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Six Crimson Cranes

Six Crimson Cranes

by Elizabeth Lim

Narrated by Emily Woo Zeller

Unabridged — 12 hours, 54 minutes

Elizabeth Lim

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ¿ A princess in exile, a shapeshifting dragon, six enchanted cranes, and an unspeakable curse... Drawing from fairy tales and East Asian folklore, this original fantasy from the author of Spin the Dawn is perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone.

"A dazzling fairytale full of breathtaking storytelling." --Stephanie Garber, New York Times bestselling author of Caraval

Shiori'anma, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted. But it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

A sorceress in her own right, Raikama banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes. She warns Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and uncovers a dark conspiracy to seize the throne. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in a paper bird, a mercurial dragon, and the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she's been taught all her life to forswear--no matter what the cost.
Weaving together elements of The Wild Swans, Cinderella, the legend of Chang E, and the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Elizabeth Lim has crafted a fantasy like no other, and one that will stay with readers long after they've turned the last page.
"A stunning remake of a fairytale. Six Crimson Cranes is the perfect blend of whimsy and ferociousness, with twists and turns that will tug at your heartstrings." -Chloe Gong, New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights
"Fast-paced excitement is balanced with a satisfyingly intricate plot that weaves in elements from Western fairy tales and East Asian folklore." -SLJ, starred review

“A richly imagined landscape . . . vibrant, fast-paced.
-Publishers Weekly, starred review

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 05/24/2021

As the emperor of Kiata’s only daughter and the youngest of six, Princess Shiori’anma, 16, is promised to wed warlord’s son Bushi’an Takkan to strengthen alliances with the North. But on the day of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori follows her escaped paper bird Kiki—crafted from her own forbidden magic—into the Sacred Lake. A breath from drowning, she comes face-to-face with a small dragon whose species has remained un- observed for centuries. The shape-shifting entity soon reveals himself to be arrogant 17-year-old dragon prince Seryu, who offers her magic lessons before leaving for his grandfather’s palace. Shiori’s luck takes a turn for the worse when she witnesses her cold, opalescent-eyed stepmother Raikama’s true demonic form. Cursed to be voiceless, magicless, and unrecognizable by Raikama, strong-willed Shiori faces impossible odds: she must defeat her stepmother, restore her brothers from their own cursed crimson-crowned crane form, and save her country from impending war due to Kiata’s now ostensibly heirless throne. Accessible dialogue and compassionately rendered family dynamics cohere in a nuanced, compelling cast. Seamlessly intertwining western and East Asian folklore, Lim (the Blood of Stars duology) embroiders a richly imagined landscape in this vibrant, fast-paced duology starter. Ages 12–up. Agent: Gina Maccoby, Gina Maccoby Literary. (July)

From the Publisher

"A dazzling fairytale full of breathtaking storytelling. Six Crimson Cranes elegantly weaves between whimsical and heart pounding as it takes readers on a magical adventure full of entwined fates, surprising curses, and beautiful mythology. It also has a very sexy dragon.” " —Stephanie Garber, New York Times bestselling author of Caraval

"This book is magic! The writing will transport you, and you will love Shiori. I myself loved her from the moment she jumped out the window to escape her betrothal ceremony—which was the very first scene." —Kristin Cashore, New York Times bestselling author of Graceling

A stunning remake of a fairytale. Six Crimson Cranes is the perfect blend of whimsy and ferociousness, with twists and turns that will tug at your heartstrings." —Chloe Gong, New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights

"A resilient heroine, a cast of imaginative characters, and creative plot turns make this gem of a novel sparkle." —Stacey Lee, award-winning author of The Downstairs Girl

“A gorgeous version of an old fairy tale, told with flair and originality. A must-read for lovers of folkloric fantasy.” —Juliet Marillier, award-winning author of Daughter of the Forest and Wildwood Dancing

"An unputdownable, sweeping fairytale that thrills as much as it delights. Lim is a master storyteller which is apparent with every magical turn of the page." —Kerri Maniscalco, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Kingdom of the Wicked

"Six Crimson Cranes
is a fairytale that feels at once both epic and intimate. Shiori’s quest to save her brothers, her kingdom, and herself is heartfelt, riveting, and as magical as the talents the princess tries so hard to hide." —Sarah Henning, bestselling author of Sea Witch and The Princess Will Save You

