense and magnificent. The characters are deep, beautifully crafted, and flawed. The magical theme was something different than I’ve ever experienced. However, the same repercussions are faced. 

The plot was good. I liked the idea of unraveling a mystery/whodunnit. I had just about every single character as a suspect at some point in time, I think. I trusted NO ONE. 

I can’t lie, I did get frustrated with Hesina’s choices at times. The blackmail was driving me insane. The trade-offs never felt worth what she was getting in return. I understood the why, but damn if I didn’t want to just kill the minister more times than not. 

Akira was...interesting. It was clear he wasn’t just a normal guy/thief. What he was hiding had to be huge. 

The whole Eleven thing could be confusing. In fact, the entire beginning was had me lost. It did get better as the story went on. 

Also, pacing was an issue at times. After an intense scene, it would get dull and be lacking in action for quite some time. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this!
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This book exceeded any and all expectations I had before, during and after reading it!! I am absolutely floored by how quickly and completely it drew me in and ensnared me. If you're looking for a wild emotional rollercoaster ride with courtly intrigue and a gut punching plot? read on...

There were a slew of things going on simultaneously and almost nothing was as it seemed on the surface. It wasn't until the epilogue that I got the full breadth and scope of the book. There was a regicide trial. There was a war brewing. There was a budding/highly unlikely romance slowly percolating. There were magical people being persecuted and there were rampant duplicitous actions abound. 

Our MC, Hesina, ascends the throne early on but who can she trust? Can she trust anyone? Can she even trust her fallible memories? She is young, malleable, impetuous, head strong, stubborn and a bit naive SO is she ready to rule? Is she ready to rule a country on the brink of war? With nefarious people and deeds amiss, can she navigate court and ferret out her father's murderer? I was swiftly swept up in the beauty of the writing, the plot, the world building and most of all the complex loveable/loatheable characters. There were twists and turns... even the turns had turns. I got to a point where I found myself saying (to myself) "I've read enough books in my life to see where this is going" I sat with a sneer on my face and then BAM!!! our MC was sitting in the dirt and the game totally changed. Not only didn't I see major plot twists ahead of time, I apparently had no idea what game was being played altogether. As you can imagine this left me wanting.. nay, needing more. I couldn't stop reading. I made excuses to hide away and read just a bit more. I waited in my daughter's car rider line, at school, an hour early just so I could continue reading. I read while the rest of the family watched t.v. together. I skipped meals and read through the dead of the night. I was addicted... in the best possible sense. I was a puppet on Joan He's strings and reacted just as she commanded. I loved then loathed then loved then felt conflicted right on cue... AND that ending... it slayed me!! I might have cried. Okay, I did cry but I dare you not to shed some (completely understandable) tears. I was swept up in all of the emotions. I am still reeling days after finishing the book. I let it sit and ruminate in my mind to see if the endorphin high would wear off but I am still just as touched and obsessed as when I read the very last word. I desperately wish I could start over again, naive to what lay ahead...experience this book anew. BUT will have to live on in my memories and of course in my favorites list. 

Over all: I LOVED this book!! It deftly elicited all the Feels. It ran me through the gamut of emotions and surprised me at almost every turn. I did guess one twist but that seems paltry compared to how many there were that I failed to foresee. This is going straight to my favorites list and I will wait until the end of time for book #2!! If you're still reading this... what are you waiting for?? Go and pick this one up toot sweet!

~ Enjoy 

*** I was given a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ***
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SO GOOD! I absolutely loved this book. The plot twists were amazing and well-written so that they flowed with the story and made so much sense when provided with the evidence from the author.

Pay close attention to everything you read in this book, because within the words are the clues for the end!
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Mixed feelings here. If you enjoy Chinese fantasy with lots of complicated political intrigue, this might be for you. There is some good world-building here, but it took me awhile to get it all straight. 

While the heroine (princess-turned-queen) is billed as strong and determined, I sometimes found her weak and struggling to keep up with the political mayhem. To be fair, she IS young. There’s also racism, treason, and quite a few twists, with the ending being open-ended enough to lead to possible sequels. It also felt a bit over long to me. 

Some will enjoy, I found myself a bit ambivalent. 

Thanks to #NetGalley and #AlbertWhitman&Co for the ARC. The opinions are strictly my own.
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I enjoy books in several different ways for several different reasons, but it’s been quite some time since I’ve read a book that flowed so seamlessly and fluidly that I couldn’t tell how much I’d read or how long I’d been reading. Descendant of the Crane was one of the most hyped up books of 2019 that I’ve seen, and I can now see why. Joan He manages to weave a very creative fantasy while only toeing the line of what can be considered fantasy, an immense amount of political intrigue, and one of the most compelling main characters I’ve read all year. While I am an absolute glutton for political intrigue fantasies, that in itself isn’t usually enough to leave me as emotionally raw and vulnerable as Descendant of the Crane did and that’s because this book, in a very natural manner such that you don’t even notice, transitions from a generic political/historical fantasy to a tale about morals versus duty. The concepts of belief and choice are the true foundations and are weaved so well into the story and Hesina’s character that the reader cannot help but drown in the very same helpless anxiety of “what can I possibly do?”

