Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

by Joan He


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"Deep world-building, magical family secrets, and intricate palace politics—Descendant of the Crane soars from page one. Its twists and treacheries kept me guessing until the very end."—Rachel Hartman, New York Times bestselling author of Seraphina

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 enlists 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807515518
Publisher: Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date: 04/09/2019
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 18,405
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.60(d)
Lexile: HL690L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Joan He was born and raised in Philadelphia but still will, on occasion, lose her way. At a young age, she received classical instruction in oil painting before discovering that stories were her favorite kind of art. She studied psychology and Chinese history at the University of Pennsylvania and currently writes from a desk overlooking the city waterfront. Descendant of the Crane is her young adult debut.

Read an Excerpt


What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.

ONE of the ELEVEN on truth

Truth? Why, it's a lie in disguise.

TWO of the ELEVEN on truth

No night was perfect for treason, but this one came close. The three-day mourning ritual had ended; most had gone home to break the fast. Those who lingered in the city streets kept their eyes trained on the Eastern Gate, where the queen would be making her annual return.

Then came the mist. It rolled down the neighboring Shanlong Mountains and embalmed the limestone boulevards. When it descended into the bowels of the palace, so did the girl and her brother.

They emerged from the secret passageways the girl knew well — too well, perhaps, given her identity — and darted between courtyard compounds and walled wards, venturing toward the market sectors. When they arrived at the red-light district's peeling archway, an ember sparked in the girl's stomach. Some came to the seediest business quarter of the imperial city to buy warmth. But she?

She had come to buy justice.

Her brother held her back before she could cross. "Milady —"

She cut him an exasperated look. If he called her "milady" out here, he might as well call her Princess Hesina. "Yes, Caiyan?"

"We can still go back."

Hesina's fingers closed around the glass vial dangling from her silk broad-belt. They could. She could let her resolve fade like the wisp of poison bottled in the vial. That would be easy. Figuring out how to live with herself afterward ... not so much.

Grip hardening, she turned to her brother. He looked remarkably calm for someone risking death by a thousand cuts — crisply dressed despite the rough-hewn hanfu, every dark hair of his topknot in place.

"Having doubts?" She hoped he'd say yes. After all, this was Yan Caiyan. At fifteen, Caiyan had passed the civil service examinations. At seventeen, he'd become a viscount of the imperial court. At nineteen, his reputation was unparalleled, his mind more so. He would be making the first bad decision of his life for her.

Now he countered her question with one of his own. "How would you find the way?"

"Excuse me?"

Caiyan raised a brow. "You're hoping that I'll say 'yes' so you can proceed alone. But that wasn't our agreement. I am to lead the whole way, or I don't take you to this person at all."

Our agreement. Only Caiyan could make treason sound so bland.

"I won't be able to protect you." Hesina scuffed one foot over the other under the hem of her ruqun. "If we're caught ... if someone sees us ..."

A man bellowed an opera under the tiled eave of a dilapidated inn, and something porcelain shattered, but Caiyan's voice still cleaved the night. "You don't have to protect me, milady." Red lantern light edged his profile as he looked into the distance. "He was my father too."

A lump formed in Hesina's throat. She did have to protect him, in the same way her father — their father — had. You can't possibly touch all the lives in this world, he'd told her that winter day ten years ago when he'd brought the twins — slum urchins, one thin girl and one feverish boy — into theirs. But if you can lift someone with your two hands, that is enough.

Hesina wasn't lifting Caiyan up; she was leading him astray. But when he reached for her hand, she held on, to her dismay. The confidence in his grip grounded her, and they crossed into the district together.

They entered a world of slanted teahouses and inns, brothels and pawnshops clustered like reeds on a panpipe. Men and women spilled out of the paper-screened doors, half-clothed and swinging certain appendages. Hesina averted her gaze and pressed closer to Caiyan.

"It'll get better up ahead." Caiyan had once called streets worse than these home, and he guided them around peddlers with impressive ease. He didn't pay any mind to the occasional beggar, not even the one who tailed them down the block.

"Beware the night," cried the man, shaking coins in a cracked ding pot. Hesina slowed, but Caiyan tugged her along. "Beware the rains, the crown, and the sight!"

"Ignore him." Caiyan's gaze glowed with focus. "He speaks of the bygone dynasty."

But on a night like this one, the past felt uncomfortably close. Hesina shivered, thinking of an era three centuries ago, when peasants had drowned in summer floods and perished in winter famines. The relic emperors had pursued concubines, conquests, and concoctions for immortality, while their imperial soothsayers used their ability to See the future to cut down resistance before it could sprout. As for the sick and the starving, too weak to resist, the sooths placated them with visions of the brilliant tomorrows to come.

And they did come — at the hands of eleven scrappy outlaws who climbed the Ning Mountains, crossed the Kendi'an dunes, breached the imperial walls, and beheaded the last relic emperor on his very throne. They emancipated serfs and set them to work on dikes and embankments. Storms calmed. Floods drained. They opened the doors of education to women and commoners, and their disciples circulated the former outlaws' philosophies in a book called the Tenets. The people of Yan called them the Eleven. Legends. Saviors. Heroes.

"Beware the devil of lies."

Of course, heroes cannot be forged without villains: the emperor's henchmen, the sooths. The Eleven rooted them out by their unique blood, which evaporated quicker than any human's and ignited blue. They burned tens of thousands at the stake to protect the new era from their machinations.

Whatever the reason, murder was murder. The dead were dead. Hating the sooths, as the people continued to do, made little sense to Hesina. But occasionally, like now, with the beggar barking ominous warnings, her pity for the sooths hatched into fear and multiplied like termites, eating away at her conception of a sooth until it collapsed and a new one rose in its place with a faceless head attached to a charred body, an eyeless, toothless monster straight from the Ten Courts of Hell.

