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Descendant of the Crane

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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 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?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published April 9, 2019

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About the author

Joan He

6 books7,240 followers
Joan was born and raised in Philadelphia but still will, on occasion, lose her way. At a young age, she received classical instruction in oil painting before discovering that stories were her favorite kind of art. She studied psychology and Chinese history at the University of Pennsylvania and currently writes from a desk overlooking the city
waterfront. Descendant of the Crane is her young adult debut.

For updates, please sign up for her newsletter: http://eepurl.com/c5rvdL. For business related inquiries, please contact her literary agent, John Cusick of Folio Lit.

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Profile Image for chai ♡.
322 reviews156k followers
February 18, 2021
Me, while sipping apple juice out of a champagne glass and gazing dramatically into the distance: I've had enough of cliffhangers...

What an ending! Such a succession of shattering revelations that sent a wave through my room so strong that I felt its ripple and was rocked on its mooring. Such was the churn and whirl of my thoughts and feelings that I was genuinely incapable of putting two ideas in a row, let alone come into any kind of conclusion—other than that I desperately need a sequel.

So, what’s this book about?

Hesina finds herself thrust into a tale she hardly understands when news of the king’s death—her father’s death—burst wildly and messily into Yan. Then, too soon, it is neatened, pressed and cast away without a slight crease in it. But the truth of it had already sunk into the center of Hesina and broken open, flooding her with a new certainty: her father has been murdered and the need to seek justice for him sang bright in her. With the rage and terror in her heart, the limits of her knowledge and her experience so miserably evident, Hesina turns to a Soothsayer who puts her on the path of Akira, a convicted criminal whose past and motivations are cloaked in secrecy.

But in doing so, Hesina risks treason. Some things, it seems, run too close to the bone to change no matter how much you want them to.

See, centuries before, the gnarled hand of oppression loosened its grip on Yan’s throat when the relic emperors were overthrown by the Eleven—a legendary group of outlaw saviors. The Eleven, later, gathered their philosophies into a book they called the Tenets and etched them into permanence. By then, the fear of Soothsayers—the relic emperor’s henchmen—and their magic had knitted itself into the bones of Yan and seeped through generations, and so the Eleven expunged everyone with Sooth magic in their blood from existence.

Now, one truth unleashes another and another and having torn open the vault of secrets her father took with him into the ground, the hope for a better Yan, that had leapt in Hesina’s chest, crashes all at once. And all that is left is the plaintive specter of a child who had loved and trusted her father so wholeheartedly, her illusions now forever dashed and broken.

“A dead king,” said the convict. “A deceived populace. A truth seeker. Sounds like a story that could end very well or very poorly, and I want to spectate.”

The premise Joan He lays out in Descendant of the Crane isn't shockingly original, but the relatively familiar contours of the plot do not make it any less elaborate. I had hardened myself to wonder before I started this book, but my knee-jerk skepticism was quickly knuckled under by my admiration for the way He has craftily drawn on several familiar tropes and recast them into something altogether fresh and memorable.

Descendant of the Crane does flounder somewhat until it settles into a groove. I think the novel could have been better curated, as it sometimes feels less like a story and more like a haphazard sequence of things happening. The characters could also be more deeply realized—the purpose for existing in the story for some characters is merely the degree to which they advance Hesina's arc without settling into one of their own, and they barely have enough personality to make that existence worthwhile, others start with interesting arcs but are eventually reduced to cogs in a jarring plot twist that almost flattens them as characters.

Moreover, when it comes to Akira, the love interest, my list of likes decreases dramatically. There’s something about him that doesn’t quite synchronize with the rest of this world, like his character had been spliced in from a different story. Akira appears so infrequently that it feels like the novel is frustratingly adamant on keeping the reader at arms’ length from him. His inclusion in the story scarcely makes sense, and Akira quickly loses the thin, undefinable edge that made him interesting to begin with. It made me want to poke at him until he gives me something more, something more exciting, something—at the very least—worth rooting for.

Nevertheless, the book successfully breezes past many of its flaws, and He’s own boundless creativity eventually finds its footing. Once it does, Descendant of the Crane doesn't let go. As Hesina’s investigation into her father’s death deepens, so does the book's scope. I had not managed to organize my puzzlement into a question before the plot begun eddying around in a speedy, gasp-out-loud, page-flipping style—each new certainty leading not to the next steppingstone but into a quagmire. Revelations were so laden with dread and dismay that they fell into the novel like a rock into a quiet pond, and my astonishment quickly turned to horror. The climax was a virtuoso performance, leading to a poignant epilogue with just enough bread crumbs to set the ground for future installments.

I really liked Hesina’s arc. I love how nothing in this story yields resignedly to her desires despite her many effortful attempts. The court is not some simple engine that applying pressure here, pressure there, could propel in the direction of her wishes. Hesina realizes that she can no longer grasp after the tail end of her father’s memory, clinging doggedly to his teachings; she needs a lot more foundation stones before she can start building this tower. At the same time, Hesina must reconcile with the river of spilled blood between her forebearers and the downtrodden Sooths and find a way to lead her people out of their fear and hatred. Most of the time, the task feels like trying to run up the side of an avalanche, and the novel doesn’t elude the reality of the weight residing on Hesina’s shoulders.

I also love how He mercilessly probes her characters’ underlying motivation, and explores the lines between good and evil, who monsters are, and what makes them so. By the end, her antagonists’ villainy illuminates the morality of each character, and the reader is still a long way from sundering villain from hero.

What is truth? Seek it. Write it. Good kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.

Overall, Descendant of the Crane is a lovely, assured debut and a formidable addition to the growing body of diverse teen literature!

If you liked this review please consider leaving me a tip on ko-fi !

Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
April 10, 2019
“Tonight, we fell victim to fear. We let it blind us. We thought we were hunting monsters…”
She stared out into the sea of flame-washed faces. It took all her strength not to look away. But we were monsters.

Descendant of the Crane was a really pleasant surprise. It's actually one of the better, more creative YA fantasies I've read, taking influence from Chinese culture and exploring morally grey areas in a story full of political machinations and twists. I hope this book doesn't get buried under the pile of generic YA fantasies with flashier covers and dramatic names like "Queen of Blood/Ash/Shadows/Fire".

