Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
Young Adult Fantasy
Publication: 9 April 2019
#1 in series
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.
I could wax poetic about this Chinese inspired fantasy for hours. Well, it would be less poetic and more incoherent ramble. This book seriously has it all. At least, a bit of everything I enjoy. It was completely addictive and so easy to read. I literally devoured it in a few hours.
What I loved
- Complicated family dynamic: Hesina has complex and varying relationships with all the members of her family. The relationship with her mother is strained, bordering on loathing. It doesn’t help that her mother lives in some far off mountain monastery or something and acts like a bit of a b****. Hesina has, on the other hand, completely idealised her now-deceased father, which is obviously never an accurate or realistic representation of reality. She’s got a strained relationship with Sanjing, her biological brother, for something that happened when they were kids. Added to this, she has two adopted siblings. Lillian is absolutely awesome and very supportive, while Caiyan, her adopted brother is very logical and Hesina’s closest adviser.
- Court politics: When this is done well I really enjoy all the intrigue and deals and sacrifices that come with being part of an imperial court. I wasn’t perhaps terribly surprised by all of it, but it was still a lot of fun to read.
- Legal trial: In a lot of fantasies the legal system doesn’t get a lot of focus, so I was absolutely fascinated by the trial/inquest part of DotC, and I loved Akira being Hesina’s legal representative. He’s intelligent and it sort of leaves me in awe.
- Murder mystery: I don’t read a lot of murder mysteries (I watch them though), so this was another element that I loved. Hesina’s quest to find out what happened to her father is a goal I can get behind, and I enjoyed reading how it played out. It went in a direction I was absolutely not expecting AT ALL, and I loved it.
- Detailed mythology/ back story: This mostly pertains to the founding of the current dynasty, and the laws and advice the founders, know as The Eleven, left behind to run a fair and just society. It added so much more depth to the novel, and was fascinating in and of itself. I’d actually love to read that story if Joan He would consider writing a prequel.
- Forbidden blood magic: Certain people, called sooths, have the ability to see the future. It’s an inherited blood-related magic, and it was fascinating. It really spoke to inequality and the dehumanisation of vulnerable groups.
- Themes: There are quite a few themes running through the story. A big one was whether the concept of a just and equitable society is achievable, and what sort of sacrifices a person is willing to make to achieve their goals. What price is too high?
- Complex characters: The bad guys aren’t wholly bad, the good guys aren’t wholly good. They’re human, and they’re messy, and they’re complicated. Everyone had realistic motivations and their reactions were always consistent with their personalities, which is pretty important to me.