Descendant of the Crane Review

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

Princess Hesina of Yan has never embraced the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she suddenly inherits an unstable kingdom. Determined to find the killer, Hesina seeks the wisdom of a soothsayer—a treason punishable by death ever since Yan outlawed magic 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, alluring investigator…and 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?

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Well, tyrants cut out hearts and mine drowned in tears after reading this book

C

For being an extremely kind person, Joan He ruthlessly leaves you in an emo mess throughout Descendant of the Crane.

V

And not only does this book run high on feelings, but THE ATMOSPHERE

C

YES!! From the very first scene, we get rich descriptions of Hesina’s surroundings, and the setting is so lush in a way that’s entirely unique compared to what we’ve seen before in fantasy, which really has been dominated by European aesthetics

V

^^a Chinese inspired fantasy has long been overdue!!!

I’ve been struggling through some Chinese novels lately and there’s something about Joan’s writing that is reminiscent with how picturesque and visual-oriented the language is.

Also DoTC feels very Miyazaki?? I watched a video on his animation process and it talked about how he pays attention to each detail, like Chihiro stomping into her shoes as she puts her on etc. And Joan takes every detail—ones you might even find arbitrary at first and pulls them all together to scope out the world and her characters to the fullest.

C

If Descendant were to ever be adapted into a movie, I would love to see it done by Miyazaki, kinda like how Howl’s Moving Castle was done. Especially considering that Miyazaki puts emphasis on having strong female leads/characters, Descendant would  be really fitting for Studio Ghibli. Speaking of strong female characters…

I really enjoyed Hesina more than your average YA heroine. We’ve seen YA princesses/queens in fantasy, but Hesina has a kind of poise that counterbalances her vulnerability well enough to be relatable. Every time she was too tired to perform her royal duties, I was like “Same” and then when she pushed herself to get through everything anyways, I was like “sAme”

V

There was a part where she mentioned laughing out of being nervous. That’s actually me.

C

Can confirm. We once almost got robbed at gunpoint at a coffee shop where we were writing our papers for a class, and while I was hiding calling 911, C was laughing really loudly next to me

V

Luckily, no one was hurt!!

ANYWAYS

Hesina’s relationship with her family also feels so real

C

Yes!! Hesina and her blood brother, Sanjing, are introduced in the story already engaged in some kind of tension, which is also how I would imagine someone introducing me and any one of my sisters tbh

V

Right it’s like well-meaning: This family is dysfunctional sometimes but we all love each other. Which highlights such a fundamental element of the Asian diaspora experience. Hesina’s mother barely shows any affection towards Hesina.

C

Oh yeah. Kudos to Sandra Oh and her parents for breaking out of that trend. Hesina and her mother definitely have an especially rocky relationship, but I actually found Hesina and her father’s interactions believably sweet. He just seemed like such a supportive dude, and the flashbacks between the two of them really add to her motive in finding the killer, especially in the beginning of the novel.

V

I loved that court intrigue aspect of the book. The politics are very well-thought out. Joan made it clear that she was writing an imperial palace story without the harem drama and I super appreciate that there was NONE of the sexism that is so inherent in this genre.

C

SPEAKING OF WHICH, can we appreciate the fact that Joan wrote an amazing YA novel with such minimal romance?? What little of it was handled so well, and I am extremely happy that we could focus on Hesina fulfilling her queenly duties without being sidetracked to thoughts about what her love interest, Akira, was having for breakfast

V

The romance was a suuuper slow-burn, which is my favorite kind of romance. Everyone in this cast is just so loveable and DISTINCT from each other. The characters are so believably flawed. My personal favorites were Hesina’s adopted siblings, Lilian and Caiyan. Their banter was so natural.

C

Lilian is introduced in the first few chapters making low-key inappropriate jokes, and I knew that she’d be excellent. Though I also have a special place in my now-crushed heart for each character, I have to say I think Caiyan is my favorite. Even though at first he seems kind of like the annoying kid in your class who studies too much and doesn’t care about anything other than memorizing textbooks, the story does an amazing job slowly uncovering his inner personality without ever explicitly showing external change.

V

And that’s where the GoT comparison is so on point. DoTC isn’t something where Hesina is the only dynamic character, where she’s the only one confronting conflict and having to adapt and change. The side characters move along with her. They’ve got their machinations going on, and their own backstories are worthy of a book in itself.

C

Agreed. And I’m glad that Descendant does all this without the incest

V

Same

C

There are plenty of other, much better twists though!! Descendant of the Crane truly lives up to its hype. As a kid, I’d stay up late at night under the bed covers reading books by flashlight, desperate to get to the last page. Growing older, I’ve come to expect the predictable plot “twists” and character tropes, and as much as I love the YA genre, the same stuff not used well can really grow old.

I can’t remember the last way I felt this refreshed after putting a YA fantasy book down. The epilogue also almost forces you to pick the book up and reread it over again immediately… which is something I’m looking forward to when I have the physical copy in my hands when it comes out April 2nd.

V

Drama Recommendations if you’re into this kind of thing and need something to binge while the next book (fingers crossed!) is in the works:

  • Scarlet Heart Ryeo
  • Nirvana in the Fire 1+2
  • Yanxi Palace

Here are some lighter shows:

  • Seungkyunkwan Scandal
  • Huan Zhu Ge Ge (My Fair Princess)

Music Recommendations the YouTube videos are linked:

  • For Descendant – <<雪落下的声音>>, 陆虎; JJ Lin’s version is also A+
  • For Hesina and Akira  – <<涼涼>>, 楊宗緯 + 張碧晨
  • For Hesina – <<夏至未至>>, 岑宁儿
  • For Caiyan – <<离骚>>, 易烊千玺
  • For Sanjing – <<飛雲之下>>, 韓紅 ft. 林俊傑
  • For Lilian – <<星晴>>, 周杰倫

Also feel free to comment your own suggestions!!

Preorder it here from:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Book Depository

…and more!

Thank you to Joan and NetGalley for providing us with eARCs in exchange for our earnest review!

P.S. Joan has lots and lots of preorder swag to give away, and it is all beautiful!! Make sure you head to her website and fill out this form to receive it!!

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