Descendant of the Crane
- Author: Joan He
- Genre: YA Fantasy
- Publication Date: June 16, 2020
- Publisher: Titan Books
CONTENT WARNING: death of a parent, murder, grief, gore, prejudice, torture, blood, violence
Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.
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 a 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?
I’ve had this book checked out of the library for quite some time, and I finally got around to reading it because I couldn’t renew the loan any more times. But I’m really glad I did, even if it wasn’t quite what I expected.
The story is a quieter one than I expected, more focused on political intrigue and courtroom drama than fantasy elements that shout for attention. Hesina is a princess who is thrust into taking over the rule of a kingdom that is much less stable than she thought. While her primary focus is figuring out who killed her father, since she’s convinced that he was murdered, she realizes that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes.
To start with, the kingdom was built on a system of equality and a set of principles set for by the Eleven. They criminalized soothsayers, practitioners of magic, but haven’t quite managed to wipe them out completely. And this is exactly who Hesina turns to for help in solving her father’s murder, knowing that she is committing treason. But the more she digs, the more she winds up uncovering. They’ve feared the soothsayers so much that society doesn’t have a problem killing them outside of the legal system, because they don’t see them as people. They call them things like “maggots,” and completely dehumanize them, which is one of the biggest steps on the path to genocide. And it’s clearly stated here:
“They feared the things they didn’t know. They made them less than human.”
Along with that is another subplot, which involves Hesina’s family. She has several siblings and some seriously dysfunctional family dynamics. Two of her brothers don’t get along, and her relationship with each of her siblings is dramatically different. It was interesting to see how she interacts with each of them, and how they are each involved with her role as queen. But at the heart of how she relates to everyone is her relationship with her mother, who was cold and withheld her affection for Hesina, openly preferring her brother.
“But the closer she grew to Caiyan, the further she grew from Sanjing, and Hesina had to wonder—was everyone’s heart like her mother’s? Was love a resource to be split, sometimes unequally?”
The main plot was to find her father’s killer, and to do that she needed to enlist the help of a convicted criminal named Akira, someone she knew nothing about. His character was an intriguing one, especially as a potential romance started to develop between the two of them.
“A knot would form in Hesina’s own chest, and she’d keep an eye on him until his brow smoothed and his head settled. He was no more than a boy, really, a boy with powder-stained fingertips and hair that was always falling out of its tie, begging to be brushed back by a careful hand.”
Threaded through this was a threat of war building on the border with Kandi’a, and a bevy of advisors that Hesina isn’t sure that she can trust. I was so intrigued throughout the course of this story, and couldn’t stop reading. He is the master of plot twists, with them coming quickly and out of nowhere, so that they were never predictable. There’s a fair bit of historical Chinese information worked into the story, and it was done really well, although as someone who isn’t familiar with Chinese, I did find myself looking up a lot of the undefined terms. While there were a lot of subplots running throughout the story, it wasn’t hard to keep track of everything going on, and it only added to the enjoyment of the story, keeping me reading on to find out what happened. That ending killed me though, with a cliffhanger for a standalone novel! This book is a masterpiece, even though I will probably always hope for a sequel for this one.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 12
Categories: Book Review