Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim is the first book in a new YA fantasy series. This is an Asian-inspired retelling of the Six Swans fairytale (which full disclosure is not a story I know). Shiori is the only princess of Kiata and learning she has magic which is forbidden. Her stepmother curses her to be unrecognizable and not be able to speak and curses her six brothers who are forced to become cranes. Shiori sets out on an adventure end the curse and save her kingdom.
This book had promise and I didn’t hate it but it definitely had some problems. I gave it 3 stars and almost went down to 2 or 2.5 as I have no intention of continuing the series but ultimately, there’s a good idea and story in there so I’m going with 3.
The overall story was quite compelling and had me interested. I liked Shiori as a main character and some of the side characters were pretty good. Kiki was a cute side kick (although I listened to the audiobook and her high squeaky voice during serious scenes was a little distracting). I do feel like there were way too many side characters which meant none of them got enough time to really get developed.
My main complaint is that some of the fantasy/fairytale elements were quite ridiculous and kept taking me out of the story. The main one for this is the bowl Shiori is cursed to wear on her head (this isn’t in the plot description but “bowl” appears in over 100 Goodreads reviews, it happens right at the beginning, and the rest of the curse is in the blurb so sorry but I don’t think it’s a spoiler). First off, this is described so quickly that I never got a good picture in my head of what it looked like or what it covered. I thought it covered her eyes but she seemed to be able to see (and it was solid wood) and was often described as staring people down. How does this work? Multiple times my attention strayed from listening to the audiobook trying to figure this out. The bowl was not necessary and really a mask or just looking different would have been much less of a disturbance to the flow of the book.
All of the talk of demons, gods, magics, etc. also got a little confusing. The “magic” is not described well at all and seems to do whatever the enchantress wants it to do. I hate magic systems like this. I want clear rules or none at all. There was just so much that the author tried to do that all of it felt a little halfhearted. Maybe this will get clearer as the series continues but in one 460-page book, it just got confusing.
Lastly, the main climax of the book felt rushed and muddied by too many characters and long-winded descriptions. The “villain” was no surprise, sooooo many hints were dropped it was crazy. Then the wrap up took forever, it was at least the last hour of the audiobook (which was over 13 hours total). This pacing just didn’t work for me at all and left the ending feeling melodramatic and sappy. I knew at that point that I had no interest in continuing the series so it might just have been that I didn’t care about the setup of the next book but oh man, there was one conversation that I thought would never end.
Overall, this just wasn’t for me. I’m definitely in the minority on this one but, I was a goner every time they mentioned the bowl and I’m quite glad to be done.