TW: racism, homophobia, abuse, assault, misogyny, ableism, Holocaust imagery & Nazism, childhood marriage.
Okay let’s talk about the shitpile that is “The Black Witch”, a new debut YA fantasy book set to release in May 2017.
Shauna from @b00kstorebabe on Twitter has compiled a nearly 9k word review/read through of this book – so much so that I don’t even feel the need to read this myself. So, no, I haven’t, never will read this book. I don’t need to, and I do not want to. Any quotes I use will be from her review.
Let’s start with the “premise”, thesis line as it were, of the novel: a redemption arc of a portrayed-as white character, who “learns” that people of colour* aren’t all bad.
Firstly, I’m confused as to why this was even written. In real life, we all have, I guess, “redemption arcs”, though I shudder to call them that. I am a completely different person now than when I was younger. I have learnt so much about race, gender, and sexuality since I was a kid. (Well, a younger kid.) So does everyone. I’m still calling out my flatmates nowadays. Why do we need this in literature, too? This book isn’t going to ‘teach’ anyone to not be racist; I’m sorry, but it’s not. The MC** sounds like a ditz anyway.
Not only is this racist, it is also homophobic, ablest, features abuse (FOR THE MC TO THEN SAVE THE ABUSED CHARACTER FOR THE PURPOSE OF HER DAMN REDEPMPTION ARC I’M SORRY WHAT IS THIS TRAVESTY?!), misogyny, and even Nazi imagery. None of which, by the way, gets called out.
I mean, there’s even animal (???) abuse. Now, I hesitate to use this term, because what we are talking about here is a Selkie (yes, the mythological creature but I’ll get to taken myths & truths in a minute). The Selkie in question is locked up and being sold as a “pleasure slave”. MC’s aunt tells her it’s okay because she’s only a seal with human skin and therefore an animal.
Please tell me that I am not the only one who is aghast at this. Even if the Selkie is classed as completely animal – that is still abuse, horrific, and disgusting to put in a book.
Now, the thing that pisses me off about this book is that the character doesn’t learn, as evidenced by Shauna’s review. She is still saying racist, homophobic, misogynistic and disgusting things right until the end of the novel. By page 550 of a near-600 page novel, she is still saying homophobic things that even have TWs on them because they are that blatant.
Racism* is obviously the biggy in this book. The characters all have different skin colours – green, purple, pink, a species (Icarals) of difference races, even an elf with snake skin. There is a depicted-as Asian character, called Vu Trin who is ridiculously stereotypical (read Shauna’s review for more), and yet? Out of all of this? The MC is racist against every single one. I would like to direct you to Shauna’s review where she talks more about race, though. I am not as well educated, and therefore she is far more able to write about it (and, incidentally, has).
Let’s talk about the homophobia. There is a gay character called Trystan, who’s sole purpose seems to be to convince the MC that being gay is okay. Except, she never
fucking takes that information in. Trystan, by the way, is her brother, whom she is at university with and seemingly close to. There is a ceremony called “wandfasting” (more on that later), which is basically marriage but permanent. Trystan, of course, doesn’t want to be wandfasted to a female character, but the damned MC isn’t getting her head around it. Trystan says, “Could you fast to a woman?” to which the MC is aghast (“What?” I spit out, thrown. “Of course not!” 510). Trystan has, in a way, tried to explain it… and the MC is just like, “Lol, nope, just pretend.” Complete and utter erasure.
This book makes me so angry. Somehow, the novel has managed to offend every single person in the universe unless you are a white, cishet, male, who doesn’t care.
And Nazi imagery! Yes, we needed another tree to add to this fire. The MC and others wear a white armband to show their support of Vogel (Evil, Very Bad Guy), but then MC is angry that another character sees her armband and assumes her support for Vogel, because she thinks you shouldn’t judge by others’ clothing. But, obviously, judging someone by their skin and heritage is a-okay.
The abuse scenes are disgusting. There’s even sexual assault – repeated, at that. Lukas Grey (hmm sound familiar?) uses a spell to force the main character to kiss him. He also threatens the kitchen workers because they were “mean” to MC, and kills another girl’s familiar. (Basically, a huge and utter wanker and I don’t even have words to describe how much I hate him but! don’t worry, it’s okay, because he’s gorgeous.) Not only that, but we meet the Selkie (remember her?) again, being used in a hut in the middle of the forest by a Large Scary Man. She is used for the MC’s damn redemption arc. Yes, really; the MC saves her and all is right because she also keeps her in hiding! The MC can, y’know, just learn about things without being the Heroine and “saving” people (she “tries” to step up whilst it’s happening, but chooses not to, so sits back and waits until afterwards. Despite it being her and another character, who also chooses to stand by and do nothing).
Ableism – tw mental health. One of the characters, Ariel, is called “mad” , because she self harms. Yes, really. The scene where she self-harms clearly depicts self harm as making someone dangerous; which is, obviously, incredibly damaging, ableist, and dangerous in itself, too.
And misogyny? Well, that comes in because men are, typically, more powerful than women in terms of magical powers. And therefore… men run the land. Sigh.
OKay, but not only just all that above. As referenced in this Twitter thread by (the wonderful) Ana Mardoll, the whole book is also full of cheap world building. We have the Kelts (hmm), the Amazkaran, an all-powerful woman race (hmmm), the Icarals, who can fly (hmmmm), and the Gardnerians – I have learnt from Ana that Gardnerian Wiccan is an actual religious race (hmmmmm). To me, this seems like cheap world building, because it feels like there have been Celtic, Greek, and Wiccan religions and culture shoved together to create a huge, culturally appropriate slush pile.
Okay, and “wandfasting”; this seems to be the book’s version of marriage, where you are literally magically bound to someone. Women are wandfasted as early as thirteen years old, which just screams childhood marriage at me. Y’know, that really horrible and disgusting thing where girls are forced to marry older men and people, nowadays, are fighting against it but in this culture no one says anything except for the supposedly “good” Uncle who sends MC to university instead? Yeah. That. (Also, c. pgs 70-75, there is conversation of marriage and marrying someone. …why have wandfasting, then?) (Oh, and handfasting is also a tradition in Gardnerian Wiccan culture. Hmmmmmm.)
Y’know what? The MC isn’t even fucking clueless. She knows exactly what is wrong in the world. This isn’t a redemption arc. It is, completely and utterly, a horrific novel.
I’m going to link you, again, to Shauna’s review, and Ana Mardoll’s Twitter thread. Of course, I didn’t have to write this blog post, and I do not want to overwrite others who have written as well, but I wanted to, I wanted to say what I wanted to say. I just thought I’d say that, too.
And one final thing: I’m sure, as I have already seen, that people will be angry that I’ve written this post without reading the novel. In response to that, let me ask you a few things: would you read a book that had had bad reviews because it was just a bad book? Would you go to an Italian restaurant that you’d been told had bad food and a 1 star rating, even though you loved Italian food? Would you date a person whom you knew to be racist, homophobic, Nazi, abusive, and approving of assault?
Don’t read the book.