By the time Hesina forced out the image in her head, the beggar was gone. Another had taken his place and resumed the chants — in an all-too-familiar female voice.

"Beware the one you leave behind."

Oh no.

Hesina whirled as a hooded figure strode toward them.

"My, my. What do we have here?" The newcomer circled Hesina. "I like the linen ruqun. Very commoner-esque. As for you ..." She flung aside Caiyan's cloak and frowned at the plain hanfu beneath. "This is how you try to pass as a sprightly nineteen-year-old in search of a romp? What are you, a broke scholar?"

Caiyan tugged his cloak back in place. "We're going to a music house."

The newcomer placed a hand against her hip. "I thought you said 'brothel.'"

"I said no such thing."

"I could have sworn —"

"I thought," Hesina gritted out, overcoming her shock and glaring at Caiyan, "you were to say nothing about this to anyone. "

Caiyan, in turn, glared at the newcomer. "You said you wouldn't come if I told you."

"You should have known better!" cried Hesina, and Caiyan pinched the bridge of his nose.

"I know, milady. Forgive me."

"Now there, Na-Na." The newcomer lowered her hood and fluffed out her braids. Pinned back like a pair of butterfly wings and woven through with bright ribbons, the braids were a signature part of Yan Lilian's style. So was the mischief in her eyes, a shade of chestnut slightly lighter than her twin Caiyan's. "The stone-head tried. It's not his fault that I blackmailed him. Besides, did you really think I'd let you commit treason without me?"

Hesina wasn't sure whether to be angry or miserable. "This isn't a game."

"You promised." Caiyan sounded mostly miserable.

Lilian ignored him and faced Hesina. "Of course it's not a game. It's a dangerous, important mission befitting a threesome. Look at it this way: you need one person to hear this forbidden wisdom, one to watch the door for intruders, and one to beat up the intruders."

"Send her away," Hesina ordered Caiyan.

Lilian danced out of Caiyan's reach. "I could still tell all your high-minded court friends that the illustrious Yan Caiyan reads erotic novellas in his spare time. Who's the latest favorite? Wang Hutian?"

Caiyan made a strangled sound. Lilian laughed. Hesina was silent, fixated on how their shadows had lengthened under the moonlight.

They were losing time.

"Let's walk," said Lilian, as if reading Hesina's mind. She linked their arms. "You can try to get rid of me on the way."

Hesina knew better than to try. They proceeded in silence, the low-lying shops on either side of them giving way to taller, pillared structures. The song of zithers and pipa lutes replaced drunken improvisations.

"You shouldn't have come," Hesina finally said.

"What's life without a bit of danger?"

"Be serious."

"I am, Na-Na." Like a real sister, Lilian still used Hesina's diminutive name long after she'd outgrown it. "Father might be gone, but he won't be forgotten. Not with us here."

"That's ..." Comforting. Frightening, that Hesina had more loved ones to lose. "Thank you," she finished hoarsely.

"Well, we might not be here for much longer, since meeting with this person may end in death by a thousand cuts."


"Sorry. Sorry. Pretend I didn't say that."

Ahead of them, Caiyan stopped in front of a three-tiered building. From the outside, it resembled one of the celestial pagodas rumored to exist back when gods walked the earth. But inside, it was every bit a music house. Beaded curtains fell from the balustrades. Private rooms blushed behind latticework screens. The namesake music — plucked and bowed — rippled through the air. The levity of it all fanned Hesina's anxiety.

"Don't look anyone in the eye," Caiyan instructed as they crossed the raised threshold and came into the antechamber. "And don't take off the hood of your cloak," he ordered, right before lowering his.

"Welcome to the Yellow Lotus," said a madam, weaving toward them through flocks of painted girls and boys. Her smiling, moonlike face dimmed when she got closer. "Ah," she said, eyeing Caiyan in particular. "First time at this establishment, I presume?"

Lilian coughed.

"Let's see ..." The madam scanned the courtesans. "The White Peony might be to your liking —"

"We're here to meet the Silver Iris," cut in Caiyan.

The madam frowned. "The Silver Iris is our most highly sought-after entertainer."

"So I've heard."

"She has mastered the golden triad of calligraphy, music, and dance."

"Again, so I've heard."

"She is choosy with patrons and has limited hours." The madam leaned in and, with a long, emerald-varnished fingernail, extracted a loose thread from Caiyan's cloak. "Her gifts are wasted on the likes of you."

Hesina gulped.

Without batting an eye, Caiyan withdrew a brocade purse. "Is this enough?"

The madam snatched it, loosened the drawstring, and peered in. Hesina couldn't tell what the woman was thinking, and as the madam bounced the purse up and down in her ringed hand, she sweated through her underclothes.

At last, the madam scrunched the purse shut. "Come with me."

As she led them up a set of purple zitan -wood stairs and rapped on one of the many doors lining the second-floor corridor, Hesina resisted the urge to pinch herself. For five nights, she'd tormented herself with questions. Was it right to do this? Was it wrong? If it was, then was she angry enough, sad enough, selfish enough to see it through regardless? She didn't know. She'd gotten this far, and she still didn't know. But now only one question remained: Was she was brave enough to hear the truth?

Hesina knew her answer.

The madam rapped again, harder, and a husky voice unfurled from within. "Yes?"

"You have guests."

"How many?"

"Two," said Lilian. She leaned against the wall beside the door. "I'll be right out here."

"Have they paid?"

The madam moistened her lips. "They have."

"Leave them, then."

