Title: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Publication date: April 2019
Hardcover: 416 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone but with a lot of potential for more.
How did I get this book: Borrowed (Sribd)
Format (e- or p-): Audiobook
This book was bonkers and I say that with the deepest appreciation for the wild rollercoaster of emotions I experienced reading it. The TWISTS, they were many, coming fast, strong and unrelenting.
In the Kingdom of Yan, peace and prosperity have come after the Eleven unseated the evil Emperor hundreds of years before and left the precepts that the new kingdom is based on: belief in fairness and in the truth. The Eleven were heroes who ended the tyranny of an empire that relied on the power of the sooths – people with power to see the future – for control. When the Eleven slaughtered the sooths, it was a good, necessary thing and now hundreds of years later, there should be no more sooths left. But there are always those who remain, in hiding and in fear – for if you are discovered to be a sooth, you die. If you are discovered to have talked to a sooth, you die by one thousand lashes.
Princess Hesina is the daughter of a beloved father, the benevolent King of Yan. She grew up being tutored by her father with her mother largely absent from her life. It is her father that instils in her a belief for the fairness of their system and the rightfulness of their kingdom. Her brothers and sister – some by blood, some adopted are equally beloved and important figures in her life and court.
When the King suddenly dies, Hesina is the only one who believes he has been murdered. As their new Queen, she finds she has the power to start an investigation. But her decision comes after a gamble, the most dangerous gamble of all: she consults with a sooth, illicitly, despite the danger to her own life. She is told to pursue the truth and that she needs the help of “the criminal with a rod” and that he should be her representative at court, the investigator who will prove her father has been murdered. In the palace’s prison, the finds the mysterious Akira, a criminal with a delectable penchant for knowledge. The two start working together and what follows next is the aforementioned rollercoaster.
A Chinese-inspired fantasy featuring political and court intrigue, a murder mystery with courtroom drama, an examination of the very mythology that surrounds the foundation of a kingdom, the limits of truth, knowledge and of familial bond. With a side of sweet, slow-burning romance between Hesina and Akira and a main character who does nothing at all according to what others expect of her – her very unpredictable nature works as a mirror to the unpredictably of the plot. Her relationship with her brothers and sister, all in different ways is beautiful if fraught with difficulties relating to their position in court.
Hesina’s staunch belief in fairness never wavers but it changes in how it is performed and based on the new facts she comes to learn not only about her father’s death but also about the very foundation of the kingdom. Who were the Eleven really and is genocide ever a good thing? This is not a book that pulls punches, the truth is ugly, deaths and unfairness happen as Hesina struggles to find a way through while trying to maintain order and keep the throne and her people safe. The question of who exactly are her people is part and parcel of this really clever, thought-provoking, engaging and ever so surprising book with the very best of unreliable narratives.
Rating: 9 – Fantastic