Fairy Tale Magic in Elizabeth Lim’s Six Crimson Cranes

I’ve always loved fairy tales. Like many people my age, I grew up on the Disney fluff and stayed on the fairy tale train for the darker, Into the Woods style takes. Then, I fell into anime and started learning about fairy tales, folk tales, and mythologies from other cultures. Fairy tale retellings and reimaginings are nothing new in the young adult world, but that doesn’t stop me from getting my hands on every single one that I can. Sometimes, they’re fairly predictable but still fun to read. Other times, they completely blow you away.

I loved Elizabeth Lim’s Blood of Stars duology, and Six Crimson Cranes immediately rocketed up to the top of my most anticipated reads list. I am so thrilled to say that it exceeded all hype and expectations.

Shiori’anma is the only princess of Kiata. Youngest sister of six brothers, she is carefree, joyful, and headstrong. She also has a secret. Shiori has forbidden magic. Usually, Shiori is able to keep her powers hidden, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, she loses control. At first, Shiori is relieved that her mistake stalled her arranged marriage, but it doesn’t take long for her to realize that her world is changed forever. Nothing is the same once her stepmother, Raikama, discovers her magic, turns her six brothers into cranes, and casts a curse on Shiori, banishing all of the royal children from the palace. Shiori is told that if she speaks, the curse will kill her brothers one by one. Left voiceless, penniless, and with her only friend, an enchanted paper crane named Kiki, by her side, Shiori must discover how to break the curse and save her kingdom.

Every single thing about Six Crimson Cranes worked. It is no exaggeration that Elizabeth Lim has mastered how to write a magical fairy tale world. She takes everything one would expect from fairy tales and turns them on their head. From trusted tropes to storytelling structures and everything in between, Elizabeth Lim both honors the fairy tale format and reworks it into something completely her own.

The fast pace of Six Crimson Cranes is pulled directly from classic fairy tales, and yet it works perfectly in this long form novel. Instead of following Shiori through all of her travels, we’ll often get a quick time jump from one place to the next, and that means there is no place to rest in the story. You get all of the important moments of the story without any meandering, and it leads to an action-packed, heart pounding work that is impossible to put down.

The characters in Six Crimson Craness are absolutely fantastic. Shiori is more than a standard princess character—she is active, she is funny, she is headstrong, she is kind, and, most importantly, she is allowed to be flawed. Shiori is a perfect lead character because of her imperfections. Her actions are sometimes rash, but you believe every single choice she makes. Shiori may have become my favorite fantasy character so far this year, and I can’t wait to see what she does in book two. She is a real, fleshed out young woman trying her best to save her family and her kingdom while shouldering the trauma she’s experienced from being betrayed by her stepmother.

Speaking of the stepmother, we have to talk about Raikama!

One of the most interesting things about fairy tales overall is their static characters. Each one has a trope or a trait that determines their path in the story and nothing lets them veer from that. Sometimes, characters get one passing mention before fading into the background, never to be heard from again. That’s the beauty of getting to write modern fairy tales: highlighting characters who may have been pushed aside before and tackling tropes head on. Lim does this incredibly well with all of the characters in this book. All six brothers have distinct personalities but none of them feel like a prop; it’s easy to see how much love was poured into creating each one, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to feature in the next book. There are characters I want to learn more about, like the mercurial dragon, but I have complete faith that those characters will receive more attention in the sequel. The character she does this with the best, though, is Raikama, the stepmother. Without giving anything away, Elizabeth Lim has worked magic with the character Raikama. Every time I thought I had her figured out, another nugget of information sent my head spinning. If you are looking for an author who has mastered taking fairy tale tropes and turning them into something completely new, look no further than Elizabeth Lim and her completely addictive storytelling.

We haven’t even talked about the romance yet! I am definitely a queer reader and don’t often swoon over straight romances, but wow, did I get invested incredibly fast in the main romance of this novel. I also appreciated that there wasn’t a love triangle in this story—although, who knows, perhaps Shiori will develop feelings for another character in the second book. As someone who grew up on Disney’s The Little Mermaid, I am a sucker for people developing feelings for each other when one of the two is unable to use their voice to communicate. Lim takes that idea to new heights here.

One of the biggest questions I had diving into Six Crimson Cranes was whether or not one would have needed to read Lim’s previous duology to understand Cranes. After finishing the story, I say no…but with a caveat. There are many fun easter eggs from Spin the Dawn and Unravel the Dusk featured in Cranes that I would have missed if I hadn’t read the duology, but missing those would not have hindered my enjoyment of the story. There is a reveal in the final pages, though, that had a much greater impact on me since I had read the Blood of Stars books. Readers discovering Elizabeth Lim for the first time will have no problem diving into the story, but I admit that having a knowledge of the world from the previous books had a strong impact on my reading of the last chapter of Cranes.

Overall, Six Crimson Cranes is bound to become a masterpiece in fairy tale fantasy. It has everything a reader is looking for, keeps you on the edge of your seat, and throws enough twists and turns your way to keep you guessing. If you are looking for a new book to add to your shelf that kills the idea that fairy tale stories are old and stale, this is the book. Six Crimson Cranes is perfection.

Six Crimson Cranes is available from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Read an excerpt here.

Cassie Schulz (she/they) is an indie bookseller and event coordinator with Brazos Bookstore, as well as a primary school teacher, performer, and general queer distaster. You can find them on Twitter and IG @pineappleramble where they tweet about books, musicals, cats, and upcoming writings.


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