Title: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Release Date: April 9, 2019
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
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?
ARC provided by the publisher via edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
“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.”
Wow, you guys. 4.5 stars to this thing of beauty. I had no idea what to expect from this asian-inspired fantasy, but it completely blew me away. It is part of a series, and you can bet I will be picking up the second installment when it comes out…which is WAY too far away, if you ask me.
This book follows Hesina, the Princess of Yan in the wake of her father’s death. As she and the country reels, it becomes clear that there may be more to his death than meets the eye. While trying to deal with her new role as Queen and stabilize the kingdom, Hesina also embarks on a journey to try and find her father’s killer and bring them to justice.
Unfortunately, lies and betrayal hide in ever corner, and Hesina has no idea who to trust, including her own family. In desperation, she turns to a soothsayer – in the process, committing treason – and enlists the help of a convicted criminal, Akira. As they discover more and more secrets and lies, Hesina has to wonder just how far she’ll go to find justice for her father…and if she’ll lose herself and Yan along the way.
I absolutely adored Hesina as a main character. She was so real and honest and open. She has so many flaws, and makes so many wrong decisions – but who wouldn’t, in her situation? Hers is a coming of age story on a much larger scale. She has to grow up, discover who she is, and decide right from wrong, all in front of the entire nation. And sometimes that means agreeing with her enemies and disagreeing with her family. She’s learning that there is no black and white: no one is wholly good, or wholly evil. Shout out to Joan He for including SO MANY morally grey characters!
“She wasn’t her father, who inspired empathy with his benevolence. She wasn’t her mother, who radiated authority. She wasn’t Sanjing, glowing from another victory, or Caiyan, riveting with his rationale, or Lilian, charming her way into hearts. She was just Hesina … Inadequate as always.”
I also love how the author explores more complex emotions. As Hesina grows into her role, she starts questioning if shunning the sooths was right – if her own father was right. It’s always a startling notion when you first realize that your parents are people too – they make mistakes and have their own flaws. Hesina has to deal with grief, loss, betrayal, and even her first crush, all in the public eye and without her parents. These are some heavy – hitting emotions, and while she tried to handle them with grace, like any teenager, sometimes it was a big swing and a miss.
“‘Tonight, we fell victim to fear. We let it blind us. We thought we were hunting monsters…’ She stared out into the sea of flame-washed faces. It took all her strength not to look away. ‘But we were the monsters.'”
I am throwing major heart eyes at this book for all of the SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS it included! And can I get a hell yes for non-traditional families? I am such a sucker for siblings in any format, and all of these characters were so well-developed and honestly I loved them all. I loved watching all of the dynamics between them, and how Hesina ended up kind of in the middle of it all. I love how they all help her grow in some way, lending her strength and love, advice and wisdom, protection and support – even when she doesn’t want it. No family is perfect, but you know when it comes down to it that they’ll be there for you. I haven’t seen this displayed on paper this well in a long time.
I also want to quickly mention one character who ISN’T a sibling: Akira. Akira is a convicted criminal who Hesina enlists to help her clear her father’s name. He’s brilliant, strong, and I’ll be honest: I was crushing on him hard. I also kind of wanted to put these two in my pocket and just keep them there? To protect them from all the problems around them? While he starts out helping Hesina as part of a bargain they make, he becomes just as loyal to her as her siblings, and maybe even more so. And just like every other character in this book, he’s more complex than he first appears.
“‘Sometimes I lose myself,’ he finally said. ‘I get too focused. Forget that feelings matter. I was raised this way, and I’m still trying to change.'”
I did have some minor issues with this book, but the biggest is the pacing in the first 40% of the book. While there was a lot of political intrigue going on, I felt like it was really dragged out and I wasn’t super invested. HOWEVER. There comes a point where the pacing flies into high gear, and SO MANY THINGS HAPPEN. I mean it. The last half of this book was so action packed I felt like my jaw was hanging open the entire time. And that ending!! I couldn’t believe how much was happening, and the epilogue completely crushed my soul, especially when I saw how long I was going to have to wait for the sequel.
This book is like Game of Thrones, but faster-paced, with less characters, and set in a Chinese-inspired fantasy world. Oh, and don’t forget that murder investigation. Honestly, this book completely wow’d me, and I cannot wait for the sequel to come out. Do yourself a favor and preorder this book – I already have.
Descendant of the Crane is releasing on April 9, 2019.
*All quotations are taken from an ARC and are subject to change prior to publication.