Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He was provided to me as an advanced digital reader copy by Albert Whitman and Company via NetGalley in return for an honest review. Descendant of the Crane is available for purchase as of April 9, 2019.

Something that I have become a little tired of is reading story that could be a full, adult fantasy novel, or even just a murder mystery novel like this one is (with fantasy elements) but someone along the way said it might survive better in YA. This isn’t to downtalk YA, keep in mind that much like ‘millennial’ is misused to describe teenagers, people assume YA is meant for teenagers too, and it is, but it is also for young adults such as people in their early to mid twenties. So I get that YA can be adult, I expect that. The elements that tire me about YA is that the main characters have to be 16-18 years old. I’ve mentioned before that the kind of YA I like the best is when the story is compelling and interesting and I forget all about how old the main characters are – it’s mentioned so infrequently and everyone acts so maturely that the story and characters stand on their own independent of the YA indicator. I haven’t been requesting many YA ARCs because of this. I’m tired of reading the same beginning of every book: “She was only 16 when she faced this terrible choice/journey/job” or “She had just turned 18 with her whole life ahead of her when…” and now that I’ve read too many, I see it everywhere and I can’t get past it.

This story escapes this particular criticism through the clever use of royal succession. Hasima’s father the king dies, and the royal doctress rules it a natural death and sends a decree out to the people of this, but Hasima discovers poison during his autopsy and decides to use her new powers as queen to call for an investigation into his death. Only problem is that her kingdom works under strange rules based on a history of fearing soothsayers and magic wielders. In an attempt to make society safer and more just, her kingdom is ripe for misuse and corruption, especially after the king’s death. Many people have knowledge of how the system works, and can therefore take advantage of its loopholes and dark places.

Many of the decisions made in this book are based on a set of Tenets written by the Eleven, a group of revolutionaries that overthrew the soothsayer Emperor and “freed” the people from the “evil” influence and oppression of magic. The philosophy behind these tenets is questioned, discussed, and sometimes ignored, but I really enjoyed thinking about how such clear teachings could be used to oppress and scapegoat a people in favor of saving a separate people. I like to think about how people can take advantage of things and about whether or not those actions are justified.

The major reveal, which I won’t spoil here, comes in several parts. More people are involved than you think, and the truth isn’t anything you could possibly have guessed until it happens and you’ll be like “oh right, duh, of course.” I was very sick for the past week and a half or so, and it’s possible that my usual instincts weren’t up to snuff here, but Joan He did a great job keeping me interested and reading, and unfurling the truth slowly enough that reading the entire book was worthwhile and rewarding.

I am confused about how a sequel might address the ending. There is a lot left undone, and only vague indications of how it’s going to get dealt with. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything because most of the charm of this book is its mysteries, but I’m not aching for a sequel. Honestly the way this book ends just made me say “yeah, that’s what happens. Now everyone can get what they want and live their lives.” Maybe I feel this way because this story was more plot-driven than character-driven, and I feel less connected to the characters so I don’t care as much about what happens to them. My only loyalty was to the mystery, and now that I know the answers, the characters don’t seem to mean as much.

You should definitely pick this one up if you like murder mysteries. The magic that would make this a fantasy novel is ancillary, the real action is in the whodunnit and overall it is masterfully done. Go get you some.

Seven Blades in Black (The Grave of Empires #1)

Seven Blades

Once in awhile I read a book that I identify with so deeply and so completely that I wish I could live within the pages and be the main character. The feelings of regret and suffering, of revenge and perseverance just emanate from the pages and make me drool and moan with pleasure like the smell of freshly baked bread or maybe Calvin Klein Infinity cologne (I’m SO CLASSY). I live vicariously through the main character and find satisfaction in ways I could never find in real life. *slaps faces of enemies with a pure, white glove*

Salazanca a.k.a. Sal the Cacophony is brash, ferocious, and a woman on a mission. She has made a deal with the spirit of her gun (named the Cacophony) that she would kill everyone on her list, everyone who attempted to sacrifice her to meet their own magical ends. Her own history with the individuals on her list is slowly revealed as she tells her story to her captors, Revolutionaries who seek to upend the Imperium and its Empress in favor of a human-run government.

The political backdrop to the story is just as compelling as Sal’s own vendetta. The Imperium has always had mages as Emperors and Empresses. The Revolution is made up of “nuls” – humans with no magical abilities, who seek to make their own government where mages are not in control. In the middle are mages gone Vagrant, mad that the Empress has given birth to one heir, a nul who will one day become emperor. They refuse to support a nul emperor after giving everything to set up and support the current Imperium, so they are fighting to bring about their own future separate from the Imperium and the Revolution.

