Title: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: April 9th, 2019 (Albert Whitman & Company)
Synopsis: 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 neighbouring 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?
A huge thank you to Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for providing me with an ARC of this book!
Poised to ascend the throne after her father’s sudden death, Princess Hesina of Yan suspects that his death was in fact a murder. Desperate to find more information, she consults a soothsayer – an act considered treasonous in Yan – who tells her that there is a convict who can help her find the killer. Meanwhile, even as she opens an investigation into king’s death, the kingdom is much more unstable than Hesina realizes. The neighbouring kingdom of Kendi’a appears to be preparing for war, and there are traitors in her own court who might be working to incite conflict. As the investigation unfolds and some surprising and shocking facts begin to come to light, Hesina realizes she has opened a whole other can of worms that challenges everything she thought she knew about her father, her family and the very foundations upon which the country is built.
Despite the blurb, courtroom drama was about the last thing I expected from this book, but it was a pleasant surprise, just like the rest of it. It is far more sedately paced than the plot would suggest and consists of a lot of political maneuvering and court intrigue in a welcome departure from the action-packed fantasies that seem to have become the norm. Descendant of the Crane manages to build a complex world in a limited timeframe without taking away from the story itself. The background and history is beautifully crafted and it’s clear how much thought has gone into the world building in particular which is largely inspired by Chinese culture.
Due to us getting only Hesina’s POV, the element of mystery is enhanced as we try to figure out who can be trusted and where things are going right alongside her. The trial scenes in particular, were very well done and surprisingly intense. It was also very interesting to see Hesina try to balance her personal need for justice along with the task of being the queen the people need. I do want to point out though, that this might have been better off as an adult novel. It’s a very heavy story in general for YA and in such a setting, it feels a little unrealistic to have seventeen year old generals and queens. I would have also liked to see more character development for Caiyan and Lilian, Hesina’s adopted siblings. What little we got to see of their dynamic, I really liked, particularly how they are always there for and so supportive of Hesina. Finally, there was something missing in that romance, especially since the story revolves around Hesina, and Akira, despite being such an intriguing figure, has limited character development. It just didn’t click and hopefully that changes in the sequel.
Overall, I was very impressed with this book, more so considering that it is a debut. The unexpected turn of events at the end completely took me by surprise – there had better be a sequel because it can’t be left hanging like that! Descendant of the Crane is a wonderful debut with a very interesting setting and fascinating characters. The unexpected plot twists will keep you guessing right until the end in this refreshingly different fantasy novel.
Have you read this book or are you planning to? Let me know in the comments!