I received this eARC from Delacorte Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of this book in any way. All quotes are taken from the uncorrected proof and are subject to change.
I will not be officially rating this eARC because of the promised revisions, but if I had to, I’d definitely say 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars. This is a review for the original ARC, long before the controversy that made Zhao pull her book, revise it, and release new ARCs. More on that controversy later.
Ana’s deadly Affinity to blood makes her, at least in her own eyes, a monster. And when she’s framed for the mysterious death of her father, it might as well be true. But to clear her name, she needs the help of Ramson Quicktongue, an infamous crime lord and the only person who can find her father’s killer. But he has secrets of his own and plans to get his revenge, and Ana might be just what he needs to regain his position.
Who, in the end, is the monster?
My Thoughts on the Book
In the face of fear, one could choose to run, or to rise.
This wasn’t the most original book I’ve ever read. It has the hallmark features of a YA high fantasy retelling about royalty:
- A princess with a dark secret (usually dangerous magical powers and knowledge regarding a dead parent)
- Said princess pretends to be a peasant / doesn’t reveal her true identity to those around them, usually the love interest
- The love interest is a Bad Boy™ with a shady past but he’s sarcastic enough to be charming
- A friend dies
- The MacGuffin leads to yet another MacGuffin
- ~ BeTrAYaL ~
- One or more masked ballroom sequences
Cliche? Yes. But bad? I actually quite enjoyed it for what it was. The main characters had a great rapport, the setting was clear, and the plot kept you moving forward. If you like Bloodleaf, Shadow and Bone, and Six of Crows, then you’ll probably love this.
Specifically, Ana felt like a merge between Alina from Shadow and Bone and Aurelia from Bloodleaf. Ramson felt like a merge between Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows and Nikolai from the Grishaverse as a whole. Ramson’s side of things had a very Ketterdam vibe to it, while Ana’s had a Ravkan, Grisha aesthetic. Even the Affinities and their classifications bore a great deal of similarities to the Grisha. Cliche, however, doesn’t always mean bad, if the cliches are still entertaining. I didn’t mind any of these similarities. I still enjoyed the story.
“Your heart is your compass, and even the strongest wind can’t change its direction.”
I did, though, flip-flop quite a bit, I have to admit. I was generally quite engaged (it even took me out of a 3 month slump!!) but a single issue pervaded almost every aspect and really made me want to unofficially rate this 3 stars instead of 4.
It felt undeveloped. Not all the time—and there was definitely a lot of well established foreshadowing and character building—but some sequences that could have expanded on the characters and their dynamics, or breathed more life into the world or setting, or even just explained some of the plot, were just…sloppy or barely there or not there at all.
This had heart (a lot of it) and clearly a great deal of hardwork—and it shows! It really does! But it also has some missed opportunities and skipped time. Five whole days of travel with our two leads (who aren’t very well acquainted by this time in the story) occurs without any page time. So much could have happened in those five days, even if it’s just relationship building or backstory sprinkling rather than dumping. It made some parts of their relationship feel unearned or unrealistic. Besides that, Ana herself is kind of an idiot but I don’t think it’s her fault. What she does or does not know, based on her own experiences, is vague at best. We know she was isolated from the world at a young age, essentially tortured by her tutor, and taught to fear and hate herself. But somehow, she sees or perceives the world as an entirely different place than what she has known it to be, and not necessarily in an optimistic, trying-to-see-the-good-in-life kind of way. She believes or knows some things that she reasonably wouldn’t have known, or holds strong opinions about topics she would likely never have been introduced to. And when she has been introduced to topics, even going so far as explaining how she knows about it earlier in the book, when confronted with that same thing again, she seems to be completely blindsided. It really makes no sense at all.
But I liked it. And I’m mad about a certain thing that my Winter Wars girls know all about. They know my fury, and that it stems from love.
The TL;DR of the thing is this: Zhao wrote a book about indentured servitude and how it’s evil, sent out ARCs to the harsh, cruel world, and the harsh, cruel world of Book Twitter claimed it was inaccurate and insensitive representation of African slavery. Perhaps I’m being biased, however, because I think those people who claimed that were entirely wrong. Because I read the book, and very few of them did.
