As of writing this post, The Continent has been taken down from Amazon and will be receiving a new publication date so that the problematic parts of it can be dealt with. A quick introduction for those who don't know what I'm talking about (though I am late to the game and the controversy has died down quite a bit): The Continent is a forthcoming fantasy novel from debut author Kiera Drake about a girl from the privileged land of the Spire getting lost on the "savage" land of the Continent. A few weeks ago people who were reading ARCs were reporting that the book was racist, painting Native Americans and Africans in a bad light by calling them savages, playing upon negative tropes, rehashed and boring stereotypes, and celebrating a white hero protagonist. I was quick to take out my preorder of the book, though I was a little wary of both sides of the argument. Some people were claiming that these plot devices were being used as a way to comment on society, or at least this fantasy society. A friend allowed me to borrow her copy of the ARC (for which I am eternally grateful, thank you!) so that I could get a feel for myself.
Now, before I address the racism, and how I perceived it to be there, I want to address something else that really bothered me, that was happening alongside this discussion. People were catching wind of what was going on and scrambling to read their own copies, or borrow copies, and those people, the ones who were curious for themselves, were getting yelled at and harassed by others. They were angrily questioned as to why they wouldn't believe the reviewers who were claiming it was racist. First of all, being curious doesn't mean you disbelieve a person, it means you want your own opinion on the matter. In this day and age, being informed is a good thing, and the best way to get informed is to get as close to the source as possible. Second of all, there were two sides of the argument going down, with some people saying it wasn't racist at all and siding with the author, who remained mostly silent. It was a confusing time for people who didn't have a side to pick, and they could stay quiet and on the sidelines, or they could use their resources and decide. Again, being informed is hugely important! That pissed me off a lot that people in a liberal community like the book community were seemingly advocating against information and spread of knowledge. What ticked me off all the way, though, was one specific tweet I saw. I don't know who posted it, and I don't know who it was posted to. It didn't matter so much as what it said, which was something along the lines of the person not having read the book but trusting a reviewer who had and was claiming it was racist. Their follow up tweet, though, was bashing someone who hadn't read the book but was trusting a reviewer who was saying it wasn't racist. I just stared at it stunned at the flaws in that very argument. It was then that I was really glad I had an opportunity to read the book and get my own take on it.
I read this book from a position of privilege. I'm not going to lie about that. I'm a white woman from middle class standing in America. That's a rather privileged position. Sure, being a woman is considered a minority, and there are still hurdles, but they aren't the same types of hurdles POC people face on a daily basis. I don't want to invalidate anyone, but for the sake of this post I'm going to push POC rights to the front as being more important in this context. I also want to let everyone know that I will be posting a proper review for this book in a week or so, and it will address the book outside of the context of racism and controversy.
Is this book racist? That's the big question. I'm going to say, sadly, yes. But I don't think it's as racist as some people have blown it up to be. The book strives to be a commentary on society, speaking specifically about the relationship between the privileged Spirians and native "savages". The first few chapters are done to drastically paint the difference between the life of Vaela, who has everything, even the ability to look down at the people fighting on the Continent and consider them lesser for their war and lack of technology. Her family, and the other people she travels with, can even be harsher than Vaela in what they think and say. And it's all seen as socially acceptable. After seeing war and bloodshed, though, Vaela starts to change her mind and wonder at the difference between the groups and the importance of human life. This changes even more drastically when she ends up having to live with the people on the Continent due to her situation. She begins to see that they really aren't that different.
But here's where the racism, which I think is completely unintentional, comes to play. Vaela never goes all the way with her thought process. It's never explicitly stated that the natives are actually the same, and there remains a feeling through the book that there is some sort of cultural divide. Particularly once the book leaves the narrative of social commentary in lieu of a more traditional romance and survival story. A lot of the casual thinking from the earliest scenes is never disrupted enough to make it a full on commentary, and the actions Vaela takes do lead to the white hero story archetype, which, while not directly racist, is harmful and can be a very negative trope. There's also the fact that while the Aven'ei, who are closer to being related to Asians than the Topi (who, I believe, are closer to being related to Africans), get the bill of approval by the Spire, and are actually seen as rather progressive both culturally and technologically, the Topi are still painted as villains without any hope of saving. Vaela almost addresses the issue, but again, never goes all the way.
In the end, I think that it's a good idea to take this book back and retool it. There's a lot of casual racism, that can be overlooked by someone who's not used to dealing with it. I don't think that it says anything bad about the author, though, since I do think, from the way the book is set up and the course of the story, that it's meant to be a commentary on race and war/peace, not a white savior story. I do want to say that I don't like the way it has been treated by the community, and all the vicious tweets that have flown back and forth. Discussion is what is needed, and telling someone what they should believe is not a way to discuss things.
Which leads me to: let's discuss this! I want to know what you think about the book, whether you've read it or just heard other people talk about it. I want to know what you think about this post. Comment below or hit me up on twitter to continue the conversation!