Review: Six Crimson Cranes

Posted: December 20, 2023 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Elizabeth Lim, Fantasy, Young Adult

A friend recommended SIX CRIMSON CRANES, explaining that it’s a sweet story for young adults with romance and a creative re-telling of the traditional six swans fairytale.

And fortunately, that’s what it turned out to be.

Elizabeth Lim takes on a traditional fairytale, but with an Asian flavor. If you remember, the six swans story is about a young princess whose six brothers were turned into swans by her evil step-mother, and the only way she can break the curse is to not speak for six years and making them magical shirts–much suffering follows. In SIX CRIMSON CRANES, Shiori is our point-of-view heroine, who in the opening pages is on her way to the betrothal with a man she’s never met. As the only princess of her father the king, she is expected to behave, demonstrate decorum, and be obedient. She tries, but is none of those things. And thank goodness she isn’t, because as the story progresses, it is her very character ‘flaws’ that keep her and her brothers alive.

We also learn early on that she has a little bit of magic. She has an origami bird, Kiki, that she breathed life into and has made her friend. Unfortunately, magic is forbidden in her home country of Kiata, and it is her fear of anyone discovering Kiki that leads her to run away from her betrothal–gown and all–into the garden, where she inadvertently falls into the pond and nearly drowns. Fortunately, she is saved by a dragon, even though dragons haven’t been seen in her homeland for many generations, so no one believes her.

Because Shiori ruined the betrayal, she gains the wrath of her stepmother, Raikama, who has secret magic of her own and banishes the young princess and in addition to her punishment turns her brothers into cranes during the day. She warns Shiori that she cannot tell anyone about the curse, and with any word that she speaks–ANY WORD–one of her brothers will die. She’s banished to an unknown island and forced to fend for herself. The only thing she has to help her is a paper bird, the mercurial dragon who saved her, and the prince whose betrothal she avoided at her own peril.

Phew. Usually it doesn’t take me that long to give you a rundown of the story. On the surface, it seems complicated, but actually it isn’t. It’s about a spoiled princess who is trying to avoid her responsibilities and ends up risking the lives of her own brothers. Her step-mother is evil and is trying to ruin their lives. Or is she…? We learn along the way about the motivations of her stepmother as well as her backstory. We learn about Shiori’s love for her brothers and their tight familial bond. And about how it’s only her own cleverness and willingness to do the impossible (and some help along the way by friends) is what will save them.

SIX CRIMSON CRANES by Elizabeth Lim's fairytale re-telling in a fantastic setting with dragons is sure to please kids and adults.

Lim’s narration moves forward at a pretty good clip, we don’t ever have a chance to be bored, even in the scenes where Shiori is stuck with menial chores (for her own good). Sometimes the pacing is too fast and we skip over descriptions that would be useful and help give us a better pace in certain scenes that need to slow down. But since the target audience starts at middle school, it works just fine for kids. The magic is a little underdeveloped and takes a long time to understand, even into the second book (even after reading the second book, I still didn’t have a real grasp on how the magic worked). While the magic makes things interesting, it also makes it a little bit frustrating to not understand the limitations and scope of ability. The setting of the land, the kingdom, the islands, the sea, and all of the different customs and beliefs are a great addition to the story–make it really come alive and easy to visualize. For that alone, it is worth reading.

I struggled a little understanding Shiori’s personality, and how she was able to make the decisions she made. Lim was consistent, however, in how she presents Shiori, and she has a satisfying character arc over the two books. So my struggle probably has more to do with my own personality than an inability to believably characterize headstrong princesses. We don’t really get in-depth with the personality of the brothers, although she does well enough. The other main character is Takkan, the man she was supposed to be betrothed to. And coincidence of all coincidences, Shiori ends up at his castle after she escapes from the island where she was banished. Only, she’s unrecognizable because she has a bowl on top of her head and is unable to speak. Yes, you read that right. A wood bowl that cannot be removed. Yes, it’s weird, but somehow it works. Their burgeoning friendship, and then becoming more than friends, is a sweet story. There are various other characters with their own motivations, point of view, and personalities to finish fleshing out the story.

Ultimately, if your young teen (or mom is looking for good fun for themselves) loves clean fun, then SIX CRIMSON CRANES and it’s sequel THE DRAGON’S PROMISE (review coming soon) is for you.

  • Recommended Age: 11+
  • Language: None
  • Violence: Some blood, death, peril
  • Sex: None

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