It's a quieter book than I had first imagined. The promise of a kingdom in turmoil and a ban on the magic once practiced by soothsayers sounds familiar in this genre, not unlike other action-packed fantasies. However, it is much more focused on political maneuvering and a young woman's bildungsroman as she discovers that not everything is black and white, and sometimes you are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Oh, and there's also a compelling murder mystery and courtroom drama.

Joan He avoids dropping characters into "good" or "evil" boxes, allowing the villains (both the obvious ones and the not so obvious) to be multilayered and have realistic motivations for their actions that go beyond "Muahaha, I'm evil". As Hesina adjusts to her new power as queen, she finds herself relating to her enemies and questioning the purely benevolent view she always held of her father. I like how the author doesn’t stop at the surface, but instead explores complex emotions.
If you want to understand a person, peer at his heart through the window of his prejudices and assumptions.

The story begins with Hesina illegally visiting a soothsayer for information about her father's - the former king's - death. She knows there was foul play and wants to find out who was responsible. The soothsayer cannot tell her the culprit, but she can point her in the direction of someone who will help her find out. Enter sexy ex-convict-turned-lawyer: Akira.

What follows is Hesina's attempt to get justice for her father and prevent war at the same time. Along the way, she uncovers secrets and betrayals. The murder mystery aspect - plus the thrilling courtroom scenes - were done so well here. So much better than the recent Four Dead Queens.

I really enjoyed it when Hesina was forced to play a role as queen. Part of her story arc is learning how sometimes, unfortunately, it is necessary to lie or do "bad" for the greater good. It's a hard pill for her to swallow.

I have a couple of minor quibbles. The first is that sometimes the pacing needed work. Overall, I appreciated the slower, more political plot, but there were parts of the book that went on too long and felt dragged out, but truthfully this could be said for about 95% of YA fantasy debuts.

The second is that this is one of those books that I think would have been better as an adult novel. There is something a bit off by all these rulers and military leaders being around 16 or 17 years old. As it is, the novel is mostly chaste, despite the inclusion of such as brothels. It feels almost deliberately cleaned up for a younger audience, and I think it is a shame that a sexy character like Akira is wasted on a romance lacking in steam.

I still enjoyed it a lot, though. I have to point out that this is NOT a standalone and is left set up for a sequel. You can bet I'll be reading it.
Who isn't powerless against the will of the cosmos? But who doesn't try all the same?

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Profile Image for Joan He.
Author 6 books7,240 followers
September 4, 2022
12/25/20 Happy holidays everyone! Some of you might have heard about Hesina's Imperial Court, the street team I originally organized for this book in Nov 2018, and some of you have asked how to join. Well I'm happy to announce that signups have re-opened for a limited time :) More details can be found here. The group's primary focus will be on my next book for the immediate future, but membership is for "life" and you'll get access to the entire archive of DOTC things too. Good luck to those who enter!!

11/10/20 Hi all. It's been a while.

About that sequel.

I've finally broken my silence on one reason, among others, on why it hasn't been in the works.

I will keep you posted. I will be honest: even if DOTC gets picked up elsewhere, I don't think I can return to the story for a long, long time. It's been really hard to separate all that's gone down with it on the publishing side from the actual story, and it's been healthier for me to physically and mentally move on. Thank you so much for understanding and, as always, for supporting this book.

4/10/19 THE BOOK IS OUT NOW!!! Goodreads users, thank you so much for all your pre-release support. Thank you if you added the book. Thank you if you read and reviewed. Thank you if you've taken a moment to cross-post your review on Amazon. All these things have made a world of difference in getting my smaller-pub book into the hands of readers <3

Is this book standalone?
Are the names Chinese?
How is mandarin terminology used in the text?

Hopefully this is helpful! Please remember that some of these answers encompass my views only. Authors of colors are not a monolith, and like normal people we have a diversity of opinions. What matters is that the conversation--which is still sorely lacking--is on-going.

I also wanted to take a moment to say that it's hard to convey everything a book is through a synopsis alone and I want to apologize if the previous one for DESCENDANT is misleading. I understand how much it sucks if a story doesn't match expectations, and so in the interests of full disclosure:

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE might be the book for you if you like political intrigue, twists, complex family dynamics, a roller-coaster type plot with a slow-build to the summit, and questions of morality in your fantasy. It may not be the book for you if you prefer more action, romance, and break-neck pacing from the get-go to your stories. I love a story of that type as much as anyone else, but DESCENDANT simply isn't that and neither do I want to pretend it is.

11.29.18: eARCs are available to request on NetGalley and Edelweiss! Pleaseeee forgive any typos/awkward phrasing/wonky sentences in the ARC!!! Love you all <3

8.29.18: We have a cover!! It's so very Chinese, and I'm really humbled that so many of you love it.

I also wanted to clarify something about the accuracy of the story. China has an incredibly epic history. It's also an epically misogynistic one. The only time women's rights was really a (side) agenda was during the Cultural Revolution. The book addresses this. It's a fantasy, of course, so it's not going to be 100% historically accurate, but I wanted to acknowledge the true, non-romanticized history, because so few books do.

That, however, is beside the point. My main point is that I wrote this book as a Chinese-American. Growing up over here meant that I was surrounded by narratives about strong women, women who got stories that were MORE than just fighting to survive in a world of men. I wanted to contribute to those narratives. That's why we have a Chinese-esque princess who becomes queen. Maybe it's not the norm to Chinese history, but it is the norm that I see (and hope to see more of) in the place I call home.

tldr; Stories about concubines, wives, and daughters fighting tooth and nail to be considered worthy in a sexist society are valid. They are the status quo. But they are not the ones I set out to write.

This book almost killed me and now I can finally share the pain and let it kill you.