Nothing happened immediately after the madam departed. The doors didn't open. Demons didn't descend from the beamed ceiling to exact their punishment, but as they waited, Hesina's mind produced demons of its own. Maybe they'd been followed. Maybe someone had recognized her. Maybe —

The doors parted, and her demons fled, replaced by the face of treason.

It was an exquisite face. Ageless. Pearlescent. Silver-lidded eyes skimmed past Hesina and landed on Caiyan. Rose-tinted lips crimped in displeasure, and Hesina had all of a heartbeat to wonder how, exactly, Caiyan was acquainted with a courtesan before she was ushered past the doors. The courtesan bolted them, the ivory dowel falling into place like the final note of a song.

Sometimes, when Hesina was nervous, she would laugh. As her body began to betray her, she focused on something other than the tickling tension in her chest. The chamber was cluttered enough that it forced her to slow and take everything in. A gallery of pipa hung on the walls, their scrolled necks knuckled with ivory frets, strings drawn tight over their pear-shaped bellies. Scrolls of four-word couplets papered the remaining space. To her embarrassment, Hesina only recognized one from her studies.

Downward unbridled water flows;
Upward unrealized dreams float.

"I assume you'll want to skip the tea."

Hesina nearly jumped at the Silver Iris's voice, which was as metallic as her name.

"That's correct," said Caiyan, standing against the door.

"Then let's have a little demonstration, shall we?"

That won't be necessary, Hesina imagined saying with grace and magnanimity, but it was a lie, and the Silver Iris knew it. A hairpin was already in the courtesan's hand. She pushed her finger into its needle-sharp tip, then held the pin over an unlit candle. A bead of blood fell and burst on the wick.

A wisp.

A spark.

A flicker.

The wick ignited into blue flame.

Hesina's vision swam. The flame blurred, but stayed blue.

Blue. Blue. Blue.

"A nice parlor trick, don't you think?" asked the Silver Iris. Her tone was conversational, but her gaze picked Hesina apart, straight to the core of who she was: a descendant of murderers.

Hesina's stomach clenched. She wasn't supposed to think the Eleven cruel. They'd built a kinder era, a fairer era — one where a person was judged by their honest work, not the number of sooths and nobles they knew. Everyone was promised rights by the law — everyone but the soothsayers, who had manipulated the public for so many centuries. Death by a thousand cuts was considered kind for them ... and for the people who employed the sooths for their gifts.

People like Hesina.

The Silver Iris sat and gestured for her to do the same. Weak at the knees, Hesina sank onto the silk-cushioned stool. She realized, somewhat belatedly, that she had yet to reveal her face. The disguise seemed silly now. A child's game. She looked to Caiyan in question while Silver Iris swaddled her finger with a handkerchief.

The Silver Iris spoke before Caiyan could. "So tell me, Princess Hesina." She balled up the bloodied handkerchief and tossed it into the brazier at their feet, where it promptly burst into flame. "What is it that you wish to see?"


Too much of a thing — be it success or power — rots the heart.

ONE of the ELEVEN on soothsayers

They had no hearts to begin with.

TWO of the ELEVEN on soothsayers

With shaking hands, Hesina pushed back her hood.

She had come to see the future. The unknown. Yet for a second, all she could see was her father, lying in the iris beds, wearing his courier costume. She wasn't sure how long she'd waited. Waited for him to rise and yawn, to tell her how lovely it was to stroll through the grounds in disguise. Waited for herself to wake when he never did.

That day, Hesina had watched as the Imperial Doctress took up a scalpel, splitting the dead king's stomach like a fish. There was nothing to find, not at first. The Imperial Doctress concluded that the king's death was of natural causes before puttering off to the adjacent chamber.

If only she had stayed a second longer to witness the golden gas rising from the slit. If she had believed when Hesina tried to show her the wisp in the vial, then Hesina wouldn't be here. Her hands wouldn't be clenched in her skirts just as they'd been clenched around the Doctress's robes.

Her voice wouldn't be so strained when she asked the Silver Iris, "Who killed my father?"


