Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
Published by Albert Whitman & Company on April 9th, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
“What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.”
I remember seeing this book all over bookstagram! It’s taken me a long time to finally read it, but I did it!
In Descendant of the Crane, Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown until 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 engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can even trust her own family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. Can Hesina find justice for her father?
I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this! It’s a solid debut novel from Joan He.
At first, I thought this book would fall into familiar YA fantasy tropes. But He gracefully side steps that and presents a unique and creative story.
Borrowing from Chinese culture (much like The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang), He created a vivid world to explore a kingdom in turmoil, political machinations, and morally grey areas.
I struggle with even calling it a YA fantasy because it’s so much more than that. It’s a political thriller, a murder mystery, and a courtroom drama. And for the most part, I think He did a great job combining those elements to create a compelling narrative.
He didn’t lean on action packed scenes, it’s definitely a quieter novel. But I revelled in reading about the deception involved in politics. To be honest, the fantasy element felt almost like an afterthought. So if you’re not too into fantasy, I think you’d enjoy this.
Hesina was the most well-rounded character. I expected her to be the classic “I’m the special one and nobody questions it” character. But she was vulnerable, determined, clever, and resourceful heroine.
I appreciated He digging into Hesina’s reluctance to accept her role as queen. Watching her struggle to do “bad things” for the greater good was fascinating.
And that’s something that lives on in all the characters in this world. He creates complex characters to show that not everything is black or white. Villains and heroes are not placed firmly in the “bad” and “good” categories. It’s something you rarely see in YA novels.
My main concern with the novel was pacing. It’s actually a pretty common complaint I have with YA books. The writing could’ve been tightened up for several scenes. I felt like it dragged on and on, despite enjoying the inner workings of the court.
I also felt like this novel would’ve been better off as an adult fantasy. It’s always weird to think of war, battles, and military leaders being in their teens. At times, it felt like I was reading a very sanitized version just so it could be marketed for a YA audience.
I think if you’re looking to get back into the fantasy world, I’d definitely check out Descendant of the Crane! Beware, the ending sets up a sequel, even though there doesn’t appear to be a sequel in the works! But when it (hopefully) gets published, I’ll be reading it.
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