Hesina’s father, the king, has been murdered. Hesina knows this, but nobody believes her. But when a soothsayer she consults illegally tells her that the convict rotting in the dungeon below her palace is the only one who can convince everyone that she’s telling the truth, Hesina jumps at the chance to seek justice. She never realized just how risky to her country, to her culture, and to her heart this whole venture would be.
Descendant of the Crane is a young adult fantasy novel by Joan He. It’s a Chinese-inspired debut fantasy novel that I’ve heard amazing things about. Needless to say, I was excited to get my hands on it. Did it live up to expectations?
In a word: yes.
With this novel, He crafts more than a story. She crafts a world, one with culture, tradition, and history above everything. Everything the characters do is touched by what they know their country has been through, and Hesina is no exception. Knowing she has to live up to the Tenets, defying the cruelty of the emperors of old, she strives to uphold the new standards however she can, but slowly realizes they’re not all they seem.
See, this novel, besides also lovingly drawing a world that will suck the reader right in, also makes sure to criticize the existing politics, and give the plot a rich tone of court intrigue.
The intrigue kept me guessing at everyone’s moves, and it definitely wasn’t the only thing that surprised me. Things kept happening every so often than shocked me. At one point, I lowered the book and gaped, open-mouthed, at the wall for a second while I tried to wrap my mind around the latest twist. Everything was unexpected, both to me as the reader and to Hesina, and I enjoyed every surprise.
The surprises are actually great, since a lot of the rest of the novel is centered around a trial: that of proving who actually murdered Hesina’s father. The trial scenes are fun to read, in my opinion. Shocking since court isn’t necessarily something people tend to want to participate in. I feel like I can speak from experience, as I was called to jury duty for a case lasting two weeks before being released. Let me tell you, I was sometimes interested in the proceedings, but I often had to force myself to pay attention and keep up with the evidence.
Here, though, He makes sure not to bog the reader down, and instead we root for Akira, whom Hesina rescued from her dungeon, even as we wonder at his own secrets.
Ah, Akira, Hesina, Caiyan, Lilian, Sanjing, Mei, everyone! The novel has such a variety of characters, and one of my favorite parts was that so many were Hesina’s siblings. Throughout the novel, we see the different relationships she has with them all, how they’ve developed, and how they affect her actions even now. They are all impressive characters, strong and able to carry the narrative, and to give the reader plenty of twists when they need them.
Speaking of twists, I know I’ve talked about the surprises this novel has in store already, but, THAT ENDING! My research (all five minutes of hectic Googling once I finished the last page) seems to indicate that there may or may not be a sequel but I saw nothing that was official. If there isn’t, I’m going to have to take a while to get over that ending. If there is one, gimme!
A murder mystery, a story about family, a court intrigue novel, a fantasy — this novel covers all its bases! It was such a fun read, and one any fan of court intrigue especially will love.
Have you read Descendant of the Crane? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!