“Fear is just a game, Shiori, I reminded myself. You win by playing.”
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.
Have you ever read a book and paused to think to yourself, “wow, I can actually see what I’m reading?” If the answer is yes, then I have great news for you: that is the type of writing you can always expect from Elizabeth Lim. Her debut young adult fantasy novel Spin the Dawn took the bookish world by storm, and its sequel Unravel the Dusk was equally thrilling. That series fascinated me, and this newest one is no different.
The lively atmosphere that is front and center in this book is the result of Lim’s crisp and vivid writing. The customs, the food, the scenery, the stakes–all of it felt alive. I took my time reading this book partly because of a hectic schedule, but partly because I wanted to continue living in its setting for a little longer.
Past the world-building and writing, I really appreciated Shiori’s involuntary muteness being a prominent and consistent aspect of this book. The fact that our main character is unable to speak to other characters that she interacts with proved to be both a clever and incredibly frustrating premise. Shiori is forced to unlearn her impulsive tendencies and think about her actions, which allows her to get more creative with what she does.
The romance and friendships of this book felt founded and sincere. I enjoyed witnessing Shiori grow fond of Princess Megari, and of course, the slow-burn attraction between herself and Takkan.
My main gripe with this book is how much it tried to accomplish with peculiar pacing. The book opens slowly as we are introduced to Shiori’s way of life and learn about her kingdom. Then, the first climax point happens as she is cursed and banished from the kingdom by her stepmother. The following portion of the book is slow once again as Shiori begins to understand the nature of her curse and plot her way back to the kingdom. While I understand this part serves as the vehicle for Shiori’s character development, it dragged on for a while. I even enjoyed the portion of the book where she is held prisoner-turned-guest at Takkan’s kingdom, but after a while, the primary objective of the book began to get lost in the shuffle.
The subplot surrounding the Dragon Kingdom confused me as well. Obviously, it serves as the segway into the sequel, The Dragon’s Promise, which I will be reading and reviewing soon. But in this book? It felt odd and out of place. Some readers also picked up on a sort of love triangle between Shiori and Takkan on land and Shiori and Seryu under the sea. I’m sincerely hoping that’s not the route the second book takes, but considering it will be primarily set inside the Dragon Kingdom, it’s not a completely unfounded possibility.
All and all, Six Crimson Cranes is a book that is heavily immersive and vivid. The constraints placed on our main character Shiori’anma made for a clever touch, and I’m hopeful that the sequel laces up the plot points that were left open in the first book.