Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
April 9, 2019 from Albert Whitman & Company
Young adult fantasy
Amazon | Goodreads | Book Depository
Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.
Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?
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.
* Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
“Her, against a seasoned court. Her, against the tides of war. Her, against the king’s assassin. Akira had been right to call it a story worth spectating.”