Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim is an Asian retelling of a fairy-tale about princes who are cursed by their evil stepmother into swans. Their sister has to knit nettle shirts for her brothers to free them while unable to speak. There are several variations of the fairy-tale, but Lim follows the main story fairly faithfully.

Shiori is the youngest child and only daughter of an emperor, with six brothers and a mysterious stepmother. She’s arranged to marry a son of a Northern lord, but she’d rather learn magic with a dragon who’s saved her life by giving her a piece of his essence. But magic is forbidden in the empire and pursuing it puts her at odds with her stepmother, who curses her brothers into cranes and her into wandering the empire with a wooden bowl covering her face. No one recognises her and she’s unable to utter a word, as every sound she makes will kill one of her brothers.

Feared and hated as a demon, she sets out to find her brothers and perform the task that will set them free, knitting a net of demon nettles to capture their stepmother. By chance—or fate, as many of the plot twists rely on it—she ends up in the castle of her betrothed as a lowly kitchen maid. Evil forces are afoot there too, and Shiori finds herself tangled in them. But she perseveres in her impossible task, until everything is in place for her to face her stepmother again.

This was a wonderful retelling of the old story. The setting worked perfectly, and Asian myths and culture added depth and richness to the fairy-tale. Since the story was familiar to me, the beginning of the book felt too long, as it took a while before the curse happened. But once it did, the story progressed in a good pace. The additional plot of the empire under siege worked well too.

The book ended up being more than a retelling. I expected a black and white moral, but little by little shades of grey began to emerge, making the familiar story new. Things weren’t as they seemed and the curse wasn’t what it appeared either.

Shiori was a great character. Rather annoying at first as a selfish princess, but once cursed, she grew up and managed to do what needed doing. I especially liked that she wasn’t cursed to be mute but she had to remain so by the strength of her will. Her brothers remained distant, but since they didn’t have a proper role in the story, it didn’t matter. Takkan, Shiori’s fiancĂ©, was likeable, and the blooming of her friendship with him worked well. Only the dragon boy seemed an odd addition, as he didn’t really fit in beyond teaching Shiori magic.

The story had a satisfying ending, but it wasn’t at all what I expected—and a good thing too. The ending also set the next book, so Shiori’s story isn’t over yet. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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