I was really excited to read Descendant of the Crane because of all the hype in the Twitter community, but it fell a little flat for me, which is a shame as I think some people are going to love it! (Also, that cover is amazing!)
Book: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided by NetGalley free of charge. All opinions my own.
I’m always excited for fantasy that explores politics and the complex relationships hidden behind the facades of stable governments, so I thought I was going to love this. Hesina, the princess, must attempt to solve her father’s murder while also attempting to begin her new rule, despite an unsupportive Dowager Empress and a bunch of questionable acts in the empire’s history. Murder aside, magic users have been oppressed and persecuted, and there’s a very complicated set of siblings involved in the succession, so there’s plenty of space for things to go wrong!
Unfortunately, I simply wasn’t invested enough in Hesina to be particularly fussed about the various intrigues and betrayals of her life. I think that a deeper look into her interior thoughts and feelings at the beginning would have set this up so that I cared more about what happened to her, because I honestly felt a little like I’d tuned into a film a third of the way in, and never quite caught up on why anything was a big deal. The stakes are high and have international effects, but we see so few characters that I felt very detached from the danger and importance of certain actions, and Hesina often seemed to be operating completely in the dark. Everything is very limited to Hesina’s viewpoint, which is clever in showing her confusion as she comes up against complicated history and politics, and I think this would have been much more enjoyable for me if I had cared about her.
The descriptions of the architecture and clothing are lovely and vivid, and the Chinese-inspired setting is unusual in YA fantasy without being added for the sake of diversity. I liked that there was minimal romance. I would have loved if the story had kept to the single line of the investigation into the king’s murder, as the courtroom scene near the start of the story is one of the most interesting in the book. I think this mostly comes down to a matter of taste – I was hoping for something twisty and political, like The Goblin Emperor, and I got something much more YA coming-of-age-y. In fact, it really reminded me of Ash Princess. It’s no bad thing, but it didn’t suit me. Three out of five cats, with a caveat that with different expectations you may read a wholly different book!