"Seamlessly intertwining western and East Asian folklore, Lim embroiders a richly imagined landscape in this vibrant, fast-paced duology starter." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Fast-paced excitement is balanced with a satisfyingly intricate plot that weaves in elements from Western fairy tales and East Asian folklore. A must-read for fans of folklore– and fairy tale–inspired fantasy." —SLJ, starred review

"Part exciting adventure, part thoughtful coming-of-age novel, this story retells and overturns familiar tropes." —Kirkus Reviews

“Magic abounds in this mesmerizing YA fantasy based on East Asian folklore and fairy tales.” Shelf Awareness

School Library Journal

★ 07/01/2021

Gr 7 Up—Dangerous magic, untimely romance, and more than a few twists await readers in a magical adventure set in the same world as Lim's "Blood of Stars" duology. Princess Shiori'anma, the youngest child and only daughter of the Emperor of Kiata, has successfully hidden her forbidden magical abilities for years. But one fateful day, desperate to escape a dreaded betrothal ceremony, Shiori slips up and reveals her secret to her stepmother, who is discovered to have dangerous powers of her own. Now Shiori and her six older brothers have been cursed and banished—her brothers doomed to transform into six cranes by day, while Shiori is rendered unrecognizable and warned that for every word she utters, one of her brothers will die. Shiori must summon every ounce of grit and resourcefulness she possesses to survive, track down her brothers, and solve the mystery of their curse. Fast-paced excitement is balanced with a satisfyingly intricate plot that weaves in elements from Western fairy tales and East Asian folklore. Princess Shiori, with all her shortcomings, is an endearingly determined protagonist whom readers will be excited to follow into promised sequels. VERDICT A must-read for fans of folklore— and fairy tale—inspired fantasy.Darla Salva Cruz, Suffolk Cooperative Lib. Syst., Bellport, NY

Kirkus Reviews

Girl meets magic. Hijinks ensue.

Shiori’anma, Princess of Kiata and eldest daughter of Emperor Hanariho, is the intrepid protagonist in this folktale retelling. About to turn 17 and be married off to a third-rank barbarian lord, Shiori desperately looks for ways out of the engagement. Her emerging talents in forbidden magic and a run-in with a young shape-shifting dragon help to pass the time before she is doomed to relocate to the cold North. Things take an even worse turn, however, when she uncovers her stepmother’s secrets. As a consequence, her six brothers are cursed into assuming the form of cranes by day. Shiori is whisked away and coerced into silence, for every word that escapes her lips will mean the death of one of her brothers. She must learn to survive on her own and use her wits and hard-won experience to save both her family and country. Readers here revisit the East Asian–inspired world established in Lim’s The Blood of Stars duology. Despite a few hiccups in the logic of the magic, the author cleverly maintains the basic structure of this well-known European folktale type while weaving in rich elements of Asian mythology, including dragon pearls and the goddess of the moon. The exploration of complicated family dynamics is a particular strength, especially the challenging of the evil stepmother cliché.

Part exciting adventure, part thoughtful coming-of-age novel, this story retells and overturns familiar tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 13-17)

Product Details

BN ID: 2940177044859
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 03/12/2022
Series: Six Crimson Cranes , #1
Edition description: Unabridged
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One 

The bottom of the lake tasted like mud, salt, and regret. The water was so thick it was agony keeping my eyes open, but thank the great gods I did. Otherwise, I would have missed the dragon.

He was smaller than I’d imagined one to be. About the size of a rowboat, with glittering ruby eyes and scales green as the purest jade. Not at all like the village-sized beasts the legends claimed dragons to be, large enough to swallow entire warships.

He swam nearer until his round red eyes were so close they reflected my own.

He was watching me drown.

Help, I pleaded. I was out of air, and I had barely a second of life left before my world folded into itself.

The dragon regarded me, lifting a feathery eyebrow. For an instant, I dared hope he might help. But his tail wrapped around my neck, squeezing out the last of my breath.

And all went dark.

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have told my maids I was going to jump into the Sacred Lake. I only said it because the heat this morning was insufferable. Even the chrysanthemum bushes outside had wilted, and the kitebirds soaring above the citrus trees were too parched to sing. Not to mention, diving into the lake seemed like a perfectly sensible alternative to attending my betrothal ceremony—or as I liked to call it, the dismal end of my future.

