Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

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I received an eARC copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

CONTENT WARNINGS: grief, loss of a loved one, murder, betrayal, tough familial relationships

“But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.”

Friends, this book gripped me from the first page to the very last. Descendant of the Crane is a stunning debut fantasy that delivers on the “Chinese version of Game of Thrones” comparison that I’ve seen. This is a fast paced and action packed book that you cannot miss!

The plot of the book seems simple enough: the king died mysteriously and his daughter launches an investigation because she’s convinced it was murder and is determined to uncover the truth. But it is so much more than that. It turns out the truth is more than just with the king’s death, but the 300 year history of the country following the revolution against the previous empire. The oppressed rose up to make things more equal for everyone… except for the sooths. I appreciated Hesina’s sympathy for the sooths and the moral dilemma she faces while having to also not increase tensions and fear for her people.

“A dead king. A deceived populace. A truth seeker. Sounds like a story that could end very well or very poorly, and I want to spectate.”

The thread that runs throughout this narrative is essentially the philosophical debate on whether the ends justify the means and how far we are willing to go in order to fight for what we think is right. Hesina’s dogged pursuit of the truth causes her to commit treason by seeking the guidance of a sooth, and in a court where everyone’s motives are questioned trust is hard to come by. A friend of mine said in her review that she “suspected herself, and she isn’t even in the book” — if that isn’t the most accurate representation of the unease and stakes that Hesina faces, I don’t know what is.

“Justice was her only way to say thank you. To say goodbye. To say I love you too.”

He manages to weave lush descriptions and heart-warming character development alongside this story. I fell in love with Hesina, Caiyan, and Lilian immediately and their sibling banter brings me to life. Her close friendships with them, and a budding friendship with Akira, acts as a foil to the tough relationship that she has with both her mother and brother Sanjing. The complex relationships and emotions all play into the decisions that Hesina makes and feel very authentic.

We all know that I am all about worldbuilding, and I was not disappointed here! There is a complex backstory and hundreds of years of history but it is given to us in small doses, never really leaving the reader in the dark for long. While we dive straight into the story from the beginning, my hunger to read more was out of intrigue rather than confusion. One funny anecdote that lies SOLELY on my own lack of reading comprehension is that I thought someone died that wound up alive and well several chapters later. 😂😂😂 I went back and clearly saw that I missed the word “messenger.” I am glad I was wrong!

I think the reason this book spoke to me so deeply is that it deals with the very real anxieties of seeking truth and justice, and just how far we will go to achieve those ends. It’s the anxiety-ridden coming-of-age story that translates really well to my life presently. (Of course, I am not ruling a kingdom and trying to avenge my father’s death.) Hesina’s story parallels well with my own loss of idealism and my internal struggle to buck against these structures to fight for what’s right.

Overall there are not enough positive things that I can say about this book: it’s fast paced and captivating from the first page with intricate worldbuilding that is doled out in just the right doses and characters that you cannot help but love. The twists and reveals will keep you guessing and gasping until the very end, and then have you craving more of this story. I sincerely hope that He gets to share more with us, and I will be anxiously waiting to read it & anything else that she writes.

PRE-ORDER CAMPAIGN: Pre-order or submit a library request forDescendant of the Crane by April 9, 2019 to receive character cards! Open internationally.

Many thanks to Albert Whitman Company for sending me an eARC via NetGalley for my honest review! Quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC and may not match final publication.

🤝 This was a group read with a bunch of bloggers on the Bookish Collision server, and it was a BLAST to have OMG chats with you all!

Descendant of the Crane by Joan HeGoodreads Synopsis

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?


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Hi! I’m Kaleena: book lover, runner, wanderer, and philanthropist. Life is an adventurous gift: through the outdoors and books. I run Reader Voracious Blog, where I post spoiler-free book reviews of science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mystery & thriller.

56 thoughts on “Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

  1. I really liked this one too! I think my favorite parts were watching how Hesina’s investigation affected (and was affected by) court politics and how Hesina, even as empress, didn’t have absolute power to do as she wished.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AHHH I am glad you liked this book too! And yes you touch on something that I also appreciated now that you mention it. I like when there are consequences to decisions being made because it feels REAL and adds to tension (same things in The Fever King), but also that power is never unchecked. It was an interesting and powerful thing to read.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I need to read DOTC of the crane now!! I honestly feel like the only one who hasn’t read it early, though 😪 netgalley rejected me due to location issues. But ahh, I’m so excited for this!! The author is such a lovely presence on twitter, and she once wrote about how hesina’s story relates to her anxieties as a teenager (anxieties I’m facing now). That along with the fact that this is a chinese inspired fantasy makes me so excited for the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry that you weren’t able to read an early copy, but that just means you get to fall in love with the finished product!!! I missed that thread on Twitter but that is really cool that He was intentional about that; I think this will be a big hit for teenagers who read it. I hope you love it as much as I did!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad you enjoyed this!! And yes, I didn’t really get to it in my review, but I’m glad you brought up the anxiety dimension to DotC because it’s THERE and it’s STRONG and it made Hesina so much more real.

