Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
Published: 2019 by Albert Whitman & Company
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy
I never thought that there would be a day when I’d say this, but I’m disappointed by how tame Descendant of the Crane turned out to be. Maybe I expected too much. Maybe I’ve made a mistake of thinking that this would be like one of those vicious, brutal and painful worldview-shattering humans-are-monsters-monsters-are-humans kind of book like how Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is. Thus, I had hoped and that hope grew when I found that this book has the makings of one while I was reading it. Unfortunately, it ultimately fell short.
There’s a lot that I found unsatisfying with Descendant of the Crane. The first being the lack of consistent, prominent and (more) explicit allusions, symbolism and metaphors related to cranes. At one point of the book, we find out that Hesina’s name is a homophone for ‘dying cranes’ and the birds are briefly mentioned another time or two, but that’s it. I can’t recall a moment when cranes play a big enough role to deserve being a part of the title and Hesina’s name—which isn’t good because that basically makes it a pointless symbol, especially for those who are unaware of what a crane symbolizes.
You see, cranes are known to symbolize good fortune, happiness and longevity/eternal youth. When you’re aware of this, it’s more probable to guess that Hesina is a descendant of an immortal and that her name means that she’s their cause of death. Knowing this, makes the subtle use of a crane as a symbol smart. Not knowing this plus the incredibly subtle utilization of it, however, leaves one possibly not knowing the point of it and thus, renders the symbol pointless. It would’ve been more effective if He wove more allusions with cranes into the story.
Moving on, the plot is messy. I have no complaints about the pacing being slow because I like a good book that delves properly on as many aspects of world building as possible. Instead, I’m unsatisfied with how this story is built and focused on plot twists that causes the characters to unnaturally contradict with themselves as they stiltedly arrive at plot points set by the author rather than characterization which leads to smooth transitions of one plot point to another. There is a tendency of revealing necessary information like name meanings too late into the story as well for them to have proper impact.
Moreover, the characters are too shallow. Sure, they’re not simply good or evil, and there’s some natural contradiction (different from the aforementioned) to their character which makes them a touch more human, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t flat. I tried my best to empathize with them—even tried to sympathize when I couldn’t emphasize. In the end, I had to give up because except for that final moment with Caiyan, everyone else just wasn’t convincing enough for me to feel for them or share their feelings.
Returning to the earlier point where I said that Descendant of the Crane has the makings of a vicious, brutal and painful worldview-shattering humans-are-monsters-monsters-are-humans kind of book but ultimately fell short. Yeah, that point. I don’t think that being constricted by marketability should be a reason (if that’s actually the reason) for why this book is as restrained as it is. Both this book and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns are YA books, but the latter certainly didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the world one would expect to come hand-in-hand with the situations the main characters find themselves in. In fact, even if I don’t compare them, Descendant of the Crane still feels unnaturally cleaned up for a younger audience.
All in all, this book was a okay read for me. It didn’t catch my attention well enough for me to read it all in one go, but with an ending like that, I am definitely interested in knowing what happens next.