I received a copy of this book from the publisher on NetGalley.
My introduction to this book was actually through Leigh Bardugo’s Goodreads interview to promote King of Scars. Given how much I loved the Six of Crows duology, I thought anything that Bardugo was recommending was definitely worth a look, so I requested this on NetGalley and was chuffed to be approved.
“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, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.
Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by
death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?
There is so much great stuff going on in this book – Joan He draws a richly detailed world based on Chinese culture, seen through the eyes of newly crowned queen Hesina. Packed with court intrigue and banned magic, the atmosphere really oozes out of the pages of this book, and the imagery is rich with evocative scenery and sumptuous descriptions.
The pacing is a little choppy and uneven – some scenes rocket by, months passing as we gallop across the country on horseback, and some plod ponderously past, lingering on seemingly unimportant details. Hesina also has a lot of siblings, for reasons I can’t quite understand – one full brother, also an Imperial royal sibling and a general of the army, two adopted siblings, twins, who she seems closest to, and one half-brother, child of the Imperial consort and with whom Hesina has a fraught relationship. All these different elements mean that her family relationships are massively fractured – and this isn’t to even mention her mother, who hates her for completely inexplicable reasons, and her dead father, whose murder is the catalyst for the whole story.
There were elements of this book that I wasn’t so keen on – I know that YA is based around teen characters, but the fact that Hesina’s whole team of investigators is made up of her siblings and a convict, and they’re all under the age of twenty, is stretching the bounds of imagination a little, especially when you think that this is an investigation into the murder of a king.
As well as that, the final chapters of the book – and especially the epilogue – were choppy and unfinished, and didn’t actually wrap up the story. The author pegs this as a standalone, but by the end of the book, nothing has been resolved, which I hate. The characters are poised on the brink of great change, but that change isn’t coming in this book.
I knew that was going to happen as I sped towards the climactic ending, because there just wasn’t enough time left to resolve everything satisfactorily. I can see why the author did it, and definitely the action cuts off at a natural breaking point, but there is just so much unresolved in this book I can’t in all honesty see it as a fulfilling ending.
I did really like the style of writing, thought Hesina was a great main character, and loved the depiction of sooths and their magic system. I also really liked the blind hatred of the populace and Hesina’s slow unpicking of her long-held beliefs. Nothing in this book was resolved easily, and there was court intrigue to beat the band. And with so many siblings running around, Hesina had a whole host of complex relationships to unpick. But the book as a whole left me slightly unsatisfied.
I’ll definitely read a sequel, if there is one, but I don’t know how much I can really classify this one as a standalone.
That cover, though? Stunning.
Three Stars (Three and a half, probably)