    Greta review! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so excited for this Chinese GOT hahah, I posted an Can’t wait Wednesday post about this one today!


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  5. Yay!! A successful first buddy read for me, it was fun watching everyone’s reactions but I need to be real…I THOUGHT THE SAME THING ON THE ONE CHARACTER ‘DEATH’ I was like ‘wait wuuuuuut’ and had to go back and see what I missed

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was such a fun group read, honestly, even though I fell behind because of The Slump! It is really fun watching everyone read this book though, it was a really great experience. AND OMG I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE!?!?! I literally was SO CONFUSED and was screaming at Izzy like “WHAT?!?!!” and went back to see that it was my own dumbass lack of reading comprehension.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. yes yes yes to all of this! the banter, complex familial relationships and friendships, and there’s just so much going on in general 👀 and when you messaged me confused about whether a certain someone was dead, I honestly couldn’t remember if that was supposed to be a twist, because there are just so many of those (but yes, so glad they survived!) 😂

    I could be wrong, but I seem to recall Joan He saying on Twitter that she started writing DotC as a teenager, which definitely helps explain why the coming-of-age anxiety rings so true! not that it’s unique to teenagers, of course, but I think there’s a special vulnerability that we associate with adolescence and maturation, and that really comes through with Hesina’s narrative in particular. but also holy wow, all the characters are so alive (ALL OF THEM. LET ME LIVE IN DENIAL 🤐) and nuanced and I just want to wrap them all up in blankets and feed them snacks.

    *crosses fingers hoping that DotC does well enough that we get a full series*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I swear as soon as I was introduced to Lilian and the banter began, I knew this book was going to be for me! I just love those kinds of friendships, and I love books with squads. Add in political intrigue and mystery with a dash of anxiety and real-world consequences to decisions, and this was an amazing read! I can understand why you were unsure if it was a twist so your reply makes more sense to me now. I am just an idiot and can’t read.

      Someone else mentions that Joan wrote a thread about the anxieties of teenager on twitter, and that makes a LOT of sense. But you are right that it isn’t just a teenager thing (I am feeling very similar anxiety now), but you’re right that there’s a special vulnerability with adolescence, I need more of this story, so I will be buying 7675454 copies myself

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I had completely written this book off as one I was not interested in. The cover just didn’t draw me in, I didn’t think there would be much action in it or too many interesting or exciting characters. But then I come by and read your review and POW–another book to add to my TBR. I should have KNOWN you would do this to me!! 😛 This is just not a sub-genre that usually draws me in but maybe I need to give it more of a chance; be a little more open-minded. Maybe this is the book to get me started. I do love GoT afterall!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Muahahahaha~! But seriously, I am so honored that my review changed your opinion of the book, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy it as much as I did! I found it incredibly fast paced with tons of action, and the characters must be protected at all cost!


  8. Great review, thanks Kal! I’ve been trying to sort my thoughts for this book and have yet to write my review for it, but I’m so happy that you enjoyed it and found it engaging from start to finish!! 💛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, CW! I really was blown away by this book and enjoyed it so thoroughly, but I know the feeling of needing to sort through feelings on a book all too well. I can’t wait to read your review when I am back to blog hopping! xoxo

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  9. I was already excited about this book, but now I’m even more excited after reading your review. I know I’m going to cry reading this one! It’s okay, at least I’m prepared now. Going to hit pre-order (I can’t pass up swag!).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Omg yes I love this book with each and every piece of my broken heart. Broken cause nobody can survive the wrath of this book andI swear every page had a plot twist and at times I was crying so bad and other times I was throwing my phone at the bed because how dare the book.

    Hah this was such an epic ride! Best book I’ve read in a VERY long time!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve recently read this book and loved it as well! It definitely lived up to the positive feedback that it constantly receives. Descendant of the Crane proper messed up my mind (and emotions) for quite a while. I agree that Joan He has done a fantastic job, not only with the jaw-dropping story, but also with the fantastic worldbuilding and the tridimensional characters as I can’t help be so immersed while reading. And the swag from the pre-order campaign is just so stunning!! Fantastic review, I loved it! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad you also loved the book, this book definitely deserves all the praise it has received! I know what you mean about messing with your emotions, I still get a little choked up when I think about the ending myself. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Luxe!

      Liked by 1 person

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