Review: “Descendant of the Crane” by Joan He

Descendant of the Crane book cover from Goodreads

A well-conceived costume is a new identity, the father used to say as he put on his commoner’s cloak. From now until I return, I am no longer the king.

Descendant of the Crane, Section 1 opening

Author: Joan He
Publication Date:  April 9th 2019
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Genre: YA Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Find it on: Goodreads

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 engages 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.

From Goodreads

Review

Joan He’s magical YA fantasy delivers wily political maneuvering, enchanting magic, familial drama, and a strong female main character. Descendant of the Crane is an enjoyable read, distinguished from the crowd of other charming YA fantasies by its advanced political/judicial focus (accompanied by its share of devious political machinations), rich historical backstory, and Chinese-inspired roots.

The story begins high action as we follow our lead, Princess Hesina, in disguise on her way through the red light district with her adopted siblings to seek out a sooth. Sooths are a population heavily persecuted and vilified by The Eleven, the kingdom’s founders, and yet capable of powerful magic such as the ability to see the future. Although their powers have somewhat lessened and their numbers have dwindled, some still hide in the city, scraping by. Merely a few days prior Hesina was rocked to the core by the shocking and unexpected death of her father, the king. She now willfully commits treason seeking guidance from a sooth on how to best uncover the truth behind his passing. The result is an explosive formal trial approved by Xia Zhong, the Minister of Rites, which explodes into much more than she bargained for. Hesina’s quest for the truth shatters everything she thought she knew about her world and those in it.

Knowledge is truth, her father had said, yet all knowledge had done was unveil a world of lies”

Descendant of the Crane, p188

This book is written in 3rd person from Hesina’s perspective. She comes across as a devoted, grieving daughter who’s thrust into the unenviable situation of ruling a kingdom on the brink of being torn apart – from the outside via skirmishes with the Kendi’a as well as from the inside by its own fears and selfishness. Hesina is clearly driven, almost to a fault. She wants so badly to bring justice to her father and closure for herself that she puts herself and others in dangerous situations and doesn’t keep her eyes open to things around her. It’s difficult to blame her, though, when you learn about her distant mother and difficult relationship with her brother, Sanjing. Thankfully she does have the twins her father adopted into their home when he was around, saving them from their past squalor and hardship. Lilian and Caiyan are an entertaining pair around Hesina’s age, and also some of my favorite characters. In many ways they couldn’t be more different – Lilian is bold and sassy. She doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind, promote bold action, and bring up embarrassing things in jest. Caiyan, on the other hand, is quiet, sweet, and intelligent, endorsing caution and prudence. But they’re both exceedingly loyal and two of Hesina’s closest companions. This makes up the core of the main group, which ebbs and flows a bit as Sanjing, his friend Mei, Hesina’s robber trial representative, Akira, and others come in.

Plot-wise the story reaches its first peak more or less in the middle of unfolding trial drama, which is quite exciting but also unexpected. From the synopsis and early writing, I’d assumed the trial for Hesina’s father would be center stage for most of the story. Imagine my surprise when that didn’t really turn out to be the case. As the trial action slows I did find the story pace starting to lag a bit before new plot points were introduced. I almost dropped it at this point, but I enjoyed the characters enough that I was ok riding it out to see if it picked up again. Sure enough the last quarter comes on much stronger with a fascinating series of twists and some big tension. The ending positions the story very well for a sequel with a number of intriguing open plotlines. I would definitely consider reading a second book, but I’ve heard none are in the works right now. Instead, Joan He does have another book coming out soon with a different publisher I’ve put on my to-read list –The Ones We’re Meant to Find (below). Consider giving both of these books a go as well! 🙂 Happy Reading!

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One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars with sci-fi scope, Lost with a satisfying resolution.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those committed to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

From Goodreads

Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash

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