There’s many wonderful bloggers and other bookish people on twitter who have elaborated on the discussion in regards to books by #OwnVoices or marginalized authors, being unfairly critiqued or compared to more popular authors (often white) in the same category. But, I’d like to get into more specifics and just expand on this discussion, because its a topic that really needs to be talked about.
I wasn’t sure when I was going to post this, but the discussion between SOC/TGW came up again on book twiter and I felt it was time I presented my thoughts.
Today’s post is something that’s been on my mind for a while, but in all honesty― it’s always been hard for me to put into words exactly what I want to say.. Sorry if this post seems to be a bit all over the place, but know there are many different layers to this discussion and I may not be able to get to all of them (perhaps for another blog post).
Again, I’m just one blogger, but I hope my discussion today can offer further explanation into this topic.
I’ve gotten my thoughts on this a lot less jumbled in my mind and it’s something that I’ve not only witnessed and dug up more knowledge on myself, but as an aspiring YA writer of color, it’s something that needs to be discussed! And this topic is:
Book comparisons in YA for authors of color vs. white authors (when looking at The Gilded Wolves and Nocturna)
Even when it comes to the disparity in ratings (and general perception) when books by authors of color are so quickly compared to non-marginalized (often white + more popular) authored novels, it is startling and often disheartening to see.
I find there’s so many reasons why this needs to be examined more closely and it needs to be talked about:
Firstly, it establishes this idea that authors (especially non-white/#OwnVoices) can’t write tropes that literally have existed since the beginning of time for their own stories because Popular Author A over here already had a bestselling and well-loved book, with that 1 element that came out 5 years ago?
Think this isn’t true? Look at the disparity of these ratings & top-rated reviews (as of late October 2019) for Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves and Leigh Bardugo’s Six Of Crows:
Gilded Wolves: 9,028 Ratings & 3.70 star average (when I originally drafted this back in June) which is now:
11, 336 Ratings & 3.67 star average
Six Of Crows: 4.46 star average (over 4 years at 219,107 Ratings)
In my personal opinion, I was sure that the advertising of The Gilded Wolves well before it was officially out on shelves, wasn’t going to click with certain fans of SOC who would interpret specific elements of the story to be similar. Which in turn, would greatly influence the books perception upon/after release in terms of ratings, etc.
So, in turn due to perhaps how it was marketed, among other factors, The Gilded Wolves seemed to leave a somewhat “negative” impression on certain readers who had specific expectations. Due to similarly found story elements, that could be misinterpreted as being exactly like Six Of Crows.
Comparisons were easily made between these two YA Fantasy titles (mainly because it has a found-family crew with comparable characters to SOC and is a heist? Because heists didn’t exist before 2015 apparently?) *But in reality, let me just preface by saying TGW has MULTIPLE heists compared to Six Of Crows, which from I remember only has 1?
There are so many stories out there that have heists and yes, are in fantasy/sci-fi settings (have crews, etc.), but I’ve typically seen unfair critiques between these two books.
The top low-rated review of The Gilded Wolves on Goodreads comparing it to SOC states that Six Of Crows enjoyment factor is “leagues ahead of this book…,” but a general comparison that I’ve seen is that the crew of The Gilded Wolves are exactly like the Dregs from Six Of Crows.
Look, I don’t have a problem with how people rate their books, I know that not every book is for everyone. We all have different opinions and that’s what makes reading so great!
However, it’s really telling when you begin to see similar complaints for a non-white authored book because it’s seen/read as a “copy,” “ripoff,” or “plagiarized” version of this white-authored book ―which often times came out years before the book by the non-white author.
The fact is that #OwnVoices (and especially authors of color) are getting a bigger chance now to write/tell the stories that they needed or would have wanted growing up! This is especially important for the teen audience of YA today, to see themselves represented in these worlds–because we live in a big and diverse one!
To provide further evidence against those who say The Gilded Wolves is just a copy of SOC, here’s some quotes, taking place in a single scene that I’ll analyze in regards to colorism, nuanced discussion of culture, and colonization from The Gilded Wolves:
Enrique is gearing up to talk to Marcelo, a member of the Ilustrados, an organization of European-educated Filipinos who dream to reform their Spanish-controlled country. In this scene, Marcelo is discussing an upcoming meeting with the queen of Spain.
“Oh!” said Enrique. “I-I could help?”
Marcelo smiled. “Ah, but of course! Enrique Mercado-Lopez: journalist, historian, and debonaire spy…Of course it must be easy to spy when you hardly look like one of us…” (Ch. 6)
In Six Of Crows, we know Inej’s story and her hardships (I’m not dismissing that), however when it comes to discussion of culture and race, predominately in regards to Inej’s Suli culture, it’s explored or stated in lines quite briefly. Additionally, more of what we know about her culture is interpreted by flashbacks of her past and not necessarily layered world-building that delves into further exploration in the present.