Unfortunately, my maids believed me, and word traveled faster than demonfire to Father. Within minutes, he sent one of my brothers—along with a retinue of stern-faced guards—to fetch me.

So here I was, being shepherded through the palace’s catacomb of corridors, on the hottest day of the year. To the dismal end of my future.

As I followed my brother down yet another sun-soaked hall, I fidgeted with my sleeve, pretending to cover a yawn as I peeked inside.

“Stop yawning,” Hasho chided.

I dropped my arm and yawned again. “If I let them all out now, I won’t have to do it in front of Father.”

“Shiori . . .”

“You try being woken up at dawn to have your hair brushed a thousand times,” I countered. “You try walking in a god’s ransom of silk.” I lifted my arms, but my sleeves were so heavy I could barely keep them raised. “Look at all these layers. I could outfit a ship with enough sails to cross the sea!”

The trace of a smile touched Hasho’s mouth. “The gods are listening, dear sister. You keep complaining like that, and your betrothed will have a pockmark for each time you dishonor them.”

My betrothed. Any mention of him went in one ear and out the other, as my mind drifted to more pleasant thoughts, like cajoling the palace chef for his red bean paste recipe—or better yet, stowing away on a ship and voyaging across the Taijin Sea.

Being the emperor’s only daughter, I’d never been allowed to go anywhere, let alone journey outside of Gindara, the capital. In a year, I’d be too old for such an escapade. And too married.

The indignity of it all made me sigh aloud. “Then I’m doomed. He’ll be hideous.”

My brother chuckled and nudged me forward. “Come on, no more complaining. We’re nearly there.”

I rolled my eyes. Hasho was starting to sound like he was seventy, not seventeen. Of my six brothers, I liked him most—he was the only one with wits as quick as mine. But ever since he started taking being a prince so seriously and wasting those wits on chess games instead of mischief, there were certain things I couldn’t tell him anymore.

Like what I was keeping inside my sleeve.

A tickle crawled up my arm, and I scratched my elbow.

Just to be safe, I pinched the wide opening of my sleeve shut. If Hasho knew what I was hiding under its folds, I’d never hear the end of it.

From him, or from Father.

“Shiori,” Hasho whispered. “What’s the matter with your dress?”

“I thought I smudged the silk,” I lied, pretending to rub at a spot on my sleeve. “It’s so hot today.” I made a show of looking out at the mountains and the lake. “Don’t you wish we were outside swimming instead of going to some boring ceremony?”

Hasho eyed me suspiciously. “Shiori, don’t change the topic.”

I bowed my head, doing my best to look remorseful—and covertly adjusted my sleeve. “You’re right, Brother. It’s time I grew up. Thank you for . . . for . . .”

Another tickle brushed my arm, and I clapped my elbow to muffle the sound. My secret was growing restless, making the fabric of my robes ripple.

“For escorting me to meet my betrothed,” I finished quickly.

I hastened toward the audience chamber, but Hasho caught my sleeve, raised it high, and gave it a good shake.

Out darted a paper bird as small as a dragonfly, and just as fast. From afar, she looked like a little sparrow, with an inky red dot on her head, and she flitted from my arm to my brother’s head, wildly beating her slender wings as she hovered in front of his face.

Hasho’s jaw dropped, his eyes widening with shock.

“Kiki!” I whispered urgently, opening my sleeve. “Come back inside!”

Kiki didn’t obey. She perched on Hasho’s nose and stroked it with a wing to show affection. My shoulders relaxed; animals always liked Hasho, and I was certain she would charm him the way she’d charmed me.

Then my brother swooped his hands over his face to catch her.

“Don’t hurt her!” I cried.

Up Kiki flew, narrowly avoiding his clutches. She bounced against the wooden shutters on the windows, seeking one that was open as she darted farther and farther down the hall.

I started after her, but Hasho grabbed me, holding fast until my slippers skidded against the whispery wood.

“Let it go,” he said into my ear. “We’ll talk about this later.”