Excerpted from "Descendant of the Crane"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Joan He.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Descendant of the Crane 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
ShesGoingBookCrazy 3 months ago
I received an ARC for this book in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss. Thank you! In no way does this affect my rating or review. I’ve let this book marinade and simmer for a while before writing my review. To be completely honest, Istill don’t know how I feel about it. While I did enjoy Descendant of the Crane, it simply didn’t resonate with me as I hoped it would. There were definitely magical elements throughout, but not represented as prominently as hoped. Moreover, Descendant of the Crane is really centered around solving a mystery–a murder mystery. "But nothing squelched childish fantasies quite like inheriting the throne. Learning to rule was an all-consuming pastime." Princess Hesina is the daughter of the King of Yan (a state in China during the Zhou dynasty in the 11th century, BC). After her father is suddenly passes away, Hesina immediately believes there is foul play involved and is drawn to investigate his death further. Her investigations, however, force her to seek a soothsayer’s help–which in this fantasy realm, is treasonous–especially for someone in her position. Still new to her station as queen, Hesina quickly learns that politics are ugly. Nothing is a simply, monochromatic, or entirely un/just. Upon Hesina’s secret meeting with the soothsayer, she learns that the person who will help her uncover her father’s murder is a criminal himself. This attachment obviously poses issues for Hesina, seeing how she is the queen. But what would a YA story be without a love-interest, and a forbidden one at that!? Akira, the criminal, also happens to be a handy investigator. With his skillset, the unlikely duo delve into the events of the past in order to uncover the truth. This investigation, however, comes with many difficulties. The more that is uncovered, the more vast and deep the plot dives. Since magic is illegal, Hesina is caught in a dangerous web. She realizes that those who have power easily have the power to hurt others. This aspect of the story is pivotal in Hesina’s growth as an individual and queen. It is the root that feeds her blossoming. I think this is one of the strongest points portrayed throughout Descendant of the Crane. In general, I liked the way Hesina’s character was portrayed. However, I found that she felt reduced, along with pretty much everything else in the plot. The age of the characters was a bit unrealistic, and is a big reason why this book would be so much better as an adult fiction instead of YA. I felt the plot was held back by YA-level qualms–like the “ironic” love interest. While I liked Hesina, there were definite inconsistencies in her character due to the way she was placed in the story. One huge issue that I had was that the crane itself was barely discussed! I feel that if a book’s title, cover, and brief lore is going to include such a symbol, more of the actual crane needs to be included. Let’s be honest here–this cover is just gorgeous! But, I wish the story represented it more. Despite its areas of difficulty, Descendant of the Crane has a great plot when it comes to creativity, along with beautiful writing. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel swept away by this story as much as I had hoped. I simply couldn’t invest myself in the story. I may check out the sequel, and will hope for something more to grasp my attention. Vulgarity: Minimal. Sexual content: Minimal. Violence: Moderate. My Rating: ★★★1/2
Elena_L 3 months ago
"Descendant of the crane" is an epic fantasy that centers around the Chinese Imperial Court: when the Emperor is found dead and Princess Hesina of Yan believes that her father was murdered, she is determined to find the actual killer. This Chinese-inspired fantasy created by Joan He is absolutely fabulous: rich in details and quite loyal to the Chinese culture, this book approaches a lot of relevant themes such as mysticism, betrayal, political intrigue, war and complex family relationship. To begin, I really enjoyed the complicated family dynamics portrayed in this book - it covers well the different importance of each member of the royal family, emphasizing the inferiority of some members according to its birthright. The mysticism was very realistic and it is interesting how it still influences the thoughts and actions of the Chinese modern society. Also, I adored the way that the author described the Imperial Court: the constant struggle of Hesina between her duty (and role) as a queen and her own desires was perfectly delivered in this book, as much as the political conflicts and blackmails which were so common in that period. I totally loved the Investigation Bureau: Hesina's thirst for justice and truth plus the plot twists made the storyline compelling. I felt connected with every character - each one well crafted and developed in an unique and captivating way. I mostly enjoyed Hesina and Akira - Hesina for her resilience and steadfast attitude throughout the story and I found myself drawn into Akira's mysterious and secret life. Each chapter was opening with quotes that turned out to be pieces essential to understand the whole plot. Furthermore, the many Chinese passages about law were utterly inspiring and impactful. I have to also mention that maintaining the Chinese terms/slang only contributed to increase the originality of the story. Lastly, the book cover is one of the most gorgeous. I can still mention so many good things about this book but I don't want to give it all. "Descendant of the crane" is beautifully written and I am looking forward to a possible sequel. Plot: 5/5 Writing: 5/5 Characters: 5/5 [I received an ARC from Albert Whitman in exchange for an honest review]
alyzzp 4 months ago
I received a free eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This by no means affected my opinion of it. I must say, I was one of DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE's biggest fans out there. I was drawn to the blurb and cover, and ready for a good read. Unfortunately, what could have been a great book was marred by its own dragged-out pacing and repetitive nature. On the surface, DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE is elegantly written with beautiful, lush cinematic prose you could get lost in. But that is precisely the problem: the writing meanders on and on and you feel as though you have been reading forever. Another thing I had a quibble with was even when the chapters picked up steam, it felt like elements were missing here and there as if the storyline was rushed to compensate for the lost time! I did, however, enjoy the worldbuilding. It is utterly Chinese and does not fall into the trap of being culturally diverse by name or language only, like so many other YA books out there. If only Joan He sprinkled the same magic onto her characters - they were rather weak and lacked significant development or complexity. Hesina also does come across as rather shallow and naive at times, which I dare say lessened my love for the book. I did love the twists and political atmosphere, though it was not nearly as intriguing as the 'Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones' pitch made it seem. In short, my Chinese soul hurts, but I am willing to read the sequel to this disappointing but nevertheless entertaining story.
taramichelle 4 months ago
