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?
Warnings: mentions of slavery, torture and genocide; physical violence, immolation by mob
The story of a girl trying to be a good Queen to a kingdom painted in hatred, Descendant of the Crane brings us political intrigue wrapped up in a murder mystery. Hesina starts off the book as an idealistic princess trying to do what is good and right – finding her father’s murderer, but in a kingdom that has had a history of oppression, revolution and oppression, she has to balance the needs of the kingdom, to stabilize it and protect it from its neighbor Kendi’a, while also rousing the judicial arm to investigate the late king’s murder, and protecting her agenda from being derailed by opportunists. For doing so, she engages in treasonous acts – she seeks magic, lies and deceives, all while trying to be honorable and fighting her insecurities. Hesina, the descendant of the people who brought freedom, has the burden of the brutal history of her kingdom on her.
“She didn’t want him to see the stories on the silk facades, watch the plays of the imperial troupe, and wonder if the heroes of their legends were actually the villains”
The best thing about the book is the twists, because they are amazing and quite unpredictable. It’s like – sure, you are side-eyeing all of them but which one is going to stab her when, which one is going to cause troubles for her, which one is going to surprise her – that is something the author pulls out at the most effective moments. Armed with a good cast of characters – her sibling, with whom she has varying different complicated relationships with, her mother who despises her, the ministers and people who are giving her a difficult time, Akira, who is a Sherlock-type character with a dark past (also her love interest but I didn’t find the romance compelling), and finally, her father who turns out to be the one to surprise her the most.
“Equality is not the natural way of the world, whispered her father’s voice. It must be nurtured”
The blending of the dark past of the kingdom into its current politics nicely raises the question of when a movement of freedom becomes a system of oppression itself, and the chaos caused when idealistic inflexible principles meet the reality of a world turned upside down by it. The world-building derives mainly from Chinese culture, with the clothing and architecture, but – and this is what was a pleasant surprise for me – without the misogyny. Honestly, nowhere is her being a woman a problem to her reign; there are women embedded in the workforce of the kingdom, from the soldiers to the blacksmiths.
Overall, it is a fantastic start to what might be an amazing political fantasy.
Is it diverse? Chinese-inspired fantasy setting written by an Asian author.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Albert Whitman & Company, via Edelweiss.