In the world of YA fantasy, author Elizabeth Lim is known for her rich stories that effortlessly incorporate East Asian legends and folklore with familiar, more Western fairytale framings. While her Six Crimson Cranes duology may have initially been based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Wild Swans—a young princess must find a way to rescue her brothers who have been cursed to turns into cranes each night—the series ultimately becomes about something entirely new.
A tale of identity, family, and embracing your own power (whatever that may be), the story of Six Crimson Cranes concludes with The Dragon’s Promise, a sequel that takes our heroine from the realm of dragons to a forbidden land inhabited by hungry spirits. And along the way, Princess Shiori grows from an impulsive girl to a genuine leader, determined to do right by not just her deceased stepmother Raikama’s last wishes but for all the denizens of her kingdom, human and magical alike.
We got the chance to chat with Lim about The Dragon’s Promise from the elements that inspired the sequel to how she sees Shiori’s journey by the end of the story.
Paste Magazine: ??Six Crimson Cranes was loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Wild Swans (and included elements from several other Chinese folktales and legends). What would you say was the major influence on this sequel?
Elizabeth Lim: I’d say that the sequel was less based on one particular fairytale or folktale, and more on expanding the universe that I’ve created: for instance, developing the dragon realm (which is indeed inspired by East Asian folklore) and hinting more at Shiori’s stepmother’s past, which is lightly inspired by the Chinese legend Madame White Snake.
I tried to focus more on themes such as love and home, and incorporate a bit more of Kiatan mythology, particularly with the lady of the moon – who (minor spoiler) does make an appearance toward the end!
Paste: How would you describe Shiori’s journey over the course of this series? She’s come so far by the end of it.
Lim: Shiori is a flawed character who starts off spoiled and impulsive, and rash to judge others. By the end of Book I, she’s definitely matured and become wiser through her trials, but she’s by no means perfect.
In Book II, she continues to make mistakes, but I think of the series as a coming-of-age story. In Book II, Shiori is still finding herself, and she’s put in one impossible situation after another and is just doing her best. One of her greatest strengths is her fierce loyalty to those she loves, and how far she is willing to go to protect them.
Paste: The dragon realm is fascinating, I wish we could have spent more time there. (I’m now deeply curious about the everyday lives of dragons and how their culture works!) Tell me a little bit about how you came up with their world and what, if anything, you based it on.
Lim: Thank you! A good chunk of Ai’long is inspired by Chinese dragon folklore, which is often imagined as an underwater kingdom, with merpeople and talking sea creatures and the occasional dragon abducting people from the shores.
I tried to flesh out this realm in my imagination and write it into the world that I’ve created – often when I start worldbuilding, I start from the small details, like music, art, fashion, and food—with Ai’long, I tried to do the same, but I focused more on what it must be like to realm where everyone was immortal. I also thought hard about the relationship between dragons and humans; obviously, dragons consider themselves far superior and magnificent creatures, but I wanted to show reasons why dragons might find humans necessary to their world.
Paste: One of the best parts about this sequel is that Takkan and Shiori’s relationship grows together through this novel, rather than that thing fantasy often does where it breaks up the main couple because reasons before putting them back together in the end. Tell me a bit about how you see their love story, and why you chose to tell it that way.
Lim: One of my least favorite romantic tropes is miscommunication, so I was excited to play on my readers’ expectations during a particular Shiori/Takkan scene, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
The two don’t get to spend that much time speaking to one another in Book I (for obvious reasons), so I wanted to give the two a chance to grow and really get to know each other, to hash out any misunderstandings from their past, before they went ahead with their relationship.I just want the best for them and to me, this was the best way to create the foundation for a strong and happy Shiori and Takkan!
Paste: I love love love that Shiori’s stepmother Raikama is still such a big character in this sequel and that we get to see at least some of her story for ourselves, rather than just as part of Shiori’s journey. What did you find most appealing about her as a character?
Lim: I actually wrote a novel about Raikama BEFORE writing Six Crimson Cranes, so I’ve always known a lot about her story…to me, Raikama is a deeply flawed and imperfect character, and she is so interesting because she’s lived a hard life, and even after having come into great and terrible power, her desires are simple and relatively selfless. I’m hoping to share more about her in the future…
Paste: For those who have read—or may now go check out—your “Blood of Stars” duology, talk to me a bit about how you see these stories sort of sitting next to one another. Are they connected in more ways than just through Bandur and the Forgotten Isles?
Lim: Yes! One of my dreams as an author has always been to create a universe where all the characters’ stories are linked. For instance, Gen in The Dragon’s Promise is a prominent character in Spin the Dawn (you might recall Edan!) and he mentions having met Shiori in Unravel the Dusk.
With each book, I’ve expanded my universe, but I look forward to returning to familiar lands, alluding to familiar stories, and re-introducing more characters in the future!
Paste: What do you most hope that readers take away from the Six Crimson Cranes series as a whole?
Lim: One of the reasons Six Crimson Cranes is so dear to my heart is because it’s inspired by the fairytales and folktales I loved while growing up.
There was a lot of nostalgia for me while working on these stories and creating characters like Shiori. I’d really love for readers to find a similar love and nostalgia when they finish the series, to put it among their comfort books when they finish, and reach for the stories again and again and even share it with their children!
Paste: What’s next for you as an author? (This is also my roundabout way of asking if we’ll see any more stories set in this universe!)
Lim: Haha, I hinted at a story based on Raikama earlier, and there’s a reason for that! But yes, you can expect one or two more tales set in this universe!
Paste: And, finally, what are you reading yourself at the moment? Any good recommendations for our readers?
Lim: I’m very excited for Isabel Ibanez’s secret project, which I think should be announced shortly! And Stacey Lee’s MG book Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies sounds like a delight.
Both Six Crimson Cranes and The Dragon’s Promise are available now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.