“Six Crimson Cranes” by Elizabeth Lim | Book Review

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Magic is forbidden in the kingdom of Kiata, but Emperor Hanriyu’s only daughter Princess Shiori’anma possesses such power. Shiori keeps her secret for as long as she can, but a slip-up on the morning of her dreaded betrothal ceremony catches the attention of her stepmother. Raikama, a sorceress herself, banishes Shiori and turns her six brothers into cranes, warning the young princess that every sound or word out of her lips will kill a crane. Though she’s now alone, mute, and far away from home, Shiori is determined to find her family and break their curse. Along her journey, she discovers a plot to overthrow the throne, and her only ally is the boy she was betrothed to. Will Shiori save her brothers and her father’s throne? Will she find love where she least expected it? Is her forbidden magic the key to solving everything?

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“Six Crimson Cranes” by Elizabeth Lim was one of my favorite books of 2021. I read it in less than a week, late nights & squealing included. It isn’t a perfect book. The pace slows down in the middle, & I could’ve been more picky, maybe docking a half or full star. However, I went with my heart & gave it five stars as soon as I closed the book. A 2022 reread solidified my opinion, & my rating remains the same. A great YA fantasy recommendation for readers who love fairytales & folklore! This particular story is heavily inspired by Chinese & Japanese legends with additional elements from stories out of Europe. A beautiful blend!

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Content Breakdown: Abuse, Alcohol, Body comments, Blood, Bullying, Death, Drowning, Hunting, Insensitive Language, Kissing, Loss, Magic, Nightmares, Partial Nudity, Poison, Prostitution, Religion, Sensual/Sexual Situations (Mild), Spirituality, Superstition, & Violence

*Disclaimer: This section of my review expands on the content breakdown. It is thorough and might contain SPOILERS.

Abuse & Bullying: While under the curse, Shiori experiences physical & verbal abuse. The names include “Demon,” “Demonface,” “Demon girl,” “Demon worshipper,” “Evil spirit,” “Priestess of demons,” & “Sorceress”; she’s also described as someone with a “dirty spirit.” Villagers throw stones, & her boss at the inn, Mrs. Dainan, constantly hits & spits on her. A sentinel visiting the inn hits her bowl hat hard enough to knock her over because she refuses to bow.

Alcohol: Intoxication & Wine 

A drunk man eating at the inn grabs Shiori by the skirt & tries to force her to show him the face under her bowl hat. She retaliates with a broom, & he stands up to overpower her but is too intoxicated to do anything more.

Blood & Violence: Description of one dead body & a mention of the other dead bodies scattered in the same area 

One fight involving arrows, blood, daggers, swords, & wounds

One instance of arrows to the back & neck impalement

One instance of burning at the stake, unconsciousness but no death

One stabbing by poisoned needle, no death

One stabbing, no death

One wolf attack

Two instances of a character knocked unconscious

Two instances of choking, incapacitation but no death

Four instances of animal harm & pain plus several mentions of Shiori’s brothers’ painful transformation into cranes

Four threats & wishes of bodily harm

At least a dozen more mentions of blood & bloody wounds.

Shiori’s stepmother has a garden full of snakes, and they attack a person who isn’t their mistress twice.

Description of a demon dressed in a jacket depicting bleeding dragons, dying gods, & enchanters destroyed by the blood of stars as well as a headdress with three bloodied crane ornaments

Body Comments: Wandei jokes that his twin brother Yotan has a big belly, & he replies that only his ears are big, same as Wandei’s.

Death & Loss: Shiori’s mother died when she was three years old.

A character’s life slowly drains, dying a slow death for at least 10 pages.

Drowning: Shiori almost drowns in the Sacred Lake because of the heavy clothing she’s wearing; a dragon appears and wraps his tail around her neck, seemingly harming but actually saving her.

Another character almost drowns but makes it to land & eventually spits up sand & seawater.

Hunting: Takkan hates the pre-winter festival hunt but has to uphold the tradition while his father’s away. They usually go after deer or elk, but Hasege spotted wild cranes in the immediate area. Shiori stops the hunt in time to save their lives, but Hasho’s wing was grazed by an arrow. 

Zairena wears fox fur to the winter festival. 

Insensitive Language: Before she gets to know the people of Iro, Shiori thinks of people from the north as “barbarians.”

Magic: Amulets, Dragons, Enchanters/Sorceresses

Enchanters must serve whoever wears their amulet.

All the magic in Kiata was sealed into the Holy Mountains of Fortitude along with thousands of demons to keep the kingdom safe.

