Six Crimson Cranes is a Bit Messy... (book review)
GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 454 pages
Princess Shiori and her brothers are cursed by her stepmother. Shiori cannot speak a word or her brothers will die and her brothers have been turned into cranes. Scattered across the land, Shiori must find a way to break the curse before war breaks out.
Shiori is an impulsive troublemaker. She has a voracious appetite which I actually liked. I think the whole princesses having tiny appetites trope can be toxic for young women who are taught by society to worry constantly about their weight. She grew on me as a character throughout the novel.
I was worried we wouldn't see much of the relationship between Shiori and her brothers but we got more than I expected. Some, such as her youngest brother Hasho, had more time with her than others and therefore stood out more as characters. We saw enough of them all together, though, to get a feel of their dynamic and love for one another which, given the premise of the story, was essential.
Takkan is Shiori's love interest and is a kindhearted and creative soul. He was, unsurprisingly, my favorite character. Lim does a great job of writing love interests and pacing out the romance so they develop from friends to being more romantic. There doesn't need to be lots of kissing and cuddling for it to feel intimate.
Lastly are Kiki, a paper crane which Shiori brings to life with her magic, and Seryu, a dragon. Kiki reminded me a lot of a child in that she speaks her mind without filter but she had a sweetness to her as well. Seryu doesn't have a lot to do other than set up the sequel but he has potential for sure.
The novel is told from the first person perspective of Shiori. I generally prefer first person but here, with a character who is mute, it was really the only style that made sense. Unfortunately, the writing here was weaker than Lim's Blood of Stars duology and included a little too much exposition (some is fine, but I prefer to experience the world through the protagonist's eyes rather than the protagonist simply being told information by another character.) This isn't to say the writing was all bad. There were plenty of magical, emotional, and powerful scenes. In particular the winter festival scene was my favorite.
Lim did a great job with foreshadowing and reveals in this novel. Some of the twists I saw coming while others I did not. The ones I saw coming were gratifying and the ones I didn't thrilling. I think this made my problems with the writing all the more frustrating.
Pacing wise the novel was a mixed bag. I think some sections were far too rushed. Where the pacing hit its stride was during Shiori's time in Castle Bushian (the home of Takkan's family). It gave her time to develop has a character and for her relationship with Takkan to bloom.
WOLD BUILDING (SPOILER SECTION)
I had some issues with the world building, unfortunately, which as a YA fantasy fanatic and writer myself I feel I am obligated to mention. This will get into spoilers, mind you.
The first is that the curse the siblings are under includes them not being able to reveal their true identities to anyone. Yet the brothers are evidently able to explain their predicament to an enchanter who tells them how to solve it.
Towards the end of the novel we are told by the stepmother character that her sister was born with a dragon pearl in her heart which, when she died, the stepmother was forced to don. Yet upon her dying breath she beseeches Shiori to return the dragon pearl to the dragon to whom it belongs. This doesn't make sense because I thought the pearl had belonged to her sister? Finally, at the novel's conclusion Shiori goes into the Taijin sea to travel to the underwater dragon kingdom. How does she breathe down there? I have hope my last two questions will be answered in the sequel. I'm sure some will say I'm nitpicking, but I simply can't overlook these things as a book reviewer and writer myself and wonder how an editor could.
FINAL THOUGHTS I was 100% sure that this would be a 5 star favorite of the year. It was by an author who I'd previously given 5 stars (Spin the Dawn was one of my top YA fantasies of 2020) and it was inspired by a fairy tale; the perfect formula for me. Despite all my many critiques I enjoyed my experience reading the book. This was largely due to the romance and the characters overall as well as the foreshadowing and reveals which were its redeeming qualities. Those couldn't save this novel from being mediocre though.
FINAL RATING: 3 ⭐️