But seriously, I've been working on this book since 2013 and I can't wait to share it with you <3. It's everything I love in Chinese dramas (sprawling families, complex relationships, double-meanings, betrayal-for-your-own-good, gray morality) minus all the "meh" bits (girl on girl hate, harems competing against each other). To stay up to date on book news, you can sign up for my newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/c5rvdL
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
June 7, 2019
oh, thank the literary gods that the beauty of this story matches the gorgeousness of its cover. there is no greater relief, im telling ya.

this story is everything everyone is saying it is. its culturally rich, stunningly written, masterfully plotted, and cleverly wrapped up. i really enjoyed reading this! with all the twists and turns along the way, it is quite the adventure. its a very high-quality debut and one i hope the author is extremely proud of.

so if this is so great, how come i didnt rate it higher? its because i wanted more magic! this story is overwhelmingly heavy in court politics and war, so much so that my interest began to fade after a while. i understand their importance in creating a complex storyline, but their presence in a story shouldnt mean that the fantasy components of a fantasy novel take a back seat. if anything, it should be the other way around - magic as the main focus with the politics and war plots as support. in this book, there is an entire population of people who have magical abilities and its never really explored. such a shame.

i know this is a stand-alone and that most of the questions are answered but, with that epilogue, i really hope a sequel is a possibility down the line!

4 stars
Profile Image for Viburnum (hiatus).
22 reviews237 followers
January 19, 2022
I've always thought of writing as like gardening. The words rooting in my mind. Sentences and paragraphs growing together, sprouting others and more. And sometimes not. Sometimes refusing to break through the concrete blankness, like now.
How do I put to words everything that is Descendant of the Crane? I feel as if anything I write would be a disservice to this novel. To all that it encompassed and to all that it brought out.
The thing is, I like to nurture what I’ve written over time—tending to the words like a gardener tending to the garden. Always trimming, always refining.
Unforgivingly brutal. Tragically beautiful.
And yet, those words are not enough for Descendant of the Crane.

I admit that after reading, I didn't know what to write. Because the truth is, Descendant of the Crane is not a novel to be contained in words. So, I feel inclined to refrain from what I’ve always done. No more trimming, no more refining. Let the words nurture themselves. Wild, untamed. Phrases snarling, sentences tangling.

In Chinese legends, cranes are said to bear the spirits of the departed to heaven. And that was what Descendant of the Crane was for me—the wings to my soul. I was carried aloft on its feathers, flown to transcendent heights.
And how to describe the writing? Perhaps it was a painting and each word a brushstroke, a vibrant dab of colour across the paper; or perhaps it was a tapestry, the words woven into a mosaic of mesmerising patterns—I'd like to continue waxing poetic, but what point would there be in that?
Imagine the acrid aromas of incense coiling through the air. The autumn wind as it whispers sweet secrets to the ginkgo leaves. The scarlet haze of paper lanterns smeared around the edges of silhouettes.

Descendant of the Crane was a story about human people in an inhuman world—it was a story about a kingdom which carried the wounds of centuries past, its hurts unhealed and cutting deep, its bitterness and hate festering together like rot.
It was a story about a queen who sought to stitch her kingdom back together, to sew its wounds shut and soothe its hurts—a queen who, in the end, rose from the mire of her insecurities and doubts, of her despair and pain, to bloom like a lotus flower from the mud: strong, resilient and beautiful.
It was a story that left me with no words.

And you know what?
To the Ten Courts of Hell with waxing poetic.
I loved it.

Beyond words.


note: thank you to joan he and the publisher, albert whitman company, for the arc!
Profile Image for chloe.
245 reviews28.5k followers
May 20, 2019
DNF at 50%.
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I thought I was going to love this one but unfortunately it just didn't work for me. It had a really strong start and I absolutely loved the Chinese inspired world, but the writing didn't flow well, the pacing was off, and I couldn't connect to the characters. The premise sounds amazing but unfortunately I was bored reading this.
Profile Image for clem.
526 reviews377 followers
December 10, 2019
“What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good Kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.”

⭐️⭐️ ridiculous stars

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Buddy-read with the wonderful Ana or attempted to. I, unfortunately, DNF'd it at 75% because I couldn't take the abuse anymore.

I think the YA fantasy genre is saturated with average books that are blending in my mind. I stopped reading the Descendant of the Crane and already, I'm mixing it with multiple, similarly plotted fantasies. And no, my head isn't the problem here.

SYNOPSIS: Descendant of the Crane tells the story of Princess Hestina of Yan who's rushed into the role of Queen after her father's sudden demise. However, she has to deal with a plot against the crown, a war conspiracy, and romance, which doesn't make her beginning as Queen convincing for the aristocracy...

Since I haven't finished reading Descendant of the Crane, this review will be short.

1. The characters didn't compel me at all. This book was presented as morally grey GoT style, and it doesn't deliver in that regard. I think the main character has the personality of a plant. She was an annoying, spoiled, brat who knows nothing and doesn't learn from her mistakes. She trusts people who haven't given her a reason to and antagonized the people who work in her direction. Reading through her narrow perspective gave me a headache. Hestina thinks one thing and jumps to the polar opposite in 2 seconds and I can't deal with that lack of character consistency. If your character is doing something important for the plot, it needs to feel like the natural development of their train of thoughts. Not a leap.


2. The plot made me want to sleep. The decisions the characters took, made the plot go farther, yes, but at the cost of making thoughtful decisions that make sense. This book is so absurd, I swear. I honestly didn't understand half of the things that were happening. The politics in this book made no sense. The King is poisoned but he doesn't have a food taster. The queen can walk around without guards, she has no advisors, or councils and apparently does everything by herself.


3. The writing style that everyone keeps raving about is nothing impressive. I felt like we were spending times describing a table and the love interest's weird hair instead of focusing on more important things which explained why I was so confused during most of the story.


4. where was the worldbuilding at?? I know YA fantasy books in 2019 are lighter and closer to be medieval historical fiction but it's not an excuse to scramble two pieces of magic together and call it a day. Who the fuck runs this kingdom? I'm confused. How is this not anarchy?

Anyway, I shouldn't have called this review short considering it's pretty long now. But apparently, I had things to say. It seems I haven't read the same book as everyone else, but I'm still glad some people are enjoying this. I'm just getting too old for this ;)

Profile Image for Hamad.
1,048 reviews1,381 followers
May 14, 2019
This review and other non-spoilery reviews can be found @The Book Prescription

Actual Rating: 3.5 stars

“What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good Kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.”

🌟 I have read this book months ago as I had an ARC. This of course does not affect my opinions on this. I don’t know how much this review will be helpful in the first place because I remember only bits of it!

🌟 The story takes place in a Chinese inspired court where the king is killed and Princess Hesina becomes Queen. Hesina wants to find her father killer and then much drama ensues. The book is dark, it gave me trust issues and it was brutal. I can see why it is called a Chinese Game of Thrones. But for me, they were two different entities.

🌟 The characters are well written and what I really like is that as in GOT, the author does not put the characters in molds of good and bad. The characters have motives and there are both sides to all characters. By the end, I couldn’t trust myself even because what the hell were everyone doing????!!!

🌟 Joan has a beautiful prose that worked very well with the story, it actually exceeded my expectations. For a debut, this was more than well done! I think the pacing was slow and some places even slower than slow. If this was faster and shorter, then it would definitely have been a bigger hit (it is a big hit so it would have been perfect).

🌟 The world building was OK, I wanted more to be honest and some questions were left unanswered. I am such a hypocrite when it comes to politics. I hate real life politics because it is all lies and games and shit. In fantasy, I love politics and court drama since I have all the information and can play judge and choose by myself! There was also the who done it part and the investigation of that which I enjoyed very very much. It was extremely smart and I would like to read more fantasy mystery books if there is such a thing!

🌟 Summary: Descendant of the Crane is such a great book and does not feel like a debut. It was smart, it was dark and brutal. I still have some questions and the pacing was slow which made me enjoy it a little bit less. I am still recommending this to anyone looking for an fantasy with an Asian setting.
Profile Image for Umairah (Sereadipity).
216 reviews111 followers
August 19, 2020
Plot: 5/5 Characters: 5/5 Writing: 5/5

The Descendant of the Crane was an intricate Chinese inspired fantasy full of treachery and about a relentless hunt for the truth. I was constantly in suspense and it kept me guessing until the very last page.

The writing was exquisitely vivid, each word weaving a net that captured my attention and didn't let go. Sometimes, I even felt as if I were a part of the story. The first half of the book was quite slow-paced, gradually building up and setting the scene. However, the second half was a constant stream of mind-shattering revelations and plot twists- my poor heart didn't know what to do with itself!

The characters were all brilliant and multi-faceted. Hesina was the protagonist, a young woman convinced that her father, the king, was murdered despite the fact that everyone else believed it to be a natural death. Determined to deliver justice, she decided to start a trial to find the murderer and become the next queen. Even though she didn't always make the right decisions and she had many misconceptions about her kingdom, it was admirable how she believed in herself and had the courage to pursue the things she thought were right. There were times when she wavered but when she made up her mind to do something, she did it formidably.

I also thought the relationships in the novel were well crafted. There wasn't a heavy emphasis on romance (which I thought was good) but there was a lot about family. Hesina had a brother called Sanjing and although they loved each other they weren't very good at showing it and had a strained relationship. On the other hand, she was very close to Caiyan and Lilian, who were her adopted siblings. I thought the way these relationships were contrasted was very well done. Also, there was Akira, the convict that Hesina asked to help her in the trial. He generally remained shrouded in mystery but we do get to learn small things about him here and there in the novel. I'm interested to see what his role will be in the next book.

A really important detail of the book was the sooths. They were people with almost magical powers who could do amazing things like seeing into the future. Due to previous historical events, the sooths were generally despised and shunned from society and there were terrible punishments for them and those who sympathised with them. Another reason I liked Hesina was that although everyone was telling her that the sooths were evil and deserved to be punished, she made up her own mind about them and wanted to bring equality to her society. Which is also something that we should all do today.

I adored this book, it's definitely a new favourite. Honestly, it's the kind of book that deserves to be a movie. If you like complex fantasies that constantly keep you guessing, then this book is for you!

Thank you to Albert Whitman Company and Joan He for providing me with an e-ARC via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review!

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January 18, 2019

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Reading this after THE GIRL KING turned out to be a really weird experience because they are both very similar stories. Dare I say that "Asian-inspired" fantasy novels in kingdoms where magic is forbidden seems to be the new trend? But, like, seriously, both are about royal siblings who must struggle to learn to manage their kingdoms in times of severe political upheaval. These kingdoms are also utterly opposed to magic - in THE GIRL KING, magic comes in the form of shape-shifters called the "Kith," and in DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE, it comes in the form of mages called "sooths." Both kingdoms are on the brink of civil war/foreign war, and about to implode from all the factions of unrest stirring up drama within the community.

Hesina is forced to take up the royal mantle when her father dies under mysterious circumstances. Her mother, who dislikes her for unknown reasons, abdicates very reluctantly, leaving Hesina to manage the kingdom and lead the trial to find her father's murderer, all without her help.

Luckily, Hesina has several siblings to help her out. Caiyan and Lillian are twins, and her half-siblings; Sanjing is her full brother; and Rou is the son of her father's favored mistress. Despite knowing that it is high treason, she seeks out a sooth to help set her on her path, who tells her the path she should take to find her father's murderer. It points her towards a criminal imprisoned in the dungeons, a foreign man named Akira, who is brilliant, powerful, and mysterious.

I liked DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE a lot more than I liked THE GIRL KING, for several reasons. The world-building was more cohesive and there were many direct parallels to actual elements of Chinese culture (the writing/characters, the religion, historical allegories (I was thinking of the Cultural Revolution specifically, as the rebellion of the eleven and the persecution of the sooths reminded me of that), culture, and clothing). It did not feel quite as nebulous as THE GIRL KING did. The actual magic was a little vague; I'd like to learn more about sooths in the next book. Still, we did see some examples of sooth-saying and what I did see was compelling (blue fire, though).

This book's biggest weakness was its pacing. There were some elements that moved quickly, that I couldn't page through fast enough. This has one of the best "trial" scenes I've seen in a book, like Joan He was the John Grisham of YA fantasy authors. Then there are other parts that move very slowly and/or feel almost repetitive. It was frustrating for me because I initially thought that this was going to be a four-star read, but then it got too tedious and my enjoyment of it lessened over time.

The book's biggest strength are its twists. Several of the grand reveals in this book were excellently done. I found myself looking forward to seeing how the other mysteries in this book would be resolved and finding myself pleasantly surprised each time.

Hesina is a flawed but compelling character and it is interesting to see how the choices she makes in the book end up changing her. She is a very different person by the end of the story than she was in the beginning. I am curious about the names, and why some are Chinese but Hesina's is, I believe, an alternate spelling of a Muslim name, and Lillian is a very Western name. I'm also confused by the ending, which was very strange to me. The author had already proven she was very good at twists, but that one, for some reason, felt especially extra. Maybe it will make more sense in the sequel.

Hopefully this review helps you decide whether you want to read this book without giving too much away. I am totally in love with the cover and was surprised by how much I enjoyed DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE. Hoping the author continues the story on even stronger footing in the sequel.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 to 3.5 stars
Profile Image for may ➹.
494 reviews2,070 followers
June 1, 2021
Sadly, I did not love Descendant of the Crane as much as I thought I would. The entire first 57% of this book before the first plot twist happens was slow and utterly boring, and it was a chore to get through. Perhaps the slow-moving plot would have been more interesting for me to read if I’d been given anything else to care about. The characters were interesting, and I did really like the sibling dynamics. But overall, I thought they lacked dimension and I felt little investment in them. Some were sidelined with little page time and then written with the assumption that the reader already knew them intimately, one significant example being the love interest. (I did not like the romance at all and thought it completely lacked chemistry and development.) It also felt as if these characters were held at an arm’s length because of the prose itself—which others have seemed to enjoy, but didn’t flow well and felt unnatural to me. All of these issues left me indifferent to the story for more than half of the book.

The plot twists are indeed as good as everyone says, though some of them just didn’t hit as hard as I wanted them to, because at that point I had really stopped caring what was going on. I did really love the ending of the book, though. I’m not sure I would definitively say it’s worth reading the whole book for, but the ending leaned into the exact type of messed up, lovely character dynamic I adore and it was so fun to read. Also, I think the book does explore interesting themes, like grief, ethics, and especially the idea of broken family. Unfortunately, though, the few interesting parts of the book were not enough to make up for my lack of investment, and I will only remember this as a mostly boring book that had didn’t live up to its full potential.

:: representation :: Chinese-coded cast

:: content warnings :: murder, death, violence, slavery, drowning, depictions of blood, depictions of grief
Profile Image for julianna ➹.
207 reviews268 followers
June 7, 2021
towmtf update: well, i read joan he's next book and i hated it ... so basically right now i am hardcore questioning my past self's taste !!!! literally can't even trust my past self to give my current self good recommendations... god

why am i crying in the club right now????? how dare you joan (i think this might be one of my favorites of 2019) (it was)

instead of a traditional review, here's reasons why you should just read this book
🌸 joan's writing is so, so gorgeous and it creeps into your soul
🌸 (it kind of reminds me of roshani chokshi's writing? but more practical)
🌸 this literally has the most twisty plot ever. listen, I came into this book expecting a murder mystery and came out feeling like I'd walked through a hailstorm
🌸 it's not only a murder mystery!! it has a fantasy plotline and centers on Hesina trying to figure out how to manage ruling her kingdom
🌸 I love all of the characters so much.
🌸 especially Sanjing. I would die for Sanjing. I love him so much
🌸 seriously, I was not kidding. I love Sanjing even though he gets the least page time.
🌸 (oh I just realized I superimposed Li Shang onto Sanjing and it's kind of... fitting)
🌸 also yeah this novel has some flaws, like certain unnecessary plot twists and Lillian's lacking characterization but I've become too obsessed with this book to rate it objectively
🌸 by the way... the romance is kind of lackluster. I said it
🌸 I just don't completely see the appeal of Akira as a love interest. I'm sorry, y'all. I really tried. I just kept picturing his brown hair as a rat's nest
🌸 I also didn't really see any reception from Akira towards Hesina? he never really demonstrated his affection for her. I had so much hope for their ship but no
🌸 Sanjing tho... why was the brother more attractive than the actual love interest
🌸 Anyways. more importantly, Hesina's character was so well-done and I could feel her desperation and helplessness seeping through the pages
🌸 and her realizations that everyone's not who they appear to be are just... so relatable. I love Hesina so much and she Truly Feels Like A Flawed Teen Character to me
🌸 I would categorize this as kind of a coming-of-age fantasy
🌸 I really loved so much about this book. the worldbuilding was honestly flawless and the lore of the empire was one of my favorite things to read
🌸 I mean, this book also tackles institutionalized oppression and how it can be built-in so deep that it can never truly be removed
🌸 also the most wild existential themes are present, yo
🌸 like what the frick I came for an adventure and left with a hole in my soul and inescapable thoughts about legacy
🌸 THIS BOOK SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE NYT BESTSELLING LIST. truly the greatest injustice of our time

Trigger and content warnings for death by poison, slavery, drowning, blood, cutting oneself, (institutionalized) oppression, parental neglect, and strangulation.

edit: ^^ this is a major spoiler btw

hi a physical arc of this appeared on my doorstep and i would like to say that i am a little emotional right now because i've wanted this so badly
Profile Image for Natalie Monroe.
595 reviews3,587 followers
April 25, 2019
“I thought you knew the rules of the game, my dear.”

So did I, Xia Zhong. So did I.

My biggest quibble with Descendant of the Crane is that it was marketed as a Chinese Game of Thrones. I love the moral complexity and political intricacies of GoT, and He's book was listed as one of Leigh Bardugo's most anticipated reads of 2019, so obviously I applied for an ARC. Sadly, just like King of Scars let me down earlier this year, so did this book.

Hesina is a terrible schemer, alright? In terms of the player hierarchy, Hesina is right there with Ned Stark and first-book Sansa Stark. Why the fuck would you show a criminal a secret passageway to your chambers? Just because a soothsayer told you he'd be the key to finding your father's killer doesn't mean he might not have motives of his own. For all you know, he could be an assassin and/or in cahoots with the soothsayer to murder her. (Bit of background knowledge—sooths are hated and hunted in this fictional universe) Sooths receive benefits like an extended lifespan if they tell the truth, but it doesn't mean they can't twist the truth. Surely a lifetime in court should've put Hesina more on guard.

Look, I don't mind naive characters. Hesina does learn and grow throughout the book. But I was promised savvy scheming, dammit, and I didn't get it. The level of court politics is too juvenile. And don't sell me that crap about how it's YA. Six of Crows and And I Darken are some twisty serpents.

The romance between Hesina and the criminal Akira is about as obvious as a vacuum at a broomstick convention. Literally the first thing she notices is how handsome Akira is, even though she's there in a position of power to strike a deal with him for finding her father’s killer. I'd like to fast forward to the good parts, please.

Pacing is also on the slow side. Honestly, I didn't start getting invested until the last 20% when almost all the secrets are out. It took me almost two months to finish this.

There's a very clear setup for a sequel, and it seems Hesina has matured into a worthy player. She's still far from Littlefinger, but maybe the sequel will surprise me.

ARC provided by Edelweiss
Profile Image for zuza_zaksiazkowane.
378 reviews33.9k followers
November 1, 2020
Zwykle nie gwiazdkuję książek, których nie skończyłam, ale ta była tak nudna i przewidywalna, że po prostu DRAMAT. Przede wszystkim - takie dziury fabularne, że nic tylko zbierać je z podłogi i samemu sklejać bo autorce niestety się do tego nie spieszyło. Nielogiczna, sztampowa, idąca po najcieńszej linii oporu, bez polotu, bez krztyny oryginalności. Może (tylko może!) jeśli to by była pierwsza w życiu książka z tego gatunku, odebrałabym ją odrobinę lepiej, ale na tym etapie mojego czytelniczego życia, mogę powiedzieć tylko jedno - strata czasu. A szkoda, bo się na nią długo napalałam :(
February 15, 2021
”If you want to understand a person, peer at his heart through the window of his prejudices and assumptions”.

No sé si leí el mismo libro que las personas que le pusieron cinco estrellas, pero madre mía…

En Descendant of the Crane nos encontramos con la historia de Hesina, la princesa de Yan, que toda su vida ha huido de sus responsabilidades, pero que, de repente, debe empezar a asumirlas porque su padre ha muerto en extrañas circunstancias. Coronada como Reina (lo cual ya es raro porque esto es un setting completamente chino), Hesina decide acudir a una persona que usa magia prohibida en el reino para entender si la muerte de su padre fue natural. Sin embargo, cuando descubre que su padre fue envenenado, Hesina decide convocar al equipo de investigaciones y denunciar su muerte como un asesinato. Así es como empieza una historia en la que una de las amantes del rey es sospechosa y el ayudante de la investigación de Hesina es un exconvicto.

Y sí, la verdad es que la premisa, vista así, suena genial, pero la ejecución de Joan He como autora es horrible. Durante todo el libro sentí que no conocía a ningún personaje y que su personalidad era tan interesante como la de una servilleta, no había profundidad de ninguna clase y era desesperante. Eso, sumado a que para que el libro avance todos los personajes deben tomar decisiones pésimas, pues… vaya, un cuadro. Y, lo peor de todo, es que estuve tremendamente perdida a lo largo de la historia porque a la estructura le faltaba muchísima continuidad. Había momentos en los que estaba pasando algo y luego algo completamente diferente. En serio, era un libro lleno de corto circuitos y así no hay quien disfrute de nada.

El sistema de magia de los soothsayers y de los inmortales me pareció la cosa más desperdiciada del universo. Como lectora, sólo aprendí que la sangre de quienes blandían magia prohibida se encendía en llamas cuando salía a la superficie. Y ya está. Nada más. Y se supone que son una parte central del conflicto, pero, en mi opinión, pasaron desapercibidos.

Lo que más coraje me dio de toda la historia es que el personaje que prometía ser más interesante, o sea Akira, también quedó perdido en medio de la nada.

Todo fue decepcionante.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,065 reviews1,475 followers
January 21, 2019
Initial Thoughts: Just been approved for an e-arc of one of my most anticipated 2019 releases!! This cover combined with the Chinese-inspired A Game of Thrones comparison has me anticipating great things from this one.

Review: Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own. From this very first line of the synopsis I knew this was going to be the book for me.

A well-conceived costume is a new identity. From this very first line of the actual book I knew I was going to be immersed in all the political scheming, court intrigue, and high-stakes action that I had been so highly anticipating. And I was not wrong.

Fantasy books following the inner-workings of the royal court and with society's ruling members as their central characters are my favourite to read about. What this book did, inside this much-used outline, is deliver the reader something entirely new. The book begun with treason, was followed by murder, and the stakes were only ever raised from there. My trust was tested with each twist added to this deliciously dark tale and even as I bonded with the unforgettable cast of characters I knew I could never trust them, or the author, with what was going to be delivered next.

Joan He made not one fault in this meticulously constructed story-line, this vivid world, and these entirely unique and authentic characters. I was enchanted by her words and immersed inside her world. This book lived up to every one of the crazy high expectations I placed upon it. I was in absolute adoration of the writing, throughout, and in utter denial over how shook the ending had me, as I turned the final page.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Joan He, and the publisher, AW Teen, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Anja H..
760 reviews459 followers
June 1, 2019

“What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good Kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.”

Damn! I really wanted to love this, I truly did.
The comparison to a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones had me so hyped!
And it all started off really well! There were so many plot twists, both predictable and unpredictable ones. The writing was phenomenal, can’t say anything bad about that. The world-building couldn’t have been better and was very intriguing.