Shiori’s first experience with magic is when she make Kiki out of paper & unwittingly gives her the ability to fly like a real bird. 

Seryu tells Shiori she has the gift of Inspiritation, using a part of her soul to bring things to life.

Seryu & Shiori discuss enchanters who swear an oath to a master, & if they break that oath, they turn into a demon as punishment. In between masters, they take on a spirit form with no access to magic.

While performing magic, a character’s eyes turn yellow, her skin becomes white scales, & her tongue becomes thin & forked. 

Shiori & her brothers are controlled by magic, their bodies unable to move unless she wills it to.

Nightmares: During her sewing lessons, Shiori embroiders crane after crane which gives her nightmares about cranes with black eyes pecking at her feet before turning into dragons with pointy teeth.

While separated from her brothers due to the curse, Shiori has nightmares about them in their crane form, dead from a serpent bite to the throat. She also dreams of cranes with human eyes screaming with human voices as they fall out of the sky.

Nudity: In the privacy of some woods, a character pulls her robe down far enough to show shoulders & the top of her chest, revealing a bright source of magic in her heart.

Poison: Two characters are poisoned, an adult who dies & a 10-year-old child who suffers through a mysterious illness. The dead body is described as follows: blue veins against pale skin and matted hair as well as black lips and a web of gold veins in two spots, the latter two things evidence of death by a poison known as “Four Breaths.”

Prostitution: When Shiori asks for money in exchange for her work at the inn, Mrs. Dainan threatens to sell her to a brothel.

Religion, Spirituality, & Superstition: Mentions of Altars, Amulets, Ceremonial tables, Charms & Talismans for protection, Demons, Heaven/Heavens, Fate, Gods/Goddesses, Good omens, Incense, Luck, Prayers, Priests/Priestesses, Seers, Statues of the seven great gods, & Temples

Gods & Goddesses Mentioned:

-Ashmiyu’en, goddess of life

-Emuri’en, the goddess of fate & love, who becomes Imurinya, Lady of the Moon

-Nazayun, god of Dragons

-Sharima’en, god of death & the Undertaker

These are said at least once as curses or exclamations: 

-Bless the Eternal Courts!

-By the Eternal Courts!

-Demons of Tambu!

-Demons take me!

-Emuri’en’s strands!

-Eternal Courts!


-Great gods!

-Heavens knew . . . 

-Miracles of Ashmiyu’en!

-Oh gods!

-Praise the gods!

-Strands of Emuri’en!

-Thank Emuri’en!

-Thank the Eternal Courts!

-Thank the gods!

-Thank the great gods!

-What in the great gods!

Shiori refers to her betrothal outfit as “a god’s ransom of silk.”

After the death of his wife, Emperor Hanriyu built a temple in her name which he visits every morning to pray. 

Shiori initially folded Kiki out of paper to communicate with the gods. According to Kiatan legend, if you make one thousand birds out of cloth, paper, or wood, they will carry a message to the heavens.

Mention of heretical priestesses who threw ashes & chanted about dark magic, gaining a reputation as “demon worshippers”

Lady Megari counts lightning bolts & thunderclaps to accumulate luck because her brother told her storms are dragons at play.

Takkan discusses “strings of fate” with Shiori. When two people meet, their strings knot at one side, & when they fall in love, the circle closes with a second knot, forever bound. At the winter festival, people tie a red string to their lanterns, believing the sacred cranes will carry their “strand of fate” to the person they’re meant to love. 

Mention of ashes being consecrated on the Holy Mountains by the priestesses, the ashes of a bloodsake who possessed the magic to free the imprisoned demons by spilling his blood

A character transforms from human enchanter to demon, bones & muscles resetting as claws & fur grow. The transformation sends out a darkness that kills everything it touches, human & nature. 

There is one whole chapter with demons, described as red or gray with extra heads & blood-red eyes as well as claws, horns, & tails, hungry for the blood & soul of a human after a long imprisonment.

Romance: Two characters spent time wrapped in each other’s arms more than once. They also ride a horse together & share two almost kisses as well as a kiss on the cheek.

Sensual/Sexual: Shiori remembers how she used to flirt as a game, sitting close, smiling at boys, & brushing against them to see how they would react, whether it be red ears or a marriage proposal.

It’s implied that once a certain male character returned to Castle Bushian, a female house guest started to spend less time in her room and more time in his. In chapter 29, she’s discovered in a hallway with messy hair, swollen lips, & wrinkled clothing.

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🌟 Find author Elizabeth Lim here:





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