Promotional taglines for makeup products are not usually what comes to mind when I think of books I enjoy, but I can think of no other story that better fits the “easy, breezy, beautiful” motto than Elizabeth Lim’s Six Crimson Cranes.
Easy. For a fantasy story in a land that comprises several different myths, Six Crimson Cranes could not be an easier world to step into and become entangled with. It begins with a typical set up: a 16 year old protagonist whose privilege as the single princess in a court of six princeling brothers allows her a level of freedom, vivacity, and willfulness that leads her to rebel against the restrictions that an impending marriage would force. Even more familiar, Shiori’anma, the main character, is irked by her step-mother who seems to make her life difficult just to spite her wants. This all comes to a head when Shiori’anma builds a relationship with the young dragon who saved her from death following an act of headstrong rebellion, despite the fact that dragons have not been allowed in her kingdom for centuries. Her life is even more impacted by her decision to spy on the only other person who seems to hold forbidden magic, her stepmother. What comes next is a wild quest that sees Shiori’anma realize the pitfalls of receiving what you wish for — even if all she desires is the life that she once led.
Breezy. Six Crimson Cranes is a short novel. It took me about four hours to read the entire story; the book sets a breezy pace in prose and plot. During Shiori’anma’s quest to return to her freewheeling life with loving, but perpetually preoccupied brothers, we are treated to logical action and build up that moves the story by the flip of each page. From Shiori’anma’s time working at an inn being an introduction to her life outside of the palace under dire restrictions that she cannot dare to break to her finding out more about the true nature of the man she is betrothed to, each segment of the story follows a beat that is consistent without becoming tiresome or predictable. Her moments of sadness, hope, encouragement, and resignation ebb and flow in a rhythm that allows the reader to actually go through the emotions with her without suffering from being over or underwhelmed.
Beautiful. Descriptive scenes from garments worn at the palace, festivals, landscapes, and magic use are a treat. Because Shiori’anma and her brothers travel throughout their kingdom, Kiata, readers learn the difference between the sunny palace lands where they grew up to the neglected islands, and frozen northern ranges that make up their journeys. The writing lends itself to building these scenes, in such a way that this book should be a joy for readers who enjoy picturing the worlds around them.
A surprise aspect — that I cannot wait to hear other fans of retellings talk about — is the integration of some of the Sleeping Beauty story within this novel. It was a delightful realization for me to reach but I also understand that many myths are universal, so while this part of the story may be reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty for me, I’d love to hear if there are other story retelling components that I missed and what their inspirations are. All in all, I enjoyed Six Crimson Cranes and hope to soon be in conversation with readers about the aspects of the story that brought them joy. I will definitely pick up the sequel!