Princess Shiori’anma has hidden her forbidden magic for her entire life. But, when she slips up and reveals her magic to her stepmother who is secretly hiding powers of her own, her stepmother banishes her and turns her brothers into cranes. Cursed to wear a bowl over her head and unable to speak or her brothers will die, Shiori must find a way to save her brothers, break the curse, and regain her place in the kingdom.
This wonderful book is loosely based on the fairytale, “The Wild Swans.” It follows Shiori on a harrowing journey from the far reaches of her kingdom back to the palace, with a long stop at the kingdom of her betrothed, Takkan. This adventure shows the strength of Shiori’s character, which I loved. Shiori is strong, highly intelligent, determined, ferocious, kind, and a hero. She doesn’t need anyone to save her and instead is tasked with saving her brothers and her betrothed, which I think is a rare find. Even though she cannot speak for the majority of the book, her personality shines in the narration and her mind is always moving. A magic paper bird named Kiki who has a whimsical, fun personality that adds levity to the story also accompanies her.
I did think the beginning started a little slowly, with a focus on Shiori running from her engagement and being rescued from drowning by a dragon named Seryu. The dragon, who can shapeshift into a boy, teaches Shiori how to use magic which becomes important later, but I thought Seryu played a much smaller part in the novel than I anticipated based on the beginning of the book. He’s a fascinating character, the dragons in this book are really interesting, but he had very little page time. Maybe he’ll factor more into the story in future books.
In addition to Shiori and Seryu, there are some really wonderful, fully realized characters propelling the story. The stepmother is incredibly dynamic and mysterious, with a compelling backstory that I hope will be explored more in future novels. Takkan, who Shiori believes to be barbaric, turns out to be a thoughtful person who treats Shiori with kindness, even as those around him believe that she is a demon because of the bowl on her head. It was sweet to watch their romance blossom and felt very authentic.
This is a fast-paced, romantic, and suspenseful story with strong world-building and an intricate plot. If you’ve read Lim’s Spin the Dawn series, this one exists in the same world. I’m definitely looking forward to future installments!
If you’ve read Six Crimson Cranes, let me know what you thought!
CW: death of a parent