The recent fracas in the Young Adult Fiction community over Amelie Zhao and her debut novel The Blood Heir (said fracas summarised here for those who are unfamiliar with it), got me thinking about the strangest review I ever received.
(It needs to be said that this person was 100% polite and so I have not named them nor linked to them – the review was never posted online anyway – since I bear no animus against them, they’re entitled to their opinion, after all.)
So most of the time when you send your work off to someone for a review you brace yourself for some negative criticism (justified or otherwise), and usually prepared for comments on writing quality, believability/likeability of the characters and general comments on the writing pace or plot).
But not this one time for me. No, the comment on The Heirs of Lydin was in relation to how it might cause harm to indigenous people. How you might ask?
Well, it was clear from the text that the Goriinchians were indigenous, they were the villains and they were called barbarians by other characters.
Never mind the questionable idea that being indigenous somehow precludes villainy (the Nazis were indigenous Europeans, weren’t they?) , never mind that the Goriinchians called others “infidel” and other slurs (apparently barbarian is worse), never mind that most uses of barbarian were thrown about by the Eldara, never mind that all of this was in dialogue, not narrative text.
I was then asked if I would like to retract my novel and revise it. I refused (which I think surprised the reviewer) and instead offered to withdraw my book from review consideration anyway.
All in all, a bizarre experience, leading me to believe American reviewers seem to review all texts with a strange American cultural bias. (All indigenous characters are oppressed, all people using the term “barbarian” are oppressors).
So a word of advice: be careful when drawing parallels when the author never intended them, especially if said parallel is more likely a product of your own background and beliefs. Sometimes an elf is just an elf…
(Picture of Ivellios, who uses “barbarian” more than anyone)