Book review: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Title: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

Publication date: 9 April 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult | Political

Page extent: 416 pages

Goodreads blurb: 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.

So I think I’ve only now realised that political fantasy might be one of my favourite genres to read. As a genre it produces slow and detailed, powerful and emotional books – and Descendant of the Crane was all of these and more. 

What a story! What an ending! What an everything! I was in shock at the end of this book, just in awe of what I’d read. What an incredible debut from He and what I hope is the start of many more books from her. 

Descendant of the Crane follows Princess Hesina in the wake of her father’s death – or murder. Hesina, convinced her father has been murdered, goes to see a seer, someone with magic who are vilified in the kingdom. If she’s discovered, she’ll be branded a traitor and sentenced to death. But Hesina’s loyalty to her father and her own desire to discover the truth lead her betray her kingdom and find a seer to help her uncover the murderer.  

With the information from the seer, a trial is held to investigate the King’s death. But as the investigation deepens, scapegoats are found and lost, a war is brewing on the edge of the Kingdom, and Hesina no longer feels she can trust those closest to her – they were after all, also closest to the King. 

In an absolutely stunning tale, this intricate political fantasy weaves an exciting and intriguing murder mystery. The prose is absolutely stunning, and was everything I wanted. There is so much detail put into the world building. I loved the quotes from ‘One’ and ‘Two’ at the start of each chapter, the two individuals who overthrew the old empire. They provide such an amazing lead up and hint into one of the biggest reveals in the book and after it happened, it seemed so obvious and of course nothing else could be! 

I loved all the characters! Hesina is such a great lead: she’s so strong and determined, and she finds herself having to go against her own morals time and time again for her kingdom. It slowly breaks her as she gives up all of herself and what made her her, to this unappreciative kingdom. I loved all of the sibling relationships, the complicated and stormy Sanjing who’s never really felt loved by Hesina after he did something awful to their adopted brother Caiyan when they were younger. Caiyan, oh my beautiful Caiyan I adore you. Seemingly so principled but willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of his sister. And Lilian, strong fiesty Lilian who is always there for Hesina and getting her hands dirty to help her. Each relationship is so different and interesting in its own right, and I loved all their interactions with each other. 

Akira, the representative of Hesina’s for the trial, was so mysterious and dangerous. I wish we’d seen him a bit more on page and were able to see his relationship with Hesina develop. He seems like such an enigma and I wish there’d been just a little more attention on him.

This book was just absolutely incredible. That ending is not just an ending: it’s a series of ending upon endings upon endings which twist and turn and destroy you so thoroughly you don’t quite know what happened. This was an absolutely marvellous debut and I can’t wait to see what He does next! 

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Top 5 Tuesday: Books I don’t talk about enough

Hi again, for this week’s Top 5 Tuesday! And what an interesting topic it is this week… There are definitely books I shout about constantly so I’m so glad to sing about some of the books which I 100% need to talk about more often. Because they are awesome.

Love from A to Z by S.K Ali

I read this book earlier this year and it is one of the most beautiful love stories ever. It is just so incredible and utterly perfect! Love from A to Z follows Adam and Zayneb as they meet and fall in love. There is such as strong Muslim voice in this book – I adored seeing how religion guided the relationship. Zayneb is one of the fiercest, stongest characters – she refuses to back down from what’s right and is so driven. As well as a love story, this book also discusses topics such as Islamaphobia and discrimination, with the author using her own experience for several scenes in the book. Love from A to Z is such a powerful story about love and strength and the strength of faith. You can read my full review of this title here.

I Still Dream by James Smythe

So this book actually featured on last week’s Top 5 Dystopian but I’m also featuring it here because it is one of my absolute favourite sci-fi, dystopian novels but I never seem to talk about it which is so wrong. It’s a brilliant tale about artificial intelligence and what happens when humans choose to input morality and control (or not….) into AI. It’s a very character driven story, like most of my SFF favourites, and follows Laura, who creates her own AI, from her teenage years until she’s an old woman. It’s a brilliant look at how humanity will likely destroy itself for power.

Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

Keep This to Yourself is a queer murder mystery, set in a small country village by the sea. The setting really shines in this book – it creates such creepy and tense scenes, with rough seas and caves and the small-town village vibe which always seems kind of creepy to me. (I grew up in a tiny village so clearly this is something I picked up from my years there…) The fourth murder by serial killer ‘The Catalog Killer’ in this small town was that of high school hero Connor, beloved by the inhabitants of Camera Cove. After this murder, the serial killer disappeared. Mac, best friend of Connor, is unsatisfied with the resolution of the case so begins his own investigation, but it reveals more than he could ever have wished for… Great mystery, awesome to see a queer relationship and such an interesting setting!

The Afterward by E.K Johnston

The Afterward has such a different feel and tone than any other fantasy I’ve read – instead of focussing on the quest, it focusses on what happens after, on how the heroes settle back into everyday life. It’s a very quiet book and really does feel a breath of fresh air in such a heavy, action central genre, hence I really want to give this book the praise it deserves because I think it might often be overshadowed by those more action heavy books. This is another superb queer story – I love both Kalanthe and Olga, our two very different MCs as they try to forget their feelings for each other that developed during the quest and move on with their lives. Fantastic characters, brilliant relationship and awesome female knights! Check out my full review of this book here!

Birthday by Meredith Russo

Oh god this book is just an emotional and heartbreaking read. What a spectacular book! The book follows Eric and Morgan each year on their shared birthday. This is a brilliant way to tell the story, which focuses on Morgan and her journey to transition. This book has such a harrowing and honest depiction of depression, and really shows how strong Morgan is to survive her journey. It is a potentially triggering story, with a graphic depiction of attempted suicide, transphobia, homophobia, and depression so please take note of warnings if you do want to read. A powerful, incredible story of survial and strength.

That’s it for this week’s Top 5 books I don’t talk about enough! Let me know if you love any of these books as much as I do!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco