This Advanced Readers’ Copy was given to me upon my request to the author herself, in exchange for an unbiased honest opinion.
I’m genuinely surprised.
This book turned out to be pretty amazing.
BUT IT DOESN’T MEAN I WON’T BE BRUTALLY HONEST WHEN I NEED TO. I will ROAST this book as I intend to ever since I first heard and researched about it. Because that’s my duty as one of Chinese nationality to do justice to book reviews.
Name: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
Release Date: April 2, 2019
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?
Book Cover Comments
The cover definitely captures the style of traditional Chinese art, with the use of mist and the subtle unvibrant yet vibrant colours. But one must take caution, for Cranes are very important in Japanese mythology too. And this cover itself is lowkey borderlining Japanese culture.
The Actual Review
Let me explain: I loved the plot of this book. I was hooked from beginning-ish and especially until the end, but I have numerous complains about the lack of authenticity in terms of the historical setting’s accuracy.
It can be argued that all of the complaints I wrote would not matter, because Descendants is not set in China and can be simply counted as an alternative universe. But the world’s roots of language and speech are from China, therefore the two must be compared. That being said, the world’s lore and language authenticity are mutually exclusive, and my negative opinions towards the use of language does not affect the lore, nor my opinion for the book’s characters and plots.
All the reviews I’ve read on Goodreads give the book infinite praise on how its the Chinese Game of Thrones, but I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about their comment because I’m almost the only one who knows and cares about Chinese authenticity.
I am born and raised in Hong Kong for the eighteen years of my life, a full Chinese community. I spoke and wrote Chinese ever since the age of 1 or less. I need to fully declare this now that I am about to roast the use of Chinese in this book.
NOTE: roast is TL;DR
The Roast and Complaints
You don’t even know the number of times I’ve said ARE YOU SERIOUS to my parents. I’ve shared the problems and complains I have with this book to all of my friends, and they give me the same look I give them.
If you write a book that is 100% inspired by a known historical setting, MAKE IT RIGHT. There are people like me who notice and get bugged A LOT when something is off. I know this is not urban fantasy and the author can almost do anything she wants with this world because the book is not set in China, but this book is “copy and paste China” in a nutshell, and you can’t mess up the Chinese culture.
- Hesina. Oh, Hesina. I know you want to use the reference of Crane (鶴 hè) in the name which is perfectly fine, BUT just because you want to doesn’t mean you should be giving Hesina a three-character name. The chance of someone in China, especially those of royalty, to have a 3 character name is near impossible. It has always been and will pretty much always be ONE or TWO characters. Hesina sounds good for sure, but for Chinese people to look at it on first glance, they’d think they’re delusional if they were ever wondering if Hesina was supposed to be Chinese.
- Lilian. You cannot see Lilian and not think of the English Lilian. I know that the phonetics are correct for the Chinese characters of Li Lían, but people like me would think the Chinese name existed for the sake of the English one.
- Caiyan. The character for “cai” is used more as a surname than a character in a first name. I thought Cai would be the surname for Caiyan, turns out not because Caiyan is technically a part of the royal family, so his surname would follow Hesina’s, which is Yan, which makes him Yan Caiyan. It’s just contradictory. AND DON’T GET ME STARTED ON the character for yan. The character used is 妍。You might think it’s perfectly fine but its not. See the left half of the character? That character is 女. You know what this is? It’s the character FOR FEMALE. Asia is known for its clear line with genders, and China is no exception when this extends to its form of writing. The character 妍 (yan) is a feminine character, and to use this on a male is simply unacceptable.
- Akira. This is the most ridiculous one out of all of them. I get it that Akira is probably a foreigner and not exactly Chinese, but there are so many other names you could have used for a foreigner that even Hesina would be a more suitable name than Akira. Akira is obviously of Japanese origin and can only belong as Japanese origin. You CANNOT mix Japanese and Chinese culture together in one pot and expect it to work. IT DOESN’T.