Descendant of the Crane also features a compelling cast of characters with complex relationships that leave you unsure of how you feel about the events of the narrative. It’s very hard to love or hate anyone or their actions because Joan He manages to capture the three-dimensional nature of anything from siblings to institutional oppression to the various motivations a person could have for a variety of actions. I’m absolutely breath-taken by the multi-faceted story that Joan He managed to fit in a book that took me only 3 evenings to read.

Descendant of the Crane knows no slow moment. I wouldn’t describe it as fast paced, but more like a steady crescendo. Most plots flow like waves where they ebb and wane until they hit the climax. Descendant of the Crane, however, maintains a momentum that only continues to build and ends with a resolution that feels more like a rubber band that really should have snapped but is still somehow defying physics and in tact.

The book starts with Hesina determined to get justice for her father, whom she was believed to be poisoned. But as she takes over as queen, we start to see all the political and social forces of this kingdom at play. What I absolutely adored about the plot was the way the different portions of it transitioned into one another, and I never once questioned why something was happening. Joan He set up the dominoes of the plot so well that every subsequent plot path made logical sense to me. And every single plot twist was set up and timed perfectly. Sometimes in books like these you KNOW things aren’t what they seem, and you’re smart enough to go into reading it with some amount of suspicion towards every character in the book. That makes it difficult to truly surprise the reader. Descendant of the Crane uses an intricate domino like plot structure such that you’ve got an idea that Hesina’s can’t trust everyone that she does, but you can’t really predict when that’ll happen. Which then kills you because the reason you THOUGHT that plot twist was going to happen isn’t the reason at all. Absolutely GENIUS.

I fell in love with the characters of Descendant of the Crane so fast, I was making them my new family just 25% of the way in. I know I talk about how much I love every female main character I’ve read about this entire year, but Hesina really hits it home for me. Main characters in fantasies are usually marked by being special in some way. A prodigy in something or the other. Something that gives them the one-up over everyone else. Hesina does not fit that mold at all. She is described at average at everything from academics to fighting. She’s not particularly beautiful, but not ugly. Aside from the fact that she’s a princess and heir to the throne of Yan–which doesn’t mean much because Yan’s monarchy is quite limited and they live in more of a socialist society–Hesina is incredibly ordinary. But that’s what made her feel so real. She’s aggressive but vulnerable, naive but calculating, determined but also ready to curl up into a ball and just leave it all behind. She reacts to situations exactly how I’d imagine I would if i were a 17 year old princess who lost the parent I was the closest to and inherited a kingdom built on hatred.

The other characters are just as compelling. Lilian is a ray of sunshine and when she’s around, you just know that everything will be okay, even if it’s for a moment. Sanjing tore my heart because he’s the most realistic portrayal of a 16 year old boy I’ve ever seen in a fantasy novel, and his relationship with Hesina clawed at my soul. Caiyan is everything you want him to be and everything you don’t want him to be. Not to spoil anything, but the fact that he spends the ENTIRE book calling Hesina “milady” even though he’s her adopted brother…oof. And Akira was a breath of fresh air. He’s mysterious and goofy, but none of that hides a broody interior. In fact, he had a lot of reasons to turn out to be the Broody YA Love Interest guy, but he doesn’t and I loved him. Also Rou. I’m love him too. I JUST WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THESE GUYS GIVE ME A BOOK 2.

Last note: Hesina’s mom…oh man. One of the most interesting characters in the book. I hate and love her simultaneously and the fact that I can’t decide which feeling to go with is POWERFUL.

Descendant of the Crane takes place in a fictional kingdom inspired by China where the people were once ruled by greedy monarchs that used soothsayers to secure their rule. That system was eventually torn down by a group of revolutionaries called The Eleven, who then reinstated a more fair system of government and society by rewriting the law and identifying a scapegoat–the soothsayers. So now you’ve got a kingdom that’s almost perfect. Every bit of inequality is snuffed out. The government has an effective anti-corruption system, the education and job market are based on merit and not nepotism. But all of this is built upon a festering hatred of the soothsayers. The worldbuilding is rich and well thought out, but what I loved most about it was the way He captured the public. She depicts them as a volatile crowd that are quick to descend into a mob like mentality, particularly when they’re never challenged to think critically. This serves as one of the conflicts for Hesina, who has to somehow figure out how to change a population’s opinion that has been socialized within her kingdom for over 300 years. I also loved reading about The Eleven and the themes of history, legends, and truth. It’s not a good political and historical fantasy if it doesn’t address the manipulation of the past and how it’s taught in the future.

