Review: SIX CRIMSON CRANES by Elizabeth Lim

Publisher: Alfred A Knopf Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 464
Release Date: July 6th, 2021
Rating: 5/5 Stars – Loved It

Six Crimson Cranes

Princess Shiori has a secret: she can use magic, something that her people believe is only used by demons and those who work with them. Shirori’s kept her secret for years, until the day Shiori and her stepmother Raikama each discover the other’s magical abilities. To ensure Shiori can never tell another person of her secret, Raikama turns Shiori’s six brothers into cranes and places a curse on Shiori: for every word she speaks, one of her brothers will die. Magically transported to a far corner of the empire, Shiori finds herself alone, unable to speak, and enchanted so that no one can recognize her as the princess. But every curse can be broken, and Shiroi won’t rest until she finds a way to break this one – even if she has to steal from a dragon to do so.

SIX CRIMSON CRANES is a wonderfully enchanting East Asian fairy tale retelling with a fierce heroine that will win your heart. Shiori may not be able to talk for most of the book, but that doesn’t make her an idle protagonist. She’s constantly working towards ending the curse, whether that’s scraping together a living as a maid at an inn or stealing magic roots from a dragon. She’s not perfect: she’s impatient and can get into trouble, but never in a way that makes you aggravated at the character. And Shiori never finds a task beneath her. If she has to scrub dishes or work with plants that burn her hands, she will. Whatever helps accomplish her goal.

The author does a wonderful job of balancing Shiori’s inability to speak out loud with the need to drive plot and character growth forward. The first person POV gives Shiori an internal monologue, and an enchanted paper bird can communicate with Shiori telepathically, giving her a way to talk through her problems with another character. But these workarounds never come at the expense of the tension that exists with the knowledge of what will happen if Shiori ever talks. It’s a testament to how well Lim crafted the story that every time I put SIX CRIMSON CRANES down, I found myself unwilling to speak, because my brain had internalized that speaking out loud was a danger. And it isn’t just words that can kill her brothers; uttering a single sound can trigger the curse as well. That makes some of Shiori’s ordeals extra fraught, as she can’t yell out a warning or shout in sudden shock.

I also really enjoyed the mysteries that help drive the story forward. Shiori eventually arrives at the keep of an allied warlord, one whose political situation is tied to that of Shiori’s family. So while Shiori is trying to find out why Raikama cursed her and how to break that curse, she’s also drawn into unraveling a plot within the keep itself, one that is connected to a larger plot in the empire.

Tying it all together is a slow burn romance in the background. It’s not the dominating thrust of the story, and it’s slightly predictable, but in a way that makes it all so satisfying when it comes together. You know what’s going to happen and you get to have a big ol’ cheesy grin when it finally does.

SIX CRIMSON CRANES is a worthy first half of a duology, and has absolutely hooked me for the sequel. Those who enjoy YA fantasy (or really fantasy at all) should give this a read without hesitation. My only small complaint is that I wish that more time was spent with Raikama to better explore her character and motivations, but the author still accomplishes a great deal in the small time spent with the character. SIX CRIMSON CRANES has a fantastic set-up for book two, and honestly it cannot get here soon enough.

Note: I was provided a free ARC of the book by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review

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