Review of Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

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?

Thank you to Albert Whitman Company and Netgalley for the Arc copy.

Honestly this was a complete cover request for me, it’s utterly gorgeous and this is definitely a case of DO judge a book by it’s cover as the words inside were just as beautiful.  It’s not often that books leave me lost for words with where to start but truly Descendant of the Crane is something pretty special. Every time I thought I had the genre pegged in this own voice story the tables turned, from YA fantasy, to thriller, to mystery, to court room drama; Descendant has a bit of everything and they are all seamlessly woven together in a delicate tale of intrigue and misdirection. It would be remiss of me however to let the brilliance of the last 2/3 gloss over the fact that it wasn’t the easiest book to get into. It must always be a hard decision to find the right place in the story to start but given the mythology and magics in play, some detailed background early on would have helped as I often felt like I was on the back foot in the opening chapters. The story does fall into place by the conclusion of the first of the three parts though, however, the quotes from the Tenets at the start of each chapter never flowed well for me.

Descendant celebrates all that is good about standalone novels. Does it have the potential to expand; yes, but I’m glad it didn’t as I absolutely adored the ending and the trust was put in the reader to consider the future. It would have been easy to spread such a intense tale over 2 or 3 books but by being a standalone it means that there are just wave after wave of twists and turns really bringing the reader into Hesina’s world where the feelings of confusion, elation, and betrayal are acutely felt.

The characters are wonderful though and I felt like I had really bonded with Hesina by the end, so much weight on her shoulders and the distance and indifference of her mother really tugged at me as I’m a parent myself.  Akira is a really complex character and we are left guessing for much of the time but he’s effortless in all he does, and his Atticus Finch esq approach to trials was jaw dropping at times. All the characters are layered though and that’s what helps Descendant really pack a punch, so much mystery surrounding so many of the players both large and small, the comparisons to Game of Thrones is well founded and means I will say little else about them!

Despite the shaky start once everything had fallen into place in my mind I found it a difficult book to put down. The attention to detail from the clothing to the buildings, the descriptions about books and engravings felt alive in my mind, like I could almost reach out and feel them. Despite this though Joan He created a world that felt very muted (not dull!) but it was clearly against a back drop of mourning and it was a really subtle way of reminding the reader that actually everything is not okay. The magic system was wonderfully simple and the way it walked side by side with Hesina growing with each discovery left the lines feeling blurred.

Descendant of the Crane is a great stand alone read which will leave your head spinning and your jaw on the floor, just give it the time to get there!

4*

 

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