- Sanjing. If you take his Chinese characters, 三金，this literally means “three gold”, and for a prince, I have never heard of such a mundane name before. Not to mention that the spelling of phonetics ISN’T EVEN RIGHT. If for the character 金, you spell it “jin”, not “jinG”.
- The author has done the exact same mistake with the Chinese phonetics of menustration, in which she used in the book. She had spelled it yue jin instead of yue jinG.
- “Sweet wine congee and fried bean curd”. Sweet wine congee is not a thing. You don’t put wine in rice-water. She probably was trying to say 糖水 (lit. sweet water) which is a soupy pasty watery dessert, but you can’t call it congee. Congee is rice-water. And Fried bean curd? China is known for pan-fry tofu rather than fried tofu. Fried bean curd just makes me think of Japan’s aburaage.
- “Crystal shrimp dumplings and jellyfish noodles” YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME these two items are CANTONESE CUISINES. You know what that means? Is that it’s from the South. All Chinese imperial cities are always located up in the middle-north of China. Not in the South. Northern cuisine and Canton cuisine are two different worlds. Also, let’s be real here. Crystal shrimp dumplings weren’t invented until the 1920’s!
- I know this is the author’s own world, but I pick this world up as an alternative universe historical China. You can’t put your favourite dishes in here to ruin the authenticity of classical China.
- Myths. The author borrowed one of the traditional Chinese myths to shape it so that it becomes a myth of her book’s world. But here’s the thing: if you’re going to use a given myth, STICK TO THE BOOK. If you wanted a myth relevant for your own plot, MAKE ONE UP AND DON’T WARP THE ORIGINAL MYTH. It’s like, Zeus shot the world with not lightning bolts, but crane beaks. Does that sound right? NO.
I apologize. But it must be included to educate everyone around here.
THE ACTUAL REVIEW
Now, back to the actual review of the book.
I loved the overall somber and mysterious tone of the book as we slowly reveal the personality and character of our main heroine, Hesina. Hesina’s journey across this book to find out truths and feel the burden of a Queen upon her shoulders was pretty magnifying in terms of impact, in which I really enjoyed.
The people surrounding her and the level of manipulation going on was pretty amazing as well. It definitely lives up to the traditional thought of what goes on in Chinese palace politics, as seen on TV. Everyone is basically cutthroat to reach the conclusion and result that they want, and the brutally honest aspect of this was something I really enjoyed in this book.
While I did get mildly confused with what was going on in the beginning, the build up was fairly well done and did not overly bore me: Hesina’s actions and motive pushed the plot forward, which is what we seek in a heroine. Up to the 50% mark, more of the country’s lore and magic background has been revealed as we get closer and closer to revelations that is required to reach the conclusion that Hesina is reaching for. The last one-third of the book was absolutely spectacular with the revelations and the characters, and there was a quite shocking twist at the very end, both the actual event and the reason for that event, which was kindly explained in the epilogue.
The other characters were definitely well written: Akira was a spectacular side character with flamboyant character, though I did wish for a more frequent appearance to further expand his relationship with Hesina, but alas I felt that the book’s current amount was pretty sufficient.
Lilian, Hesina’s bff played a huge role other than just being Hesina’s best friend, and while the male side characters’ roles might have overshadowed Lilian’s, Hesina’s trust in her makes a really big difference.
Lilian’s twin, Caiyan, plays an even bigger role in Hesina because of the trust they have between. Caiyan is the one Hesina will literally go to first when discussing anything, and his character building was rich indeed.
Sanjing, Hesina’s brother, I wish we could learn more about him because he was definitely my favourite side character. Sanjing and Hesina’s relationship as siblings and the struggles they have in between them makes the relationship so raw between these two royal siblings.
I also loved Hesina’s mother. You’ll get to know more about her in the book and I’ll have no spoilers.
A spectacular read that infused the beauty of traditional Chinese culture, Joan He presents Descendant of the Crane, full of manipulations and revelations that will shock us all.
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