Magic is rare and forbidden in the kingdom of Kiata. Most people, including the emperor, associate it with demons and danger, so Princess Shiori keeps her magical abilities carefully hidden. But when her nerves about her impending betrothal lead to a slip-up, Shiori’s stepmother, Raikama, notices. The two were close when Shiori was a child, but now they watch one another warily until Shiori discovers that Raikama is also hiding a secret.
After Shiori reveals the secret to her six older brothers, Raikama curses them, transforming the princes into cranes, then lays an even more cruel curse on Shiori: A magical bowl on her head hinders her power and obscures her face, so that she is unrecognizable as the kingdom’s princess, and any time she speaks a single word aloud, one of her brothers will die.
Cast to the far reaches of the kingdom and unable to explain her plight or reveal her identity, Shiori must rely on help from Kiki, a mischievous paper bird brought to life by Shiori’s magic; an infuriating dragon prince; and a nobleman’s son who continually defies her expectations. It will take all of Shiori’s wit and determination to reunite her family and break Raikama’s curses.
In Six Crimson Cranes, YA fantasist Elizabeth Lim delivers a blend of fairy tale and legend that feels both classical and fresh. Lim draws on and blends European, Chinese and Japanese sources, and the mix gives the novel both a sense of familiarity and an entertaining unpredictability, as the reader never knows which source’s elements will take precedence in the next step of the story.
Shiori is no magical savant: She’s an endearing heroine who grows over the course of her journey, using her natural strengths to fight her way back home. Her relationships with her six brothers are well defined and touching. The book’s romantic subplot is satisfyingly swoony but also functions as an indicator of Shiori’s transformation from a kind and curious yet sheltered and judgmental princess into an open-minded young woman.
Intriguing departures from the beats of a typical fantasy-quest plot, well-laid red herrings and excellently sown seeds of future complications set Six Crimson Cranes apart. It radiates with Lim’s love for fairy tales and legends from around the world and takes readers on a well-paced adventure with a magic all its own.