I haven’t been able to do an actual book review since forever, so : Descendant of the crane is Joan He’s debut novel, released in April 2019 – and, for once, I actually did buy a book on the day it came out !
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 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?
What I liked
- The characters are complex, and feel alive – they have their own character arcs, and I really liked the way they intervened in each other’s story. There’s also some excellent world-building, and the book isn’t too fast-paced (I know there’s a lot of pressure on authors to write books that are fast-paced all the time, but giving your reader some time to breathe between all your action scenes isn’t a bad thing at all !)
- I like that it’s very different than what I’m used to see in that kind of story – usually, it’s a girl with no power, a secret princess who needs to get to the throne, or marry the prince, or a secret magician persecuted… but Hesina is the queen-to-be and she doesn’t need to go looking for a position of power – she already has it, and needs to focus on other things (like who killed her father, or how broken her country really is).
- There is magic, but magic alone isn’t the be all end all of the story, and even if that might be a drawback for some, it isn’t one for me : I’m honestly a little bit tired of books where the only motivation of the characters is magic, and where the only explanation for someone’s betrayal – or grey morality – is…corruption by magic.
- Courtroom drama ! I loved the courtroom drama. I want more of the courtroom drama. The courtroom drama is delightful and the ex-convict-now-lawyer was a really nice addition tho the mix. There are a lot of twists and turns that you don’t expect, but you never have a moment in the book when you have to stop and say « wait, what’s going on. I don’t understand. » You see what the characters do, and even if their vision of what’s going on isn’t always the truth, it doesn’t confuse the reader.
What I didn’t like
I’m going to put the ending in this section – not because it’s bad (on the contrary, it’s unexpected and really good), but because the book ends on a sort of cliffhanger, with Hesina’s arc not being fully finished. I was expecting a standalone book, and that’s (officially) what it is, but I’ve grown used to endings that fell satisfying in a way this one wasn’t. The author has addressed this multiple times, explaining how, in the publishing industry, you don’t really get to choose if you’ll be able to publish 3 books in a series or only one, and that she made Descendant of the crane to be a standalone book, eventually followed by companion books with different characters, in the same universe.
Another point is the character of Akira, which I feel like we didn’t see much of in the book. At some point, I was reading a scene, and then all of a sudden he speaks up – and I realized that I had completely forgotten that he was present in that scene. There was a romance element between him and Hesina, but it wasn’t very present.
I really wish I had preordered this book, because the merch that came with the preorders and the book boxes looks amazing ! Sadly, I didn’t have the money at the time – but I’ll definitely remember to try to preorder more when I see a book that I’d really like to buy !
A very nice bonus, though, is that there’s also a delightful “meet the characters” page on the author’s website ! You can see Hesina’s picture, for example, here !
I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a refreshing summer read !