Descendant of the Crane is Joan He’s debut novel and I absolutely loved it. I’d expected to like this one but this surpassed even my high expectations for it. I finished Descendant of the Crane last night and I already want to reread it. I thought I knew how the story would go but at almost every point I was wrong. He does a fantastic job of taking fantasy tropes and adding a dash of magic to create something new. Plus the world-building was good (with the potential for it to really expand in the future books). The plot was this great mix of murder mystery and coming-of-age tale that kept me engrossed from the very first chapter. It started off a tad slower but that really worked since it allowed the author to lay a solid foundation for an intense finale. The characters were also all so vibrant. Hesina really jumped off the page for me and I loved seeing how she grew and changed throughout the novel. We mostly see the other characters through their relationship with Hesina but I thought that added an interesting element. I was never 100% sure if how she saw/interacted with the characters was actually representative of who they are. So it was fascinating to see how everything unfolded. I’d recommend this one if you’re looking for a YA fantasy that feels fresh and new. I’m going to be keeping my fingers crossed that a sequel is announced soon! *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Descendant of the Crane is about Princess Hesina, soon to take on the role of Queen, who is on a mission to find out who murdered her father. Her investigations start to reveal more and more political turmoil within and without her kingdom, and more traitors among her own advisors than she thought. I love love love the world building of this book, even within the first twenty pages itself. There is a rich history just beneath the surface that has me itching to pick up and finish this book at odd and inappropriate times of the day and night. The character relationships read as strong and deep, with complex familial and political bonds to bolder and destroy them at a moment's notice. I find that the comparison to Game of Thrones sells this book short. While the far reaching political and fantastical network has the breadth of Game of Thrones, the culture puts Descendant of the Crane in an entirely different stratosphere. Culture is the core of this book and that is what feeds into the narrative of this book, not the other way around. I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have read of Descendant of the Crane and cannot wait to finish this book!!
TheLiteraryPhoenix 4 months ago
I want to start off this review by refuting the claim that it’s a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones. I honestly believe that got me in the wrong mindset from the beginning, because that comparison left me wanting so much more. Descendant of the Crane features a fairly messed up royal family, but otherwise, this is its own thing. The opening of the story is great. We start just after the death of the king. The atmosphere is gloomy and unpredictable, even dangerous. The main characters steal into a disreputable district to seek forbidden magic. It’s a great beginning. It pulled me right me. The characters we meet are distinct and interesting – the desperate princess, her cautious adopted brother, and the sarcastic adopted sister. They’re well-matched and interesting together. After the opening scene, my interest started to wane. Characters that were interesting at first failed to develop. For me, Lillian was the most interesting of the collection. She spoke with a more unique voice than the others, and added a bit of lilt to the dialogue. The main character, Hesina, waffled back and forth between what she believed and what she wanted. The ultimate betrayal was so flat that I couldn’t bother to be surprised. It was all so… underwhelming. If I had to pick, it was the plot that really lost me. The story is supposed to follow the king’s murder trial, but the scenes in the courtroom are few and far between. The way the trial is treated and manipulated made the whole thing feel like a joke. At its core, the trial didn’t matter anyway, because Hesina was always off doing her own thing and getting her own answers. In fact, the entire plot of this novel was about the young queen and a greedy advisor having it out behind the scenes and pulling the strings of the system to get what they wanted. It was petty and uninteresting. What was interesting was the magic. I wanted to know a lot more about the magical system, and I wanted to see more of the sooths. The sooths were central to the story, and yet, they only seemed to pop up when there needed to be a moment of political hysteria. All the interesting bits of the story surrounded the magic-users, how they had been hunted, and the future different rulers wanted for them… but Hesina was all over the place. And because of her uncertainty, the plot was all over the place. Sometimes she was looking for murderers, sometimes she was having spats with siblings. Sometimes she was parading for her people and sometimes she was lecturing about the history of her kingdom. I wish the story was more focused, because a lot of things were happening, but most of them felt very irrelevant. Also the ending? The ending was anti-climatic. It may work if this is intended to be a series, but honestly, I don’t know if I would read on? If you’re looking for an intense Chinese inspired fantasy about war and magic and injustice, I suggest The Poppy War. It’s not all bad, but I think my main takeaway from Descendant of the Crane was that it could have been so much more. And I feel like kind of a jerk leaving a less-than-favorable review. This debut is getting overwhelmingly positive reviews. And I am so so glad readers are enjoying it. But I’m also seeing that a lot of these reviews are from critique partners and the social media squad, so go in with in open mind, and you’ll probably like it more than if you go in expecting the next George R. R. Martin.
OpinionatedTurnip 4 months ago
What I Liked UMMMMM okay... WOW??? This book was amazing. The cast of characters is so rich and distinct, the magic of the sooths is unique and tragic, and the political workings of the palace kind of made my head spin. Hesina is relatably steadfast, stubborn, and means to do good. The twists all along the way were wonderful. Some I saw coming, and some came out of nowhere, and some were like... Me: Hey what if such-and-such happens? Me: Nah that would never-- Book: IT HAPPENS Me: WHAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTTT What I Would Have Liked to See Sometimes the action was unclear, but that might have been because I was reading too fast because I needed to see what happened next!! My Favorite! Lilian! Her attitude, her style, that comic relief. LILIAN! TL;DR When Hesina's king father dies under mysterious circumstances, she must be the queen her kingdom needs while trying to figure out the truth of his death. But sometimes truths are better left unlearned, and secrets are better left buried.
Anonymous 5 months ago
