Fans of political intrigue and machinations, secrets and deceit along the lines of Game of Thrones and the Earth Kingdom Ba Sing Se in Avatar the Last Airbender will find a deliciously well-written story in Joan He’s debut.
Hesina is in turmoil after the death of her father. With a country to run, a mysterious death to uncover, and so much uncertainty about both, what is she to do with so few allies in a court full of corners that hide troubles waiting to bite her in the back?
Bringing together her representative (Akira), her adoptive siblings (Lillian & Caiyain), her brother (Sanjing), and others, Hesina will face much darkness and worry, without and within, in her quest for justice.
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 and alluring 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.
Rating: 4 Stars
CW: death of a parent, scenes involving cutting (voluntary & involuntary), execution by burning/hanging, blood (some scenes potentially gorey)
This is a hard review to write because I so want to just shout about it. The last few chapters had me yelling at my phone because of the developments that kept coming. Let me say now that Joan He is my favorite writer for cliffhangers and chapter endings. They were SUPERB and not just one, oh no. Chapter after chapter and I kept coming back for more, no matter how much my heart started hurting and my brain started twisting around all these new surprises.
The court intrigue from numerous angles, coupled with the trial regarding the murder of Hesina’s father, was pretty interesting. There were some what I think of as “side quests”, like Hesina going on a voyage for political negotiation with a neighboring country, that seemed a bit confusing. It felt like added some slowness to the pacing, though in hindsight the meeting was necessary. It wasn’t that the writing itself became affected, but at that stage the plotting choice made it seem like the story wasn’t sure what it wanted to be: a court drama, an epic travel tale, etc.
Things did get better, though, and Descendant of the Crane because so engaging that it was difficult to put down. Hesina was such a solid character, so well built with her humanity. She had strength, she had weakness, she had so many qualities that built her up into a person that, even with so much put upon her, from a murder trial to betrayals being uncovered and more, she still tried. There were outside forces making her question her very being and still she was doing her best.
I wanted so much for her to succeed as things were going along because you could see that she was a person who could have faith put in her, even if there were others that ended up feeling differently.
The supporting cast was equally as interesting, whether it was Lillian and her good humor and love of Hesina, Sanjin’s bullheaded loyalty, Caiyan’s intelligence, Rou’s utter sweetness. Then, however, there were the shadowy figures of the court: Xia Zhong (Hesina’s Minister of Rites); her own mother. If I as a reader were wary of these people surrounding her, how on earth must have Hesina have felt, trying to govern Yan while dealing with all of these loving and/or suspicious people? It’s enough to wreck the best of us!
Fans of intrigue, of twists, and of mysteries will find such a well woven story that they’ll likely want to go back and start reading Descendant of the Crane all over again once the last page is complete. All the better to pick up every last juicy, well crafted clue Joan He wove into her debut novel.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.