Book: “Six Crimson Cranes” by Elizabeth Lim
Publishing Info: Knopf, July 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.
Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.
Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.
Review: Here’s the second “Seven Swans” retelling, right after the fist! What a strange thing. But after seeing three different versions of “Red Riding Hood” this summer, should I really be surprised? This one, however, folds in many other fantasy elements and stories, so while the “Seven Swans” framework is still there, it’s less of a straight-forward thing than “A Rush of Wings.” Let’s dive in!
While once close, Shiori has since fallen out with her mysterious step-mother Raikama. But when Shiori discovers Raikama’s secret, that she, like Shiori, possess a forbidden gift for magic, Shiori finds herself and her brothers cursed. Now, outcast from the comfortable court that was her home, with no voice and no ability to be recognized, Shiori must find a way to return her brothers to their human form, freeing them from the daily transformation to cranes that they must now endure. While struggling in this endeavor, Shiori comes across yet another challenge, uncovering a plot to overthrow her father’s throne. Will her magic, so long hidden, be the thing to save her and her brothers?
While this book had some definite highs and lows, there were a few things it immediately had going for it. I really liked that the author brought together two different fairytales and seamlessly wove them together. We have the obvious “Seven Swans” story with brothers being turned into swans/cranes and one, single sister left voiceless to complete a painful task to save them from this curse. But on top of that, Lim tied in the Japanese folk tale. “Hachikazuki,” a “Cinderella”-like story featuring a beautiful young girl cursed to wear a bowl over her head that disguises her beauty before she is found by a prince. It was really neat seeing how these two different stories were paired up so well. not only does Shiori lose her voice, but the bowl covering her head makes her unrecognizable to everyone around her and disrupts her magical abilities.
Shiori is also a strong main character. We see early on her strength and stubborn mindset, two traits that lead her into some rebellious and rather thoughtless actions. But as the story progresses and she falls to the curse, we also see how these two weaknesses can also turn into her greatest strengths, especially when now paired with the sense of purpose and love for her brothers that the curse has drawn out. I also thought the brothers and love interest were all interesting. I had a decent understanding of all of the brothers as individuals, a difficult task when there are many of them and you only meet them all briefly. The love interest was also fine, though I didn’t find myself overly invested in his story or the romance of the story, overall.
However, the book did have a few points where I began to struggle. First, the pacing felt all over the place. The first half, especially, felt like it played out in a set of fits and starts, strangely broken by supreme lulls in the action. There is one particular chunk that almost felt like it had come from a different draft and didn’t fit in well at all with the rest. There were a few important things that took place during this chunk, but the entire thing felt like a vehicle to get these plot points in, rather than an organic part of the story.
Lastly, while I liked the combination of two different fairytales, there were a lot of other magical elements piled on top of these two stories. We have a bunch of lore and legend about dragons, a history of magic that bas been banned from this land for various reasons, and a rebellion against the king and his court. It all began to feel like a bit too much. The middle part of the book especially began to feel weighted down by all of this. Because there were so many elements at play, I found myself beginning to lose interest in them all together. There were a few twists to the end of the story that paid off some of these storylines, but I still feel like the sheer number of story elements hurt the main thrust of the story.
While I still struggled with portions of this book, I did enjoy it more than “A Rush of Wings” that I read early. So if you’re looking at the two and trying to decide which to go with, I would recommend this one first. There is also a sequel in the works, and I’ll likely check that out.
Rating 7: Pretty ok. Not blowing my mind in any way, but a few clever twists and turns held it together for me.
“Six Crimson Cranes” is on these Goodreads lists: Covers by Tran Nguyen and The Wild Swans/The Six Swans Retellings.
Find “Six Crimson Cranes” at the library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!