A better, less biased TL;DR is this: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/books/amelie-wen-zhao-blood-heir.html
Amélie Wen Zhao wrote a letter to the readers of her original ARC, and I’m certain that if most of the people flinging accusations at her had read it, they wouldn’t have said half the things they said. It goes a little something like this:
Four years ago, I began writing a story about a corrupt empire steeped in winter, filled with morally gray con men, deadly assassins, twisted villains, and above all, a girl named Anastacya, who has the power to manipulate blood and who believes she is a monster.
It took me two years to realize that the monster in the story is me.
I am an immigrant. I am a woman of color. And I am an “Other.” In my time in the United States, I have never experienced the sense of crushing fear about my identity that I have recently. “Get out of my country, communist!” is only one of the slurs I’ve had screamed at me from across the street. What I’ve experienced personally and seen across social media outlets and national television broadcasts has all amounted to a hyperawareness of my foreignness, my Otherness, and the possibility that because I am different, I am not worthy of belonging.
Blood Heir explores the demonization of the Other and this experience of not belonging. Ana’s journey examines how one can internalize hatred and fear, how that can warp one’s core and turn it into something cruel and twisted. But ultimately, her story is one of self-acceptance, and of the realization that we cannot change who we are nor what we are born with, but we can choose what we do with what we are given. And like me, Ana chooses to fight for a better tomorrow.
So I gave magic to my girls who were told they were monsters. I gave my children of color the ability to fight oppression. Because in a world where there is so little I can control, I want to put hope and power in their hands for once—and in a world where those deemed “different” are often cast out and made to be monsters, I want them to win.
Thank you for reading.
Amélie Wen Zhao
Don’t believe me? She shared it on Goodreads a whole year before the hate hit its climax. And what was that hate but another representation of Zhao’s Otherness and the world trying to take her voice away? What does it mean for a foreign woman of color to feel like a monster because of the irrational opinions of others, only to have the very work that helped her overcome that self-doubt be criticized for the same purported problems? And what, then, does it mean for her to come back stronger and fight for her book’s publication?
But you know what I find most interesting? That in the new ARC, which I haven’t read, she changed the letter.
Growing up, I learned to make sense of the world around me through stories. And yet, I struggled to find ones that fully represented me, with all my identities and histories and the various cultures I grew up with. So I decided to write my own.
Blood Heir is an amalgamation of characters from different kingdoms and cultures representative of the international community in which I was raised. I set this story in a cinematic world brimming with my love for fantasy, yet also rife with corruption and plagued with human rights violations in a broken system of law. The theme of oppression in Blood Heir draws upon the practice of indentured servitude that directly affected my own family history, as well as the global epidemic of human trafficking that continues to exist today in many forms. In a vast and powerful system set up against the powerless, I wanted to give each and every one of my characters the chance to fight back.
I’m so thrilled to be sharing a piece of my heart and mind with you. I hope my book can introduce a new perspective to readers to recognize the hidden tragedies of our humanity, and to confront this beautiful, broken world of ours with hope and bravery.
Amélie Wen Zhao
A stark difference. Gone are the personal ties. This is an explanation, not an apology. And I couldn’t be more proud. She isn’t backing down, she isn’t cowed into submission by the haters. She’s standing taller, if not more distant, and pushing for her own story.
Amélie is her own monster, just as Ana is a monster in her world. They’re both pushed down, made to fear the world and its reaction to them. It takes a lot of courage to openly discuss those kinds of fears, especially in a time as turbulent as this, where politics split the Western world so starkly and fears run rampant. But isn’t this kind of open honesty what we need right now? We need personal stories of struggle and oppression, even if they’re told through metaphor, to give people a space to reflect and analyze. That’s what fantasy does best. It allows you to explore the world at a deeper level but at a distance; it’s a parable of our world, a microcosm used to explain ideas and concepts without the complications of a direct comparison. It’s infinitely useful, and as Zhao put it, a way for those deemed Other to see themselves in fiction.
The book isn’t bad. It does what it intends to do, and it does it without claiming to be anything but what it is: an own-voices story about a girl oppressed by a corrupt world fighting for the chance to be free: free of hate, free of fear, free of oppression.
“We are all heroes in our own eyes, and monsters in the eyes of those who are different.”
I’m going to read the published book. I want to know what Zhao changed, and if it was necessary to change it. See you in part 2.
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