The guards flung open the doors, and one of Father’s ministers announced me: “Princess Shiori’anma, the youngest child, the only daughter of Emperor Hanriyu and the late empress—”

Inside, my father and his consort, my stepmother, sat at the head of the cavernous chamber. The air hummed with impatience, courtiers folding and refolding their damp handkerchiefs to wipe their perspiring temples. I saw the backs of Lord Bushian and his son—my betrothed—kneeling before the emperor. Only my stepmother noticed me, frozen at the threshold. She tilted her head, her pale eyes locking onto mine.

A chill shivered down my spine. I had a sudden fear that if I went through with the ceremony, I’d become like her: cold and sad and lonely. Worse, if I didn’t find Kiki, someone else might, and my secret would get back to Father . . .

My secret: that I’d conjured a paper bird to life with magic.

Forbidden magic.

I spun away from the doors and pushed past Hasho, who was too startled to stop me.

“Princess Shiori!” the guards yelled. “Princess!”

I shed my ceremonial jacket as I ran after Kiki. The embroidery alone weighed as much as a sentinel’s armor, and freeing my shoulders and arms of its heft was like growing wings. I left the pool of silk in the middle of the hall and jumped out a window into the garden.

The sun’s glare was strong, and I squinted to keep my eyes on Kiki. She wove through the orchard of cherry trees, then past the citrus ones, where her frenzied flight caused the kitebirds to explode from the branches.

I’d intended to leave Kiki in my room, tucked away in a jewelry box, but she had flapped her wings and knocked against her prison so vigorously I was afraid a servant might find her while I was at the ceremony.

Best to keep her with me, I thought.

“Promise to be good?” I’d said.

Kiki bobbed her head, which I’d taken as a yes.


Demons take me, I had to be the biggest idiot in Kiata! But I wouldn’t blame myself for having a heart, even for a paper bird.

Kiki was my paper bird. With my brothers growing older and always occupied with princely duties, I had been lonely. But Kiki listened to me and kept my secrets, and she made me laugh. Every day, she became more alive. She was my friend.

I had to get her back.

My paper bird landed in the middle of the Sacred Lake, floating on its still waters with unflappable calm—as if she hadn’t just upended my entire morning.

I was panting by the time I reached her. Even without the outer layer, my dress was so heavy I could hardly catch my breath.

“Kiki!” I tossed a pebble into the water to get her attention, but she merely floated farther away. “This isn’t the time to play.”

What was I going to do? If it was discovered I had a talent for magic, no matter how small, I’d be sent away from Kiata forever—a fate far worse than having to marry some faceless lord of the third rank.

Hurrying, I kicked off my slippers, not even bothering to shed my robes.

I jumped into the lake.

For a girl forced to stay indoors practicing calligraphy and playing the zither, I was a strong swimmer. I had my brothers to thank for that; before they all grew up, we used to sneak to this very lake for summer-evening dips. I knew these waters.

I kicked toward Kiki, the sun’s heat prickling against my back, but she was sinking deeper into the water. The folds of my dress wrapped around me tight, and my skirts clung to my legs every time I kicked. I began to tire, and the sky vanished as the lake pulled me down.

Choking, I flailed for the surface. The more I struggled, the faster I sank. Whorls of my long black hair floated around me like a storm. Terror rioted in my gut, and my throat burned, my pulse thudding madly in my ears.

I undid the gold sash over my robes and yanked at my skirts, but their weight brought me down and down, until the sun was but a faint pearl of light glimmering far above me.

Finally I ripped my skirts free and propelled myself up, but I was too deep. There was no way I would make it back to the surface before I ran out of breath.

I was going to die.

Kicking furiously, I fought for air, but it was no use. I tried not to panic. Panicking would only make me sink faster.

Lord Sharima’en, the god of death, was coming for me. He’d numb the burning soreness in my muscles, and the pain swelling in my throat. My blood began to chill, my eyelids began to close—

That was when I saw the dragon.

I thought him a snake at first. No one had seen a dragon in centuries, and from afar, he looked like one of my stepmother’s pets. At least until I saw the claws.

He glided toward me, coming so close that I could have touched his whiskers, long and thin like strokes of silver.

His hand was extended, and above his palm, pinched between two talons, was Kiki.

For an instant, I bubbled to life. I kicked, trying to reach out. But I had no strength left. No breath. My world was shrinking, all color washed away.

With a mischievous glint in his eye, the dragon closed his hand. His tail swept over me from behind and encircled my neck.

And my heart gave one final thud.

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