My only 2-star read this year…

Well. It’s a Friday, but I’m gonna do a Wordling post instead of a feature, because I just need to get something off of my chest. I listened to the audiobook of Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane this week, and despite its fairly solid reviews on Goodreads, and despite the hype that was built up around it (or maybe partially because of the hype?), I just… didn’t enjoy it. I even considered not finishing it about halfway through, but then pressed on because I really hate DNFing.

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Whyyyyy, Descendant?!

It’s tough because I’ve been on such a solid streak of great great books:

  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, which yes I hadn’t read before and which I found fast-paced and super interesting;
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood which *shock* I also had a few issues with (stay tuned for future posts, I have things to SAY!) but still found ridiculously compelling and a thrilling journey;
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman, which was a reread and remains a solid favourite;
  • all of Jane Austen’s books which are golden;
  • the first three Anne of Green Gables books, which I am kicking myself for never having read before;
  • George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin which was excessively enchanting;
  • aaaaaand gosh-darn Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel which, if you haven’t read, deserves your immediate attention.
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…but also go read Station Eleven RIGHT.NOW.
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SO I was pretty keen to continue the epic streak, and actually gave a little shriek when I found the audiobook, not believing my luck… but alas. It was not to be with this one. I will try not to give too many spoilery spoilers, but if you haven’t read the book, be warned that I may give a few plot points away.

Here’s a beautiful summation of Descendant if you have no idea what it’s about, taken from an epic review of the book by Elizabeth over at The Skiffy And Fanty Show:

Descendant of the Crane is a Chinese-inspired YA fantasy novel about politics, leadership and sacrifice. When the King of Yan dies suddenly, Hesina knows her father has been poisoned. In order to launch an official investigation, Hesina must take her place as the queen—no easy task when this involves gaining the approval of her mother. Plus, any ruler of the Kingdom of Yan faces a number of troubles. Whole villages are disappearing without a trace along the border, but Yan’s philosophy prevents the country from going to war. Within the capital there’s rumours that the soothsayers, the magic users who propped up the previous regime of profligate emperors, aren’t as dead as once thought, and neighbours begin to turn on each other. Hesina must somehow balance these concerns with her quest for the truth about her father’s death and her growing awareness of treachery from within her court.”

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When trying to figure out what about Descendant fundamentally didn’t gel with me, I couldn’t settle on one particular thing. The characters failed to really move me or to distinguish themselves beyond stereotypes, possibly with the exception of Lilian; Hesina, the main character, was just supremely annoying most of the time. I found the romance that sparked up between her and one of the book’s other characters (see, I’m really trying not to give anything away!) entirely unnecessary – I think the book would’ve actually been better without any romantic element (and, like, I looooove a good romance). I found the various villains and their motivations sort-of clichéd, and one character’s move from hero to villain to hero-ish just felt overwrought and confusing. Their motives just seemed so off! I couldn’t wrap my head around it! No character but Hesina’s was really given the space to develop, so I struggled to recognise their behaviours as connected to their characters.

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Now, I can deal with annoying characters if the plot is super exciting and moves the story along; that’s how I felt about Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last, which was chock-full of people who made me want to screeeeam but had a thrilling plot. Not so with Descendant 😦 Instead, it felt jumbled, oscillating between a lot of nothing happening and then a WHOLE lot of everything happening allatonce!!!! I felt like I was always missing information. A small admittance: I never got the connection of the title to the story, guys – who was the crane? A bigger admittance: I found the general plot as it related to the soothsayers quite interesting, but struggled to grasp the intricacies of their backstory and why they are so hated at the time during which the majority of the story takes place. The history of the Eleven was also kind-of intriguing, but I just failed to grasp why they felt they had to execute all the sooths when they came into power. I’ll take the blame for this myself – I was listening to the audiobook at work and in the car, so the possibility exists that I missed the entire history and the Eleven’s motivations. Apparently it all made sense to a lot of other readers who were able to sum it up a lot better than I could after I had listened to the whole book – Alex explains it really awesomely and succinctly:

“Centuries ago, the Eleven ripped Yan from the death grip of arrogant, cruel emperors and built a new society founded on their Tenets. But in order to secure their country and eradicate the last of the emperors’ traditions, they turned against the soothsayers, humans with the ability to magically manipulate matter and see the future. The Eleven had the sooths executed by the thousands, and only those who escaped into the bordering countries or who hid amongst the lowest ranks of civilians survived.”

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Don’t worry, Laura – it went way over my head, too!
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What I did love in the story was the world-building. The backdrop of this novel is really gorgeous, and I loved the Chinese-inspired traditions, clothing, writing techniques, food and language. Nancy Wu, who narrated the audiobook to which I listened, did an amazing job voicing all the characters; her pronunciation was authentic and she strove to differentiate between different people without making caricatures of anyone. The only thing I found disconcerting was that she gave the Prince of Kendi’a a decidedly Australian accent, which I felt was a little at-odds with the whole setting of the book – although it definitely distinguished him from other characters during dialogue scenes.

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The Prince countering Hesina’s negotiating tactics… maybe he’s Australian after all?!

There were a lot of twists and intrigue, but I found myself disappointed by most of them, even the ones I didn’t guess at. The pacing really just felt off a lot of the time; characters blew hot and cold; people were prominent and then suddenly disappeared only to randomly reappear and then disappear again.

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In conclusion, my GoodReads review is this comprehensive: “Oh, it was just FINE. I wanted it to be better but it was just FINE. I was excessively underwhelmed.”

And that’s all she wrote, folks!

You’ve heard what I think; now I’d love to hear your opinion! Have you read Descendant of the Crane? If so, do you agree with me, or did you love it? What did I miss, if you thought it was fantastic? Have you read anything this year that you’d highly anticipated and which ended up disappointing you? Tell me all your thoughts!

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