Yet somehow I couldn’t seem to get into this and I had a really meh feeling after finishing this.
Is it just me? Am I in a reading slump? Was it a bad idea reading this while I was on holiday? Am I just too stupid for this book? Will there ever be a sequel to answer all my unanswered questions?
Who knows.
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,109 reviews6,574 followers
April 26, 2019
"Of course, heroes cannot be forged without villains..."

I REALLY enjoyed this. It is absolutely FULL of twists and turns, with stunning writing and super intriguing characters and a centuries-long fight against prejudice and discrimination.
The one thing that peeves me off about this is that it's marketed as a standalone when it is SO OBVIOUSLY NOT a standalone. The author has stated that she has companion novels lined up but the publisher is probably waiting to see how successful this first book is. ANNOYING.
Also, there was a moment in this where I was like OMG IS THIS GONNA BE GAY??? But it wasn't *sigh*

Anyways, thoroughly enjoyed this one and would highly recommend!
Profile Image for l..
491 reviews2,137 followers
January 7, 2022
My smol Asian heart is doing a happy dance, because I’m a Baroness at Hesina’s Imperial Court!!

Have you ever seen a book with a cover that so effortlessly transcends all human concepts of beauty, and, moreover, has a synopsis to match its outer beauty’s magnificence with equal brilliance?

// buddy read with Tiffany 🌺
Profile Image for Alexis.
136 reviews36 followers
December 24, 2022
I’m trying to write this review but I don’t even know what to say. This book was just...wow. It was so good. I LOVE political intrigue and this book was full of it. And we also got a magic system that I found so interesting. And the TWISTS. Omg the twists. This book is so good. Go read it.

Oh an did I mention the sibling relationships? I love them. Siblings in books always take me out and this one was especially good.

There’s also like a little hint of romance but it’s not huge. Like if you just want romance this isn’t it. But when you want a fantasy story with a hint of romance, this is absolutely perfect.

It killed me. This books great. I don’t know what else to say other than read it.

TW’s : Death, Genocide, Murder, Poisoning, Physical violence, Torture, Grief

Right after reading:
What the actual fuck. Idk who recommended this book to me but we need to have a talk. Omg. If you’ve read this please talk to me about it omg I can’t do this.
Profile Image for Rachel Hartman.
Author 15 books3,839 followers
April 25, 2019
I enjoyed this one a lot and can vouch for its awesomeness!

If you liked my first book, Seraphina - particularly the politics, palace intrigue, and mystery - then I'd encourage you to give this one a try. Courtroom drama! Philosophy! Meditations on what it means to be a just ruler! To say nothing of the fact that Joan He really knows how to finesse a plot twist; I typically see these things coming a mile away, but she kept me guessing (and the final one just pulled the rug out from under me) and my hat's off to her.

I see some reviews fussing a bit about character development, but I really liked what she did with these characters. They're understated and restrained in a consistent way that makes it feel like a coherent courtly culture, underpinned with specific philosophy. I thought that was very well done, in fact, even if they weren't acting quite the way we expect teens to act.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
April 11, 2019
3.5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for a digital galley in exchange for an honest review

This little gem may have escaped my notice if I hadn't seen a list of highly anticipated YA novels for 2019. Reeling from the death of a beloved father, the teen regent Hessina is hell bent on finding the person or persons who may be responsible. Plenty of twists and lots of back stabbing betrayals ensue and it isn't long before Hessina wonders- who can I trust?

There is potential left here for a sequel and despite a little bit of a slow start in the beginning, I soon was swept away by this tale.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,502 reviews451 followers
April 9, 2019
Hesina becomes queen after the death of her father, and is determined to find his murderer. But there are truths that do more harm than good...

Do you ever feel like you read a completely different book than everyone else?

The summary for this was incredibly intriguing—billed as an Asian GoT, with twists, turns, politics, war and feminist agency, I was beyond hooked. And all of the reviews from my Goodreads friends had me psyched and ready to rock on the hype train.


This was not the book for me.

The premise and promise was so high, but I felt like the execution wasn't polished as neatly as it could have been.

It played out like a lot of other YA fantasy stories that I've been seeing lately—twists and turns, haphazard worldbuilding (some parts of this world were breathtakingly beautiful, and others popped out of nowhere 3/4 of the way through the book without context), and a heroine whose motivations, actions and words are going in three completely different directions. And secondary characters who are painfully one-dimensional.

There are so many different things happening in this story—war, salt/water trades with a kingdom that is trying to go to war with them for some reason, evil ministers, sooths and oppression and magic, a where'd that come from? love interest with a tragically mysterious backstory, immortal people, a red herring trial, a maggot-eyed scout, a vanishing village subplot that literally vanishes faster than the villages did, distant mothers and more and more bunny trails and side plots that erupted and then vanished into the ether leaving more questions than answers.

Additionally, Hesina herself is probably one of the most frustrating queens I've ever seen. Where are her ministers? Where is any communication? Where are her guards, her ladies in waiting, her attendants, why are the people of court and her people all faceless blobs who gather at her feet and she doesn't know any of their names??? Where the adults??

And finally, the question that's most pressing of all: WHO IS RUNNING THIS KINGDOM?

Because it sure as hell ain't Hesina.

Girl spends like three days doing paperwork, is like, f this shit, and hares off to save the sooths and stop a war, bungles it because she has no clue how logistics, alliances, communication and leadership actually work, and then blames herself for not changing centuries of oppression and ingrained racism and hatred after being on the job for three weeks.

Again. So much potential.

Anywho, don't take my review as gospel.

Many, many other people loved this book. Maybe you will too.

I'm just not one of them.

I received this ARC from NetGalley and Edelweiss for an honest review.
Profile Image for Hafsah Faizal.
Author 9 books7,913 followers
September 12, 2018
A gripping tale full of intrigue, unpredictable twists, and betrayal—this is the Chinese fantasy readers have been waiting for.

Hesina is what many of us girls once were: obligated to age before our time, to take on roles we should not have had to bear. It's a reality many girls of color are forced to endure, and it was as refreshing as it was bittersweet to read. Hesina, royal by birth, does not take all of her newfound responsibilities without struggle and without a hefty dose of mistakes, and I loved her all the more for it.