I enjoyed this story so so much. It was one that made me want to sit and keep reading, and I was incredibly annoyed when I had to put it down to do things. Although there were somethings that I didn't care for, it is one of my favorites of the year so far! It is FULL of twists and turns, (As soon as you think you know what is going on, BAM, she hits you with something else!) political intrigue, court room drama and more. Hesina, you sweet girl. She is one of the more relatable characters that I have read in a while. You see her struggling with self-doubt, fighting with herself and the choices, both good and bad that she has to make. You really get to see her develop, and grow into her own. She really wants to do the best by her people and her father, all while staying true to herself, which is interesting to see develop. There is one side character, Lilian, who I enjoyed. She is fun and sassy and adds that little something to the story. The rest of the characters where just kind of meh for me. No one really stood out and they seemed kind of one dimensional. I also didn't quite get the romance. There is no build up and it doesn't feel like it is supposed to be there, if that makes and sense at all. The Sooths and the their magic system seem so interesting, but for me I felt like there wasn't enough. Maybe in a next book? I really liked the writing. I thought that everything flowed nicely and I didn't struggle through it. The setting (in my mind) was beautiful! I had to look up some of the names of buildings and clothing, which I know bothers some people (why?) but since I am not familiar with the culture, I wanted to make sure that I was getting everything out of this as I could! So, what I am trying to say here is that once I understood what certain things were and looked like, everything came together and I thought it was a beautiful world! The ending is amazing and set things up for another book. Here's the thing though. We don't know if there is going to be another book. Which honestly would be so disappointing if publishers don't follow through (I think the author wrote this with multiple books in mind.) Joan He, the author, explains a bit more in this Twitter thread. All I can do is hope that this book/series and author gets everything it deserves. Over all, I loved this book so so much! The only reason I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars is because of some of things I mentioned above. As I have said, I am going to keep my fingers crossed that we get another book! In the mean time, we can make sure we are doing our part by talking about it and supporting the story and Joan He.
Anonymous 5 months ago
This was a captivating book! Descendant of the Crane is a twisty murder trial story. The characters were complicated and each has their own fleshed out backstory. The main character in particular was well done. Hesina has known her entire life she is going to be the next queen but she embraces the role without pretension, although she’s far from perfect. Amongst the clever political maneuvering, action and intrigue, Hesina struggles with tricky moral dilemmas. She must figure out how to resolve her own ideals with the conflicting values of her country and its institutions. The ending of this book in particular was ridiculously good and has me eager for more.
Anonymous 5 months ago
This was a captivating book! Descendant of the Crane is a twisty murder trial story. The characters were complicated and each has their own fleshed out backstory. The main character in particular was well done. Hesina has known her entire life she is going to be the next queen but she embraces the role without pretension, although she’s far from perfect. Amongst the clever political maneuvering, action and intrigue, Hesina struggles with tricky moral dilemmas. She must figure out how to resolve her own ideals with the conflicting values of her country and its institutions. The ending of this book in particular was ridiculously good and has me eager for more.
Anonymous 5 months ago
This is by far the most utterly compelling and profound YA novel I have read to date. It evoked my senses with lush descriptions and imagery of ancient Chinese dynasty opulence, opened my eyes to the richness of one’s culture, broke my heart, and lovingly helped me pick up the pieces. He really made a name for herself with this debut novel, and I hope that she is told that every day. In DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE, we follow seventeen-year old Princess Hesina of the Yan Dynasty into solving the spiraling conspiracy that her father’s death was a murder. After being crowned queen, Hesina uses everything in her power to capture the culprit and bring justice to a king who did not deserve to die. However, while Hesina desires the truth, she eventually finds herself questioning whether or not it was worth discovering it at all. We explore significant themes in this book: loyalty, loss, grief, and truth—there is never a shortage of introspective pieces in the the story that encourage us to look inward just as much as Hesina. He offers no room for us to navigate carefully through these themes. They confront us in the eyes and refuse to look away. But if there was one theme that stood out above all else, it was on truth: “What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good kings pay gold for it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.” — ONE of the ELEVEN on Truth ‘Truth? Why, it’s a lie in disguise.”—TWO of the ELEVEN on Truth More often than not, it’s easier to seek the comfort of a lie and tuck the truth into a corner. For Hesina, refusing to accept a lie was impossible—which was both her greatest strength and most heartbreaking downfall. If you want a heroine that is able to adapt to her circumstances and has the resilience to constantly face trauma, loneliness, and loss—but triumphs above all else—look no further than Hesina Yan. The truth does many things to her, which at times, made me feel that truth itself was a multi-dimensional character as well. I think what made Hesina such an incredible protagonist besides her unapologetic resilience is the fact that she feels human to us. She isn’t perfect nor always knows what to do, but she is willing to admit to herself that her shortcomings can only make her stronger and that one’s own reality is the worst thing to face. We relate to her, we laugh and cry when she does, and we want to throw our Kindle/book across a room because there are many moments she experiences that causes us to feel both rage and empathy for her. The fellow cast of characters are just as well-written as Hesina. Every character in this book is complex; there never feels that there is one true hero or villain—and Hesina is no exception to the matter. You will always question who you should trust as the reader which made each twist and turn unpredictable. This book is also celebration of the rich cultural history of ancient China. You feel the love He put in the world-building which will make you develop an appreciation for the beauty of the past. It such a treat to read every description about an item or moment of time, whether it was about a delicate crane hairpin, a ruqun sleeve sewn with the finest metals, and even the bedroom of an elusive courtesan. In sum: I have nothing but praise for this novel. If you’re willing to have your heart snatched away and transported to another place, DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE will gladly do both for you.
Ana111 5 months ago
I'm not sure I can accurately describe how stunning this book is. Beautiful prose so artfully woven it reads like one's own thoughts. Flawless world-building. Believable character growth. It is a story of a girl who aims to get justice for her father's murder, but it is also so much more. It is a story about loss, betrayal, heartbreak, prejudice, and hope. It is about humanity, the good and the bad, and learning to grow, seeking the truth, fighting for change despite what the past dictates. Descendant of the Crane is extraordinary.
ALilReader 5 months ago