Writing Style:
Joan He has one of the most balanced writing styles I have ever come across. Most authors I’ve seen vary between being description heavy, dialogue heavy, or relying on plot to carry the story over the writing and voice. He, however, strikes a perfect blend of description and pace. Her imagery is gorgeous and has your mouth watering at the idea of strolling through a persimmon garden even if you’ve never eaten a persimmon before. But she also uses her words and tone to create an atmospheric effect when her main goal isn’t to describe the scene. For example: whenever she recalls a story of Hesina and her father, her writing softens such that you automatically picture it like a hazy vignette taking place on a calm and clear sunny day. When it rains, she doesn’t have to say that it’s dark and dreary. She simply states that the rain starts to fall, and the context of that scene fills in the dark or grave atmosphere for us. Her writing really appealed to me because it let me lose track of my progress in the story. I feel like the phrase “it flowed like water” is too simple to describe the experience I had, but it’s best way I can currently think of wording that.
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Descendant of the Crane was a really pleasant surprise. It's actually one of the better, more creative YA fantasies I've read, taking influence from Chinese culture and exploring morally grey areas in a story full of political machinations and twists. I hope this book doesn't get buried under the pile of generic YA fantasies with flashier covers and dramatic names like "Queen of Blood/Ash/Shadows/Fire".

It's a quieter book than I had first imagined. The promise of a kingdom in turmoil and a ban on the magic once practiced by soothsayers sounds familiar in this genre, not unlike other action-packed fantasies. However, it is much more focused on political maneuvering and a young woman's bildungsroman as she discovers that not everything is black and white, and sometimes you are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Oh, and there's also a compelling murder mystery and courtroom drama.

Joan He avoids dropping characters into "good" or "evil" boxes, allowing the villains (both the obvious ones and the not so obvious) to be multilayered and have realistic motivations for their actions that go beyond "Muahaha, I'm evil". As Hesina adjusts to her new power as queen, she finds herself relating to her enemies and questioning the purely benevolent view she always held of her father. I like how the author doesn’t stop at the surface, but instead explores complex emotions.

The story begins with Hesina illegally visiting a soothsayer for information about her father's - the former king's - death. She knows there was foul play and wants to find out who was responsible. The soothsayer cannot tell her the culprit, but she can point her in the direction of someone who will help her find out. Enter sexy ex-convict-turned-lawyer: Akira.

What follows is Hesina's attempt to get justice for her father and prevent war at the same time. Along the way, she uncovers secrets and betrayals. The murder mystery aspect - plus the thrilling courtroom scenes - were done so well here. So much better than the recent Four Dead Queens.

I really enjoyed it when Hesina was forced to play a role as queen. Part of her story arc is learning how sometimes, unfortunately, it is necessary to lie or do "bad" for the greater good. It's a hard pill for her to swallow.

I have a couple of minor quibbles. The first is that sometimes the pacing needed work. Overall, I appreciated the slower, more political plot, but there were parts of the book that went on too long and felt dragged out, but truthfully this could be said for about 95% of YA fantasy debuts.

The second is that this is one of those books that I think would have been better as an adult novel. There is something a bit off by all these rulers and military leaders being around 16 or 17 years old. As it is, the novel is mostly chaste, despite the inclusion of such as brothels. It feels almost deliberately cleaned up for a younger audience, and I think it is a shame that a sexy character like Akira is wasted on a romance lacking in steam.

I still enjoyed it a lot, though. I have to point out that this is NOT a standalone and is left set up for a sequel. You can bet I'll be reading it.
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I'm not sure I can accurately describe how stunning this book is. Beautiful prose so artfully woven it reads like one's own thoughts. Flawless world-building. Believable character growth. It is a story of a girl who aims to get justice for her father's murder, but it is also so much more. It is a story about loss, betrayal, heartbreak, prejudice, and hope. It is about humanity, the good and the bad, and learning to grow, seeking the truth, fighting for change despite what the past dictates. 

Descendant of the Crane is extraordinary.
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We are absolutely in the midst of a Golden Age for YA high fantasy, Descendant of the Crane just dropped the mic of maybe the best fantasy of 2019. 

There are twists, betrayals, and blade sharp intrigue dripping from the pages of Descendant of the Crane, Joan He just catapulted herself into the upper echelon of authors who are changing the perception of YA.
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