Descendant of The Crane Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Descendant of The Crane

Author: Joan He

Published By: Albert Whitman & Company

Expected Publication: 9th April

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: Pass-Brief conversation between Mei and Hesina which is not about men.

I received this book from Albert Whitman & Company, through Netgalley UK, in exchange for an honest review.

As always, thank you to Albert Whitman and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, this was a much anticipated release for me this year, so it was great to get to read it early.

I was super excited to read this book because it sounded so good, but I think in this case the comp title I had seen for this book did it a disservice, I’d seen it described as the Chinese Game of Thrones and honestly, this book is nothing like Game of Thrones, aside from the fact that both books have a lot of political manoeuvrings. I ended up being kind of disappointed because I was expecting this amazing, epic, fantasy adventure and it was nothing like that? And that’s not the book’s fault, but had I known what this book was really about before I’d picked it up then I might have realised that it potentially wasn’t for me. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, Joan He is a great writer, but it definitely lagged on the plot side of things and I found it difficult to connect to the characters. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

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? 

I want to start off on a positive note, so I’ll talk about the writing first. Joan He definitely has a way with words, the opening line was killer and even in parts when I wasn’t enjoying the plot of the book, I still noticed how nice her writing was, so in that respect, the book was good, it was well written, no doubt about that.

I also liked the concept of the world, a Chinese inspired fantasy world is something I’d definitely like to see more of, and there were a lot of great descriptions of that. However, I felt that the world building kind of let me down a little and there were lots of things that I felt I didn’t quite understand or could have been explained better, particularly regarding the Sooths, and the Eleven. There are more explanations as we get further into the book, but it’s kind of too little too late.

It’s also a very weird mish mash of genres, I wouldn’t even really say that calling this a fantasy is an accurate description because there is very little magic, it’s more kind of political drama meets detective meets tiny bit of magic, it’s really only a fantasy world in the fact that it’s not set in our world. I don’t know just for me personally, I prefer fantasy worlds with more magic and when there is a “banned magic” type world, I think you at least have to explain more about how the magic works.

The biggest problem for me in this book though was the pacing. IT WAS SO SLOW. The first chapters had so much promise, but as soon as the second part started with the trial, everything slowed down to basically a crawl. It took me so long to read this precisely because I could always find something else I’d rather be doing, and the chapters were so long as well, so it took me forever to get through.

I found the characters so hard to connect to as well. I really liked Lillian, she was quite funny and added some light relief to proceedings, and Caiyan became more interesting as we got further through the book. However both Hesina and Akira were kind of bland to me and I struggled to work out why I should care about what these characters were going through. I liked the dynamic between Lillian and Hesina but for a novel so reliant on family dynamics, I felt like they fell flat a lot of the time. I honestly couldn’t pick a character in this book that I felt was really well developed, so I definitely think more time needed to be spent fleshing out the characters.

The politics was also kind of hard to follow, the Kingdom of Yan is supposedly at odds with Kendi’a, a neighbouring kingdom and one of Hesina’s ministers is trying to manipulate her father’s trial in order to get a war with that Kingdom but it’s never really explained why and Xia Zhong doesn’t really make a particularly convincing adversary, due to lack of development.

The trial scenes were completely pointless, since Hesina was off doing her own thing most of the time anyway, so I was like well what is the point of this then? I got how the trial fed into the main plot by the end of the book, but reading it, when Hesina was doing her investigations on the side was kind of frustrating because it didn’t really seem to be doing anything.

The romance was pretty terrible, Akira and Hesina have no particular chemistry and it just didn’t feel necessary at all. WHY MUST WE SHOEHORN ROMANCE INTO EVERY YA BOOK EVER? THEY DON’T ALL NEED IT *repeats and screams until death*.

I did at first wish that there was a glossary for the Chinese terms, but actually there are relatively few, and once they’ve been used a couple of times, you can work out from context what they mean, so a glossary isn’t really needed.

There were some decent plot twists towards the end of the book but at this point, for a standalone, the author had left herself too much work to do, so whilst you get explanations for most of the things that happen throughout the book, the ending is pretty open and seems to demand a sequel because there’s so much left unanswered.

I also found the epilogue, with the change of POV kind of jarring. It explains a lot about some of the events in the book, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it was wrongly placed, it maybe should have come earlier in the book.

Overall this book had potential, and the author is definitely a good writer, but the flat characters combined with the confusing world and weird mish mash of genres as well as the slow pace, made it quite difficult to read. I would read more books in this world because I think the author has promise, but overall, this one wasn’t for me.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of Sarah J Maas’ Catwoman: Soulstealer, my April #RockMyTBR book.

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