The Crane Wife, by Patrick Ness—Modern Mythology

Here at the ShortStoryTeller, we are still reading and reviewing the latest fantasy novels, both

from established authors and indie authors. The Crane Wife is technically magical realism, not fantasy, but it came recommended to us.


The Crane Wife is loosely based on a Japanese folk tale. In the original tale, a man rescues a crane with a wounded wing, and later marries a mysterious young lady who helps him find wealth and prosperity. When the man investigates how his wife is creating this wealth, he discovers that she is the crane, and she flies away.


This book adaptation creates a modern, western setting for the man and his family. The juxtaposition of this western setting and the Japanese mythology really creates a sense of wonderment.


But does the rest of the book hold up? Read on to see our recommendation.


The Good—Eastern Mysticism and Imagery

The Crane Wife has several evocative scenes with beautiful Japanese images and folklore.


The artwork described in the book is composed of feathers, complemented with origami-esque paper cuttings. Each element is described in poetic detail and leaves just enough to the imagination to allow the artwork to drive the plot.


The imagery is also distinctively Eastern, from the titular crane to the angry volcano. It’s enough to make the reader long for the exotic atmosphere of the Japanese folklore.


The Bad—Experimental Literary Devices

First thing: the author uses present tense. At this site, we have made it clear that fiction belongs in past tense. Always.


The author uses present tense only for chapters that depict the legendary narrative between the Lady and the Volcano. This sounds like it might be a good way to distinguish myth from reality, but near the end of the book those boundaries become blurred—and which tense should be used when the Lady and the Volcano are talking to the main human characters?


Second thing: the author uses contradictions.


It’s clever, in a stupid way. And it becomes boring; yet always interesting. You will hope that the author would never stop. And then you will hope that he had never begun.


You get the point.


The Verdict—Artistic, Yet Poorly Assembled

Even though the artwork is brilliantly described, it sometimes looks like garbage. The

character development is weak, almost non-existent. And the main theme of forgiveness is downright incomprehensible. Characters are told to forgive each other for caring; not for the multitude of ways in which they hurt each other.


Despite this, the book has charm, and mysticism, and beauty. It draws the reader into a world in which Japanese folklore can influence our drab, mundane lives. I imagine that a lot of readers are looking for exactly this.


On this website, we do not offer ratings to books that contain present tense. We maintain that every single one of them would be improved by consistently using past tense. However, if you are a reader who doesn’t mind the present tense crime, then The Crane Wife might be a pleasant escape into Japanese folklore.

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