Six crimson cranes by Elizabeth Lim

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Shiori is the only princess of Kiata and is determined not to marry the son of a barbarian lord in the north. She has concealed the magic that runs in her veins until the day of her betrothal when she runs away from the ceremony. Her stepmother Raikama has dark magic and banishes Shiori, while turning her six brothers into cranes with crimson crowns on their heads. Raikama also puts a wooden bowl on Shiori’s head and warns her not to speak – any word that passes her lips means that one of her brothers will die.

Shiori is a feisty, determined girl and manages to find work, toiling in an inn in the north, while trying to find her brothers. Forced to get to know the boy that she did not want to marry, she uncovers a plot to unsettle the kingdom and must embrace her magic to save her family and the empire.

Lim has taken elements of the well-known fairy tale and given it a fascinating Asian background. The addition of Kiki, a talking paper crane, a 17-year-old dragon prince Seryu, magic dragon eggs and pearls enhance the story. Her vivid writing keeps the reader in suspense about the fate of the six brothers and the difficulties that Shiori has in remaining mute. She also overturns the trope of the wicked stepmother.

Readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings will be drawn to this fast-paced story with its well-developed characters and wonderful landscape. They may want to read others by Lim like Spin the dawn and Unravel the Dusk, while those who would like to read a western version of The six swans by Grimm, could try Daughter of the forest by Juliet Marillier.

Themes: Fantasy, Fairy tale retelling, Romance.

Pat Pledger