I had high hopes for this book, and I was SO excited when I was given an early reader e-copy, I just wish I had finished it sooner! This is how I summarize Descendant of the Crane: Hessina, a reluctant and yet capable Princess is forced into ruling her kingdom. She finds out that her kingdom has many MANY secrets, and she must decide if she wants to rule the kingdom as it has been ruled for hundreds of years, or if changes should be made. I love her growth as a character throughout the book. I love her vulnerability and strength as well as her willingness to learn and sacrifice for others. I truly connected with Hessina. I also enjoyed the twists and turns that the story took. Unexpected things happened, and even when I wasn't happy about the events, they made for wonderful plot twists! This is a book that I want to own in physical form asap! Thank you SO much NetGalley and AWTeen for the opportunity to read this book!
ElleRudy 5 months ago
This book gave me so much whiplash--especially at the end! Part magical fantasy, part courtroom drama and part murder investigation, there's a lot of plot in this one. The question of who killed the king is dangled over us as the new queen has to attempt to navigate her country's legal system as well as the court of public opinion. Hesina additionally goes up against her own advisors, ministers and even her own people. There's a complex political structure in Yan that did away with the 'unquestioned tyrannical king' that usually exist in stories like this, which I really appreciated. There's also a religious cult-like mindset that invades the population and mimics some of the abuses of power and widespread fear & animosity that parts of the world are dealing with today. Both the audience and the characters are asked, is it better to try to appease a mob or to dismantle it? "In trying times, truth is the first thing we betray." Hesina has a pretty large and complicated family, with an adopted brother and sister, a half-brother and a full brother along with her father, mother who doesn't live with them and the courtesan mother of said half-brother. There's resentment and anger bubbling beneath the surface at all times, and it at times was difficult to follow people's motivations. Sometimes even after the explanations of some characters' actions, I was still left confused on why. I don't know if this is a theme with the fantasy books I've read lately or just in general, but it seems like the endings are always set up for a sequel. Which is fine, but I like to know that going into the book, so I can rate it as a stand-alone or one of a series. If this was a stand-alone then I feel like it left me with some questions, but if there's more coming, then the epilogue was the perfect post/mid-credits scene like out of a Marvel movie. You'll be itching for more!
Gabrielle Hyde 6 months ago
I received an ARC of this from Albert Whitman & Company through NetGalley.  All opinions within this review are my own. To begin with some general thoughts on the novel, I found it immensely enjoyable!  It was incredibly well plotted, and truly read as if it was a labor of love.  There are some books that look as if they were written in a day and never touched again, and then there are treasures like "Descendant of the Crane" that took actual years for the author to write (according to the Acknowledgments at the end of the book), and truly showed.   The overall plot of this story was well-paced and intense for me.  Many times throughout my reading, I would keep think that I was nearing the end of the story, but it reality, I wasn't.  I find that so satisfying for this kind of a book, because every time I looked down my percentage of my book, I kept thinking, "This can't be near the end of the book.  This just can't.  I need more."  Needless to say, I found the overall length and pacing of the novel to be wonderful for the kind of story this is.   I will say this about the book: It is loaded with politics.  If you are a reader and lover of George R. R. Martin's ability to create political ties and intrigue, then you will also enjoy this novel, as it plays on the same ideas.  While this is a kind of fantasy novel, it is more focused on the kingdom than anything else.  There is magic, and is brought many times and seen many times in the book, but it is not the sole focus of it, which I found to be refreshing.  I like seeing things that differ from the norm, and this differed in a lot of ways. As far as the magic system goes, there isn't much of one.  The only "magical" things associated with this novel is the fact that there are magic wielders, called soothsayers.  Throughout the entire novel, the history of the soothsayers and the humans is interwoven into the everyday things associated within the world.  It is not info-dumpy, and each kernel of information that we get about the soothsayers, their history, and their abilities is digestible and makes sense with the story.   Along with that, the world itself is not much of anything, except that it has a kind of Asian influence.  There are four rival kingdoms that are mentioned, but the story mostly focuses on one, Yan, and brings in another at important moments, Kendi'a.  The story essentially takes place in Yan, so there is not much movement throughout the story.  However, the novel played at some mention of possible kingdom-related politics that may come into play more in a future novel. This made the world more compelling, and kept the story more grounded as there was a shift between the isolated kingdom to what surrounds it, and how it differs from the other kingdoms, even if there were minor details shared. It made an impact on what is possible to come in the future. Hesina as a main character was by far one of the most compelling and complex characters I have ever met, mostly because of the kinds of relationships she had with other characters. Some were strained for different reasons, others were more tight-knit. Her emotions towards those characters and the events of the story felt real, raw, and each emotion and thought to me felt warranted and important to the story. I truly felt that she was a real person, and I was watching as her world seemed to be falling apart in front of her eyes. Rating: 5/5 stars
LazyLibra 6 months ago
He has crafted a Chinese-inspired fantasy world accessible to an American audience, and great for ages 12 and up. The themes and characters in this story make it a fantastic option for a book club, while the plot's twists and turns will keep adults glued to their seats. The meticulously plotted fantasy pulls insignificant details from early in the story and rewards its careful readings, with satisfying twists and a deep emotional resonance.
CJListro 6 months ago
As beautiful as the cover This was once a quiet little book that snagged my radar when its beautiful cover released. I hadn't heard much about it when I first read it. Now it's all over the place, and well-deserved. He's debut is a forceful, genre-bending masterpiece inspired by Chinese history, with a generous touch of magic. I found myself gasping and white-knuckling the pages with every unexpected twist and turn. The astonishing ending left me desperate for a sequel. Murder mayhem magic The beginning was a little disjointed, so stick with it. It starts well with Hesina finding out that her fther, the king, has died. She believes it was murder, and demands a trial. A soothsayer (one of the magic-users who were killed and shunned years ago, and must now live in secret) tells her that a specific criminal must be her lawyer if she wants to find the truth. It's an excellent set-up, but then the pacing gets a little choppy. It feels like the trial is moving way too fast to be the focus of the book. And that's because it's really not. Once He really hits her stride and the rest of the plot unfolds, it's a breakneck ride to the end. There's just so much that happens! He does a great job of managing all the disparate plot threads so that the plot feels intriguing