May the queen live ten thousand years, ten thousand years, ten thousand ten thousand years.
4/5 paper planes
What’s This Book About?
Genre: YA fantasy
Published: April 2019
Synopsis: Princess Hesina has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom.
Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?
What I Thought:
Reading this was almost like reading two different books. The first half was much slower in pace, less compelling (aside from the medieval CSI, that was cool) and felt like it was just a prelude or preparation for the main event, which was basically the entirety of the second half. Full of rapid-fire twists and revelations, I was glued to ‘Descendant’ after the 50% mark, and ended up reading almost half the book in one sitting.
Aside from Hesina’s adoptive sister Lilian (my favourite), and Hesina’s half-brother Rou, I wasn’t incredibly invested in the characters as individuals. Of course, I wanted them all to survive, but they felt more like players in a game than tangible people I cared deeply about. I did love the sibling bonds though, especially the heartbreaking burden of words left unsaid between Hesina and her estranged younger brother Sanjing.
Hesina and Sanjing’s mother, the dowager queen, is pretty much a terrible parent but I suppose she never pretended to be a good one. While we do get insight into why the dowager queen is so horrible, it’s no excuse and I can’t forget the horrible second-hand pain I felt on Hesina’s behalf. That scene where Hesina asks for her mother’s blessing is etched with nausea into my brain, and was one of the few standout scenes in this book’s first half.
Hesina is actually quite clever at times, making you think momentarily that perhaps she might survive at court…until she then does something so monumentally stupid that you just facepalm in exasperation. There’s such a big deal made out of Hesina’s propensity for duplicity:
Deceit was in her nature, but for her father, she had tried to be better.
Could he see the secrets she held under her tongue? Or had the lies stained her teeth?Joan He has a lovely way with words (as the second quote obviously shows) but simply telling readers that Hesina is conniving and disingenuous is not enough, when Hesina shows us time and time again that she can’t bloody keep her cards to herself! Naturally duplicitous? Hesina? I don’t think so.
The world-building was lush, and I really enjoyed the imperial Chinese cultural features infused into the fantasy kingdom of Yan. We find out a little about Yan’s nearby countries but I’m sure we’ll learn more in the sequel, especially about their belligerent neighbour Kendi’a. The life-and-death stakes were scarily convincing, especially with the mob mentality displayed by both courtiers and common folk. I really loved the twist that revealed why the general public are so cemented in their almost worship of the Eleven, revolutionaries who overthrew the despotic emperors 300 years ago. The way magic works here was also really original, despite it being a little confusing at first. However, there were some things concerning immortality that I didn’t understand, even after the end. (Highlight for spoilers) How could the immortal king fake becoming king again, if heirs are decided by blood? Would no one have noticed a weirdly mature-acting baby, especially in a kingdom so terrified of magic? And if the Tenets themselves are immortal, are the only people immune to its power sooths, the Eleven, and those descended from the Eleven (i.e. Hesina, Sanjing and Rou?)? (end of spoiler)
I also wish He had left out the romance – it felt superfluous and wooden. A lot of random things, like that bizarre duel and Hesina’s idiotic lake diving, could have been cut if the romance didn’t feature.
The epilogue was a tad over-long but even then managed to squeeze in some last minute jaw-droppers and addressed some very intriguing questions. I’m certainly keeping an eye out for announcements of a sequel! (There has to be a sequel. Please.)
Thank you to Titan Books and Netgalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.