Six Crimson Cranes is an Asian retelling of the fairy tale The Six Swans. Magic is forbidden in Kiata. The protagonist, Princess Shiori, is born with magic which she tries to hide from her family. That includes her father the Emperor, her step-mother Raikama, and her six brothers. Shiori is betrothed to a lord from a smaller kingdom, and she has no interest in getting married, let alone being shipped off to a cold northern land with “that barbarian lord of the third rank.” In trying to hide her magic, she misses the betrothal ceremony, meets a dragon, and gets the attention of her stepmother. This “evil stepmother” curses her and her brothers. Her brothers are turned into cranes. And Shiori herself is cursed to have a wooden bowl stuck on her head. The bowl is made of walnut, which conceals objects inside from prying eyes and contains the magic. So Shiori is unrecognizable and cannot use her magic. She is told that if she utters a sound, one of her brothers will die.
I find it very interesting that the majority of the book our protagonist cannot speak. She can mouth words, and write (as long as it does not reveal her identity). And she does have a companion she is bonded to that can hear her thoughts. The first person point of view really gets us into her head, so we as a reader can hear her voice and her intentions, and see how that communication often falters. It provided great conflict.
As in the original tale, our princess is given a difficult task to perform to free her brothers from their curse. I like how Lim wove that aspect in and really made it part of the mythology and magic. The mythology is really well done, so rich and thought out. There is magic, and demons, and dragons, and enchanters. Though the curses are broken by the end of the book, there are greater threats that have been revealed which set us up for the second of the duology (The Dragon’s Promise).
I really enjoyed the romance as well. While still cursed, Shiori encounters the man she was betrothed to. They are given the chance to fall in love gradually, and without the pressures of betrothal or royalty, as Shiori is going by the name Lina. That helped counter a problem in other fairy tales, where often the couple find each other at the end, but have no time for a real romance to grow within the story.
Overall, the story was very satisfying and enjoyable. I look forward to reading the sequel.
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.
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