It’s important to note that this is not your typical revenge story. Along the way it’s made apparent that Sal has her own choices to atone for, and has made some shady deals that she may not walk away from in pursuit of her goals. The realness with which Sykes presents this anti-heroine is so welcome and refreshing that I am already ready to accept her past if it means I get to follow her into the future. She is an unreliable narrator, and she leaves details out of her story as she tells it to her executioner because she sees them as unnecessary, but you will discover that she’s lying by omission, and there are some very disturbing actions she’s taken/taking that we only hear a whisper of before the story ends, leaving you begging for more.

It would be difficult for me to express to you how much I loved this book. When I initially opened it on my Kindle (I received it for free as the winner of a Goodreads giveaway) it said it would take me 12 hours to read it. This was daunting, but from the very first page I was in love with Sal the Cacophony and wanted nothing more than to see her succeed and get revenge on those who had wronged her. I gave what little mental energy I had left over in the past 3 weeks to moving forward inch by inch in the 30 minutes before I fell asleep each night, and every moment was worth it.

My only criticism? I hate the cover art.

You absolutely must read this book. While I wait for the next installment to this series, I’ll be seeking out the rest of Sam Sykes’ works. If his writing is this amazing, I cannot miss out on anything else written by him up to this point. GO GET IT QUICK WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

Monster Books

I am currently reading some very long books. The one I’m really into right now is about 800 pages and I’m only 41% of the way through it and it says there’s still 6-7 hours left even though I’ve been reading so fast because it is SO GOOD but it’s just SO LONG.

Seven Blades

Guys this book is spectacular. The world is cool, the main character is AMAZING, the magic system is really original and it has a kind of magic versus no magic vibe that I am really into, and her quest is a mystery that is being revealed slowly as I go, so each glimpse tells me (a) what she’s doing, and even more rarely (b) WHY.

I wish it came out earlier in the year so I would have the mental energy to read more, but this time of year I’m just so mentally exhausted that being able to read for about 30 minutes before bed is all I can muster. To get a review out quickly for this kind of book I need to be reading for at least an hour a day, minimum, and more on weekends. That kind of schedule just isn’t possible for me right now, but I’m doing my best and it helps that I really love the book so far.

I’m in the grind now and it’s gonna be tough all the way through about mid-May. I feel bad about slowing down the reviews but it’s just a normal part of my year.

I can’t wait to share this book with you. 🙂

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow #1)

I have been meaning to read Delilah S. Dawson’s work for quite some time. She writes fantasy as Lila Bowen, so I went to the library and checked out the first book in her Shadow series, to see what I would see.

This is one of the best beginnings of a book that I have ever read. In the span of three chapters our heroine Nettie Lonesome murders a vampire, proves her worth to the neighboring ranch, and escapes her life with her adoptive, drunk “parents” to be a bronc breaker under the name of Nat (everyone assumes she is a boy). It begins as a western that quickly becomes a fantasy quest.

Just when we think our heroine is safe, well-fed, and living her dream, a mostly dead Indian woman finds her way onto the ranch, gets Nettie to agree to seek her revenge for her, and then rides off on a mythical ocean steed, vowing to haunt her until the Cannibal Owl is destroyed. Nettie’s not real sure what the Cannibal Owl is, but she knows she doesn’t want to be haunted by an old Indian woman and in danger of being drowned by ocean water hundreds of miles away from its source.

Eventually she is forced from the ranch an discovers there are more horrors out in the desert than vampires. She’s pursued by a harpy, saved by a skinwalker and his sister, and brought to the rangers to see if they will train her(him) and accompany her on her mission to kill the Cannibal Owl. They agree, and share stories about what the Cannibal Owl has done, mostly stealing children from towns and eating them, one which was just a newborn baby.

There are a million reasons to love this book. You don’t have to be half black, half Native American to identify with Nettie Lonesome. Her entire attitude of zero fucks to give about being a woman, about being a tool of revenge, about possibly being a mythical Shadow being – all she wants to do is be a man and work with horses. Every step of her journey is one less thing she has to do before she can go home or find a place on a nearby ranch to do what she loves.

This narrative tackles gender and being able to choose the gender you identify as, in addition to LGBT relationships. It shows us what perseverance and trust can mean in the face of a destiny you do not want. One of the intricate issues Bowen/Dawson explores is what it might mean when the gender you choose to present confuses those who might be gay or bisexual when you are not. What happens when a male character who is gay falls for Nettie when she is pretending to be a man? This part of the book made me think about this situation, it was one I hadn’t considered before, and the communication, understanding, and delicacy that the miscommunication required was amazing to read. Even within the community of LGBT there is patience that is required as everyone navigates their identities and their sexualities.

The worldbuilding was wonderful, the characters were compelling and interesting, and the story held me in my seat until the very end. It’s a book that tackles important issues in a normal way in the midst of a fantasy quest. Go get you some.