Review: Descendant of the Crane

Title: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 401
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: 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.

Review: (Note: This book includes mob violence and past/potential future genocide.)

Joan He’s DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE is a fast-paced fantasy centered on imperial politics and palace intrigue, but at its core is the simple question: will finding out the truth be worth the price you pay to uncover it?

Hesina begins the book by believing the answer to that question is yes, and that conviction puts her onto the path of treasonous magic and an investigation that quickly threatens to put innocent lives at risk. Watching Hesina and her allies navigate the investigation and subsequent trials of suspects is fascinating as political considerations threaten to bury their scramble for the truth. Every time the stakes get higher, Hesina is forced to decide what compromises (personal, imperial) she can afford to make, and the number of palatable ones diminish swiftly. Palace intrigue can be boring when it isn’t done well, but the author did a great job keeping the threats within the palace walls active, interesting, and deadly.

I enjoyed the world building of DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE. While we don’t get too many details regarding the overthrow of the previous dynasty, what we do get is almost always essential to later reveals in the plot or character motivation. I liked watching Hesina’s sympathy for the soothsayers grow throughout the book while she simultaneously realized how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to protect them from her own rule and the rest of her subjects. The question of the cost of innocents weighed against an entire nation’s stability was another difficult question for Hesina to wrestle with, and I’m glad that the author allowed her to do so repeatedly on the page.

Despite the wide scope of the action, DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE has a manageable and mostly memorable cast. As the point-of-view character and protagonist, Hesina is by far the best fleshed out. Hesina’s mother, Caiyan, and Akira were also well developed (though I wish Hesina and Akira’s romance had been more so), and some of my favorite scenes in the novel involved them. The antagonist for the majority of the book is less compelling, and their motivation for their villainy is both something of a letdown and also entirely believable. (The epilogue makes up for a great deal of that, however.)

Recommendation: Buy it now if palace intrigue is your thing. On the surface, Joan He’s debut novel is focused on exposing truth and getting justice, but its foundation is questioning the price of truth and what you will compromise for your ideals. Consequences are quick and relentless, and the end of the book will have you questioning—in a good way—if it was all worth it.


Author Interview ft. Joan He at My Bookish Escapades

Writer Wednesday: Character Interview with Characters from Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane at Vicky Who Reads

Author Spotlight: Joan He talks Descendant of the Crane at Megan Write Now