Title: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I was captivated by Descendant of the Crane the moment I saw its enchanting cover (illustrated by Feifei Ruan). It promises intrigue and magic in a world deeply inspired by China’s rich and varied history. The reading experience was one that left me reeling from the many clever twists and turns within the story. While my lack of attachment to any of the main characters meant that I could not wholly love the book, I am impressed with the breadth of the world-building and complexity of the plot. If this is what Joan He is capable of at the beginning of her career, I await eagerly to see what she will bring out next.
Personally, I felt the strength of the novel laid within its intricate world-building. The book combined the building blocks from historical influences with its own distinct brand of magic. Hesina’s kingdom is rich with its own inheritance of lores and legacies, her nation and her court often misguided by the weight of generational bigotry. I absolutely loved how the background world building inform crucial points within the plot, whether it be from the Tenets or more recent royal court intrigue. The amount of world-building conveyed within 400 pages is impressive, and I cannot wait to explore more of this kingdom and beyond.
The complex and nuanced of sibling relationships in this book had me rapt. I particularly loved the undercurrent of rivalry and fear of rejection underlying the interactions between Hesina and Sanjing. At times they almost appear to be enemies, and at the flip of a page they become confidants – if that does not define sibling relationships, I don’t know what does. Caiyan, a.k.a the kingdom’s most devoted brother, also stole my heart with his wit and loyalty. My favourite of the siblings is Lilian, her humour and cheer is a breath of fresh air amidst the unrelenting darkness of this novel – her relationship with Hesina gives me the warm fuzzies. Each of these relationship is multifaceted and steeped in history, I only wish that we got to see the siblings interact with one another instead of revolving around Hesina. This is partially due to the novel taking place from her perspective, but I would especially love to see more of the tenuous relationship between Sanjing and Caiyan.
Although I loved the various sibling relationships in Descendant of the Crane, I had mixed feelings about the various romantic relationships in this book. I found Akira to be the least developed character in this novel, and compared to the natural chemistry Hesina had with her siblings, their relationship seemed stilted. Perhaps I’ll change my mind as we learn more about him in future books.
I also loved seeing tropes common to palace court drama subtly subverted in this book. The stakes are high and enthralling from the get-go, as the heir apparent to the throne flirts with treason by visiting a shaman. From there, the plot twists and turn to reveal numerous surprises, some of which outright stunned me. The high-climax tension in the ending and the reveals which took place left me incredibly curious in the sequel. At this point, the publication of the second book is yet to be confirm, so please go out and purchase or borrow this book and save us all from the cliffhanger.