Six Crimson Cranes / Elizabeth Lim / Book Review

Six Crimson Cranes


As the youngest child and only daughter of the Emperor, Shiori shouldn't have much to worry about. She has six older brothers to worry for her, after all. But that's just on the surface. In reality, Shiori is betrothed to a barbaric lord from the north--whom she has never met. She possesses illegal magic that, at the very least, can bring paper birds to life and could get her killed if discovered. And on top of all that, she's discovered a rogue dragon prince living in the nearby lake. If all of that isn't enough to handle, Shiori discovers her stepmother is in fact a wicked sorceress, and in order to keep her secret safe, the queen curses Shiori and her brothers, banishing them all. Her brothers turned into cranes, Shiori is left penniless and unknown--and without the ability to speak, lest her brothers die. She is determined to break the curse, to bring the truth to light, and to reclaim her family's rightful place in the palace--without their stepmother, of course. But the wicked queen isn't the only one plotting against the emperor. There are enemies everywhere--enemies who don't know Shiori's true identity--and the more she discovers, the more she realizes she's not sure who is an enemy and who has been on her side all along. 


  • Teenage Voice: So rarely does a YA book actually have a teenaged voice. Sure, there's (almost always) a teenaged protagonist, but that doesn't mean the voice matches. I've found the voice is often too mature or too juvenile--with too juvenile being the ultimate sin. No one wants to read a book with a whiny middle-school-esque protagonist--not in YA, at least. That being said, this book gets the teenaged voice just right. Shiori thinks and acts like someone who is just getting her footing in the world while at the same time being independent and, for the most part, level-headed. And that's a rarity. 
  • Whimsical Magic: When so much of current fantasy can be described as "dark" and "gritty," it's really nice to find a piece with some whimsy to it. Paper cranes come to life. Shapeshifting dragons swim in the rivers. Needles can sew for you. It's fun and enchanting--and full of magical fairytale elements. 
  • Animal Companion: Sure, the animal companion may be a bit of a fantasy trope, but it's definitely not one that's been featured a lot recently. Kiki the paper crane is a great edition to this book. She is delicately magical while also being snarky and sarcastic. She's just the right sort of animal companion, too--complimenting Shiori's weaknesses without getting lost in this primary plot function. Kiki is a fun addition. 


  • Fairytale Light: The worldbuilding is fun. The magic is whimsical. And though the fairytale plot has points of tension, it's ultimately light and pleasant. Because it is a fairy tale, though the stakes are high, there's an ultimate sense that things will work out just fine in the end. And that is fine. It's bright and lighthearted--and perhaps not in line with modern fantasy expectations. Those looking for some "gritty reality" complete with "gray" characters might be disappointed with this book.
  • The Bowl: This critique sounds weird, right? And it is weird--fairytale weird. For a large part of the book, the main character has a bowl on her head. That in itself isn't a problem. The problem is that I couldn't picture how this worked. How was it on her head? How much of her head did it cover? This book is written in first person, so there are few times when the protagonist describes herself. That's part of the problem. But Shiori does, in fact, describe herself after the bowl gets added to her head. She describes herself several times--mentioning that she looks different--but she still doesn't really describe how the bowl works. I just couldn't picture the bowl. How does it look? I need explanation!
  • Evil Women: Yes, I know. It's a fairytale trope, and the evil women characters are in fact important to this particular respun tail. Still, I'm always sad to see evil stepmothers and wicked women rivals on the page. Women don't always have to be each other's enemies. Sometimes I wish we could see more of women being kind to each other, especially in fairy tales. 



Fans of Rena Barron's Kingdom of Souls will sink right into this lush non-Eurocentric fantasy world. Those who liked the whimsy of Jessica Day George's Dragon Slippers will love this respun fairytale. 


Publisher: Knopf
Date: July 6, 2021
Series: Six Crimson Cranes

Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


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