There are many novels that boast daring comparisons, but DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE truly lives up to its claim of being a Chinese Game of Thrones, complete with court intrigue, complex relationships, and teetering grasps of power.

Moreover, Joan He's debut is a beautiful story. Lush, symbolic, and profound, resulting in a clever tale of breathless twists, sharp turns, and a stunning conclusion that will leave you scrambling for more. DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE is a novel to watch.

Grab your copy: https://t.co/4I4B1y7M1q
Profile Image for Vicky Again.
602 reviews812 followers
April 7, 2019
5 stars

Don’t forget! Descendant of the Crane is also out on APRIL 9th as the pub date was pushed back a week. Still, very excited for my copy to come!

For the first time ever, I experienced blogger-writer’s block for this review.

I read this in October or November and spent five months writing this. It’s not super long or anything, I just have no words that will do this book justice.

I could write a one-sentence summary of this review right now, and you can turn around and preorder this book instead: Descendant of the Crane is one of my all-time favorite books, and you should buy/request/read it.

It’s just fantastic, and there are so many things that just make this book work. But still, I will try to give you ~reasons~ why you’ll love this, not just tell you that you will.

The first thing I need to say is


That ending? And then the ending after that? And after that? He really pulls out all the stops with this book, and the sheer number of twists and turns have me screaming. And it’s been like 5 months and I still can’t stop thinking about them.

They’re just…so iconic. Throughout the book, He pulls out these twists and in the first second you read it you go “HOLY $#!@” and then you think a little bit about it and go “whoa that was set up well how did I miss it???” (then again, I am generally bad at guessing twists but these really blew me away, more than normal!)

I felt like He really set them up well, and this book is so smart? sharp? and really executes the twists in an elegant manner. Wow.

The entire plot is so intricate and tightly put together.

This ties in a little with the last point, but this book is like dominoes in a line. It’s one thing after another and everything is so put together and the scenes are all very important. Skip one scene and the dominoes stop. Add too many in, and it doesn’t work as smoothly. He did some careful maneuvering to get Descendant of the Crane just right.

Descendant of the Crane features an intricate plot with both a huge murder mystery as well as so much political intrigue. There’s court trials for the murder and the politics is mixed in, as the traitor may lie somewhere in the court . . .

Plus, there’s also politics with another country (I definitely hope to see more of this in a potential sequel if it happens) and I was devouring it all.

I do think that if you’re someone who is very meh about twistiness and politics, you might want to pass on this, but I do want to note how Descendant of the Crane does not sacrifice voice & character development. In fact . . .

I absolutely adore the characters.

Sanjing is 100% my favorite, but Hesina is probably the best out of all of them.

Hesina is a force. She basically has the entire weight of the world on her shoulders and is trying desperately to just stay afloat while everything is coming crashing down around her. She’s got so many hard decisions to make (like, where does she draw the line in committing treason?) and it feels very real to the reader (aka why I cried so much. College is a hard decision, hmmm).

I thought the way He portrayed Hesina’s sort of tumble and crash built up really nicely, and is part of why I loved this story so much.

Even more than this, the characters have motives. Goals. Desires. I loved reading how He put this on the page and really revealed this through some of their actions. It felt like the characters had agency and weren’t being puppeted around, and I really liked that.

(Plus, I have an interview with some of the characters coming this Wednesday so keep an eye out for that!!!)

I love how it examined morality.

One of the biggest themes in Descendant of the Crane, in my opinion, is morality and how it ties into sacrifice. If you’re doing a bad thing for a good cause, how far will you go?

I think Descendant of the Crane really portrayed this question well and showed a lot of different paths to achieving something (some of which I cannot spoil). The way the story questioned this really made me think about what I would do in Hesina’s position, and I loved how the story sucked you in this way.

Overall, I cried. Descendant of the Crane made me cry. No less than 3 times.

I just adore this book so much and it’s one of my favorites of all time! I want to hug the characters to my chest and make sure they’re all happy and thriving.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone, but especially if you like
- tightly plotted stories
- interesting politics
- murder mystery
- characters who are Stressed But Trying Their Best
- a rich world and a fantastic book and OMG THOSE TWISTS

Thank you so much to Joan He for sending me an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Vicky Who Reads
Profile Image for nuin giliath.
201 reviews56 followers
April 13, 2019
*I received an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review*

2.5/5 stars

Throughout my time reading this book, I've debated on how I would accurately describe my reaction to it. I have determined that Descendant of the Crane is fairly average for the most part, yet it has the potential to be something amazing. I was initially drawn to this story by the premise of a fantasy novel set in an Asian-influenced world with a strong female character and plenty of intrigue. To my disappointment, I never felt like this book delivered on this in a satisfying way.

The story starts out with the death of a king and his daughter, who is convinced it was murder, is determined to learn the truth despite her surprising inexperience with the politics of a royal court. The first few chapters felt a bit chaotic, but I still found myself engaged in the mystery to uncover. However as the story progressed, I became less invested in it due to the underwhelming characters and continued pacing problems.

For me, the strongest stories have well-developed and realistic characters. Yet I never felt a connection with any of these characters as most of them came across as very one-dimensional - particularly at the beginning. While there was improvement for a few of them during the second half of the novel, it was too late for me to develop a strong interest in them at that point.

The overall text suffered from pacing issues as sometimes it was exciting while other times it dragged. I was pleasantly surprised by the many twists throughout the story. These were a major highlight that kept me engaged throughout the book. The prose was hit-or-miss for me, but it was so well done during those "hits" that I could easily forgive the "misses". The dialogue was passable, but it often felt stilted.

There was some clear effort to create a history and world, but I was left with a lot of questions and I wanted more of the soothsayers and their magic. Some of the names felt rather out of place - such as using the "Investigation Bureau" as the name for an official agency. This was so off-putting as every time I read it I thought of FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) which immediately removed me from being immersed within this fantasy world. A completely fabricated name or one more Asian-influenced would have been better.

For a debut novel, I can identify a lot of potential and would be willing to try this author's work again in the future. With some tweaking, this could be an incredibly thrilling tale.
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