and complex rather than overwhelming. Instead, we get a great sense of how overwhelmed Hesina feels. She's being forced to keep a brittle empire together while war threatens from a neighboring nation. Internally, an unknown spy threatens from within the court. She's at odds with a mother who openly reviles her and a brother who feels slighted. She feels pity for the soothsayers, who are being witchhunted as scapegoats for the king's murder, but cannot save them openly without courting rebellion. To top it all, she's starting starting to fall for Akira, her mysterious criminal legal representative, who may be her only hope in preventing powerful courtiers from using the trial to railroad innocents. And as Hesina does her own investigation, she finds that there is much about her family she never knew. Take nothing for granted! With every new reveal, He reveals herself to be a master of red herrings, foreshadowing, and secrets. Everything is connected. But even if you pick up hints along the way, you will, if you're like me, still be astonished at how it all builds to explosion at the end. I can show you the world The plot alone would make this book a worthwhile read, but it's strengthened with a foundation of believable characters and intricate worldbuilding. Yan is based on historical China, and He is good at giving enough details to make you feel embedded in the world without infodumps or over-explaining. In this inspiration she creates her own unique world, a world in which soothsayers were once depended on for fortunes and magic but were driven out by the mysterious forebears of Yan, the Eleven. Each chapter heading has a tenet from One and Two that comments subtly on the chapter content. And the way Yan's history relates to its present is so clever, I can't go into too much detail without spoiling. Suffice to say, He has solid sense of her world, and it shows. I love all the messed up kids Hesina is a wonderful narrator. She's headstrong, stubborn, clever, selfless but sometimes a little self-absorbed, and all of this comes through strongly in her voice. You can see her stepping into traps, but you can also completely believe why the circumstances wo
LyricalReads 6 months ago
*Note: Thank you to Joan for providing me and the rest of Hesina’s Imperial Court with an e-ARC of Descendant of the Crane! I want to read this book again. You know that feeling when a book is so good (it’s been said that it’s a Chinese Game of Thrones!) and has so much complexity and twists and turns that you need to reread just to pick up on more of that complexity? That’s me right now. I need to reread Descendant…like now. For me, this book played like a movie in my mind which is a testament to the strength of Joan’s storytelling. A reader gets to see the inner workings of Hesina’s court and the justice system of her land ; you see the corrupt, the power-hungry, those who don’t say much, and those wanting some good to be found in the world. Readers also get to navigate the complexity of being a ruler through Hesina’s perspective. Another reason why you should read Descendant of the Crane (as if there aren’t enough reasons): AMAZING QUOTES!! I wrote so many down in my notes! arghhh SO MANY GOOD QUOTES AND I CAN’T SHARE THEM!! They’re the kind of quotes that you just kind of have to sit with for a few sentences because they’re that powerful. I personally liked how the narrative of Descendant was not focused on finding Hesina a love-interest; instead, readers delved into the complex dynamic that existed between her and her family members, which was refreshing to see, particularly since the novel is a YA fantasy. I would like to point out a few direct quotes from my notes: “This akira dude i like him” (this sentiment still stands) “BUT CAIYAN BUT LILIAN WHATTT” and “ALL THE TWISTS AND TURNS (you don’t know who to trust)” Going into Descendant, I knew there were going to be plot twists, but once I thought THE plot twist happened, there came another one and ANOTHER ONE which all kept my head spinning. Not only does Hesina not know who to trust throughout the novel, the reader is just as baffled as she as. I still don’t know who to trust. I apologize for being so vague in this review, but I’m also not because, in my opinion, it’s probably better to go in reading knowing very little! That way the surprises are even better *evil laughter* Pick up Descendant of the Crane if you love political intrigue, complicated families, and rulers who stand in the gray area!
miareese 6 months ago
"I wonder . . . if you will go down as a villain or a hero." I... don't even know what to say or how to process all that went down, but the one thing running through my head is just "hell yes." This was such a refreshing start to a YA Fantasy series, and I am dying for the sequel.* Based on the premise, it honestly sounds fairly run-of-the-mill, but holy crap is it not. I was almost certain of the traitor(s) the entire time but kept doubting myself. This is such a juicy book, with so many twists and turns. SO GOOD. *although on the book's Goodreads page the author says it's a standalone with potential for companion novels and I'm... ???
Kaleena 6 months ago
“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
bayy245 6 months ago
This book just wasn't for me. It had been compared to Game of Thrones but it liked that excitement for me. I felt more like I was reading a textbook than an exciting novel. It didn't really get good until a twist about halfway in. Even then, the twist wasn't dealt with the way I thought it would be and I found myself yet again bored. I didn't like the ending at all and it didn't make any sense to me. Most of this novel didn't make any sense to me and I wish we had gotten a lot more background information on the various other kingdoms and the sooths. I felt like I was plopped into the middle of a history book having no prior knowledge about anything they were talking about. None of the characters really stood out to me, nor did I connect with them. The side characters weren't fleshed out very well. The very brief blip of a romance actually just made me mad. There were no prior hints at feelings or anything and suddenly she was kissing someone who could be seen as her savior. Overall, I thought this book was lackluster and could've used a lot more character and world building. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from AW Teen r through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.*
USOM 6 months ago
( I received this free book from Edelweiss. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.) Descendant of the Crane left me speechless. Not only is the world that He writes so stunning and complex, but the characters is really where she shines. Each one of them is multi-faceted and layered. They never cease to astonish us with their depth. Just when you think you know someone, they end up doing something that completely shocks you, but it never seems out of character. And I think that's just the testament to how brilliant of a writer He is. Because these actions that propel the plot forward, that demand you keep reading, fold easily into the story. And what a story. It's books like Descendant of the Crane where I am just astonished and amazed at the sheer level of genius. This book is like witnessing a piece of art. At first you just see the elements you like and as you listen to the lecture, talking about the history, the artist, the materials, you begin to appreciate this painting even more. Observing the brush strokes, the pressure of the paint, the way the painting moves when you aren't expecting it. And the piece of art in front of your eyes morphs into something that becomes even more precious.