This week I want to talk to you about two very different books: Joan He’s debut fantasy Descendant of the Crane, set in a world which draws inspiration from Chinese history and culture; and Jaime Lee Moyer’s Brightfall, a fresh new approach to the Robin Hood mythos set in a medieval Sherwood Forest filled with Fae lords and magic.
Descendant of the Crane, guys. Guys. This is a gorgeous novel, full of tension and incident. Hesina is our main character. She’s a young woman who believes her father was murdered. Her father was the emperor, and she’s first in line to inherit. But her kingdom isn’t the land of fairness, justice, and good laws enforced by uncorrupted people that she’s been raised to believe it is (and has always wanted to believe it is). There are deep fault lines in her society, going all the way back to the revolution that overthrew the previous imperial regime. The old emperors had stayed in power by exploiting the power of the “sooths”—people born with the power to see visions of the future. The overthrow of the old emperors was accompanied by mass slaughter of the sooths, and even now, the penalty for being one, consulting one, or knowingly sheltering one remains execution by the death of a thousand cuts.
Hesina starts out seeking justice for her father, while constrained by laws that remove a significant amount of power from the hands of a princess or empress (or emperor, for that matter). She rapidly begins to understand, however, that there are powerful interests in the imperial bureaucracy that don’t and won’t operate on the principles that are supposed to guide her society. As she fights—and fails—to maintain control of the legal processes that she’s set in motion, she begins to discover some of what’s behind the divisions in her society—and some of the secrets her father was keeping. Those secrets could upend her view of the world, but even as she learns more, her situation becomes more and more perilous. Treachery, betrayal, and loss surrounded her, and in the end, she may have to choose survival over justice. At least in the short term.
With compelling characters and a tense, emotional approach to intrigue, Descendant of the Crane is a really enjoyable read. I’m seriously looking forward to the sequel.
Jaime Lee Moyer’s Brightfall is about grief and growth in middle age. It’s also about how men are terribly disappointing and don’t live up to their responsibilities—at least in part.
Marian has been raising her two children alone in Sherwood for years, ever since Robin renounced her and cloistered himself in a monastery to do penance for unspecified sins. She’s had Will Scarlett for a lover, and the consolation of her craft as a witch (a craft for which Robin has excoriated her, claiming she leads souls to damnation), as well as her children. But then Tuck—now abbot of a local monastery—turns up at her doorstep with disturbing news: Will Scarlett has died in mysterious circumstances. Worse, so have several other companions from their days haunting the woods and thwarting Nottingham’s sheriff. And Little John’s young son was also found dead in a similar fashion. Tuck fears a curse, and implores Marian to find out why their friends are dying. Marian, fearing for her children’s safety, bargains with the Fae of Sherwood for their protection, a choice that ends up embroiling her in the Fae’s own manoeuvres as she sets out on a quest to protect her friends.
Worse than the Fae is Robin Hood. Tuck’s sent Robin with her for her protection. But Robin’s a sullen, secretive man, and his obsession with atoning for his sins may put Marian in even more danger. And it’s his secrets that hold the answer to the deaths in Sherwood. Marian faces grief for her lover and her friends and her frustration at the selfish man who used to be her husband as she strives to protect what’s in her charge.
This is a solid, engaging story. Marian’s a strong, protective figure—almost the very definition of maternal—but she’s a woman with wants and needs of her own. She forges new friendships on her quest, and starts to lay to rest her grief—both for her lover, and for her old, long-gone relationship with Robin. I enjoyed it a lot.
What are you guys reading lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.