I have probably repeated this way too many times already but… I got my first accepted requests on NetGalley and THIS was one of them!!!! I had to try and stop myself from squealing with excitement as I’d made the mistake of checking my emails on my phone whilst being on a Zoom meeting and I don’t think that would have gone down too well with our HT… anyway…
This book has been on my radar since it was first released back in 2019. I could only ever find it in hardback format on Amazon / Book Depository with weird shipping and prices. I’m not sure whether it had a small release or what, but when I stumbled upon it whilst browsing NetGalley I couldn’t help but push that request now button – it was like my lucky day when the request was accepted! Thank you to Titan Books and NetGalley for this e-arc in exchange for an honest review.
Book: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy / Teens & YA
Publication Date: 16th June 2020
Publisher: Titan Books
Descendant of the Crane is an enchanting fantasy novel which centres around the murder trial of the King of Yan. His daughter, Hesina, will go to extraordinary lengths in order to solve the mystery of her father’s death whilst trying to prove her place as Queen and help fix her broken country. In a land where the magic soothsayers have been outlawed and are forced to remain hidden in plain sight, Hesina must battle against her Ministers, her family, her allies and even kingdoms in her quest for the truth. This novel was everything I look for when it comes to a fantasy tale. The plot was very well-developed and explained with intricate detailing and nods to ancient Chinese culture and heritage. Twists and turns came from everywhere and nowhere and left me wondering where this beguiling story could possibly end up. If you love a bit of political intrigue, betrayals and deceptions from every corner, a hint of magic and mystery all set in a stunning Oriental inspired world then you should definitely read this book!
Now to me, the pace of this novel can be explained a bit like a rollercoaster:
Leaving the gates = learning about the world of Yan, the history of the sooths and why they were outlawed.
Going up… = the takeover of the Eleven 300 years ago and the Tenets which are the laws the Kingdom is ruled by – not to mention the cast of characters…
…Still going up = the King’s mysterious death is revealed and Hesina desires for a trial to take place…
Nearly at the top = people within the palace are being put on trial and we learn more about Hesina’s family, her personal struggles and the Kingdom…
Don’t forget to look outside the carriage = It feels like we’ve come a long way through the story and we’re still getting to grips with all that’s going on but there are dramatic actions and events for you to admire in the surrounding landscape.
We’ve reached the top = everything seems to be drawing together. The plot begins to knit together in your mind as you see the rest of the track and you think you know where the novel is going…
Whoosh = you plummet down the drop, revelations spring from each side – there’s shock, there’s mystery, you didn’t even think ‘that’ character could ever do such a thing!
Then – darkness —– You’ve gone through a tunnel and suddenly the plot you thought you formulated in your head has been blown to smithereens (trust no-one!) – you come out of the tunnel and through the loop the loop back over another mini-incline, drop down and BAM the story crashes to a halt – cue The Epilogue…!
Pace is definitely something which develops and quickens the further through the novel you go. Whilst this is pitched as a standalone, I believe that Joan He has said that the ending of the story leaves room for companion novels set in the same world and after that ending, I would say that they are definitely needed, wanted and welcomed! I imagine this could follow a pattern similar to The Illuminae Files or A Curse So Dark and Lonely where the sequels follow the extension of the plotline based within the same world but with different leading characters.
The characters in the novel have fairly complex relationships with each other meaning that you’re not sure who you can trust or rely on. This adds a good deal of suspense to the novel and is one of the key drivers for the frequent twists and turns that come jumping out of the plot. Whilst this is great for keeping me invested into what is happening with the story, it did leave me feeling a little ambivalent towards some of the characters. Hesina, was really well-developed and the depth of explanation and narration from her story helped me to understand her feelings and perceptions. Aside from the main storyline, familial relationships form a big theme throughout the novel. Hesina constantly struggles to balance her feelings and bonds with her mother, brother, step-brother, adopted siblings and even the ghost of her father and the legacy he left her. The pressure of maintaining those relationships brought a realistic element to the story and made Hesina seem slightly more relatable to me as a reader (whoever has a totally normal family right?).
The world-building in the novel is revealed through both flashbacks and the character narration. There is a fair amount of the Kingdom of Yan’s history to take on board in the story which although slowed the pace, helped to weave together the rich oriental world that the characters were living in and set the scene perfectly for the uprisings, revolts and trial that form the main action within the story.
One of my favourite things to pick out in books is little niche motifs. The Imperial Palace is set on a whole labyrinth of tunnels, secret passageways and caves. Although they are not necessarily a main part of the story, they do allow for some key events to take place and I loved this little story element.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
One, teensy-tiny minor thing which massively distracts me when reading any novel is when a writer has a word or phrase that they repeat endlessly through their writing. Descendant of the Crane was no exception. The phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts’ was repeated approximately 14 times and whilst I understand the writer is referring to Lingchi, a torture technique and form of execution used in Ancient China, there are no actual scenes where this even happens in the book. Additionally, although I’m a Taylor Swift fan, every time I read that phrase I constantly had her song of the same name buzzing round my head like it was stuck on a constant loop. So yes, this was rather distracting and slightly irksome as it took my focus away from the story due to my little niggling rage.
What I liked:
- the depth and level of detail Yan and it’s history is described in.
- the characters were likeable and I was invested into finding out what really happened to the King.
- The plot is intriguing and full of twists, turns and suspense which hooked me
- Hesina’s relationship with her mother and the way it was developed throughout the book.
- The folklore and background relating to the Eleven and the Tenets they created as society rules and regulations.
What I would have liked a little more of:
- For me, the ending needed slightly more explanation to balance it with the rest of the book – whilst I liked the Epilogue, the novel seems to be cut dramatically short, which would be fine if there was a sequel definitely announced but I’m not fully sure whether this is the case.
- The idea of the crane is quite prevalent throughout the story and there is a nice element of folklore surrounding it but I think this needed to be a little more explicit in the closing parts of the novel, particularly in how it relates to Hesina and her family especially seeing that it is the title of the book.
- I still have a few too many questions about characters and why their circumstances are the way they are and what may happen to them now that the novel has finished – if there were already a sequel definitely pegged in the works then I’d hope that the questions I’m left with would be answered.
- Not a little more, but a little less repetition of ‘death by a thousand cuts’ – I understand where it comes from and why it’s there but I found it personally rather irritating.
If you enjoyed State of Sorrow, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns or simply enjoy well-written, intriguing and complex Asian-inspired fantasy stories then you are highly likely to enjoy Descendant of the Crane. You can find out more about the book here:
Goodreads | Waterstones | Amazon |
Have you read Descendant of the Crane? If Asian-inspired fantasy stories are your thing what books would you recommend? Do you have a buzz-phrase which annoys you when reading? As always, drop me a comment to chat! 🙂