In one single scene of The Gilded Wolves, we are delving into the topic of colonization, its after-effects alongside the discussion of coming from two different cultures, while not feeling accepted or understood in either– to quote Tor’s review:
“That sense of living a half life trapped between two unyielding worlds permeates the novel. All of the characters deal with a life spent constantly crossing through the liminal space between two opposing cultures…”
Another point I’d like to add is that those who’ve unfairly compared TGW to SOC, hardly even mention the #OwnVoices rep. & representation in general that Chokshi weaves throughout her novel: Zofia is Jewish, Polish and on the autism spectrum, Laila who is Indian, Enrique who’s Spanish-Filipino & Bi, Hypnos who is dark-skinned + Queer, & Séverin who is 1/2 French & North African.
Regardless of how I personally feel about the comparison people make between Six Of Crows and The Gilded Wolves, allow me to conclude this section with a wonderful quote from Bardugo via Bustle from September 2016 when discussing fantasy and diversity:
“…The truth is, I get a lot of praise for diversity, but there are far more diverse worlds out there…”
Another comparison that really fueled this discussion as well, was seeing deeper claims of similarity between Maya Motayne’s YA Fantasy debut Nocturna (2019) and ADSOM (or Darker Shades Of Magic Series; 2015).
To start, these books aren’t even in the same age-range! Look, I’ve read ADSOM too, but Schwab has made it very clear time and time again, that its an ADULT series, (aka not YA).
To break it down, Nocturna is set in a Dominican-inspired fantasy world where magic is inspired by the Spanish language, and follows a prince & thief duo who have to find a way to take down a dark magic they’ve accidentally unleashed!
A Goodreads review mentioned that “unabashedly good reviews” of Nocturna must have come from those who either “have never read V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic Trilogy, or who do not care when a book’s entire plot is lifted from another source…”
The comparisons are as follows:
Readers claim Nocturna is a blatant rip-off of the ADSOM series because of a girl/guy duo, the female is a thief (morally-grey female heroine), and there’s a dark magic entity…okay and? Have you never played a Fantasy/Sci-Fi RPG?? Those elements are nothing new…
To see such comparisons right off the bat based on elements and tropes which are by far more popular in other mediums/storytelling spaces, is just disheartening!
What comparisons like this unearth (especially if they are *unfairly comparing #OwnVoices/POC-authored books) is that to certain readers, these stories aren’t allowed to have or use tropes, storytelling devices, character archetypes, etc. that have been around for much longer than we have. Which is incredibly unfair because, that’s how stories work! Artists, writers, storytellers, find that spark of inspiration and that’s how storytelling continues to grow and evolve.
In regards to Nocturna I’ll present a scene in which Prince Alfie has conjured a spell to let a mural of Castallan’s past come to life as it relays the history of the country and how there came “rebellion” and how the “enslaved [broke] free of their shackles…” (Nocturna, 9):
“At his command, the mural moved with life…The mural slowly darkened as Englassen conquerors appeared on the shores. They chained his people…people’s magic was drained from them and transferred to their Englassen masters…The Englassen regime destroyed all the tomes of their language, forcing them to forget the tongue that connected them to their heritage…” (8-9, Nocturna).
“Then came the rebellion, with the enslaved breaking free of their shackles and rising against the conquerors and rediscovering their language…” (9, Nocturna)
These claims don’t even take into account the way Motayne discusses this topic and adds layers and depth to the magic system considering its heavily inspired by the Spanish language, and how it operates differently with each person (among other philosophical/literal ideas that there must be a balance to the magic itself). Also, just the fact that this is an #OwnVoices Latinx YA Fantasy (what an inspiration for aspiring Latina fantasy authors like myself) !!
Also Motayne stated in an interview through B&N Teen Blog that “if you can only take one thing [from my story], I hope it’s this: culture is magic. Your culture is magic. Never give it up, never surrender it. Because when you do, you surrender yourself along with it, and who you are is worth fighting for…”
“…I chose to stop uprooting myself from my heritage and to instead firmly plant myself in it…”
“I put pen to paper and wrote the adventure of a prince, a thief, and the LatinX kingdom that they lived in. A kingdom where your connection to your heritage and the language of your ancestry is your magic…”
Nearly 100% of the time, you’ll never see white-authored books go into lengthy discussions of race, slavery, colonialism, as much as non-white (often female) YA Fantasy authors. I recommend checking out Michelle from Magical Reads blog post where she discusses this exactly, when comparisons are made about The Gilded Wolves and Six Of Crows!
There’s a couple quotes from that post that always resonate with me. First, its that if these popular books are the “mold for YA fantasy”, whose to say these new books from authors of color (with completely different concepts & inspirations) can’t “break the mold…”?
For a diverse, brilliant and expansive community of readers such as that of YA, I do hope there continues to be more nuanced discussion of these very real and important topics authors of color explore and emphasize in their novels. Because in the end, no matter how similar stories may seem, the fantastic authors writing Young Adult are crafting from their own unique, distinct experiences and inspirations.
At the end of the day, I don’t want to blame anyone for how they rate their books, that’s not the point of this discussion. I’m hoping, it allows you to think a little more critically about how quickly book comparisons are made for YA (predominantly YA Fantasy) and why it does a disservice to the authors (especially those of color) who take time incorporating topics such as colonialism, slavery, race, and so much more into their stories/fantasy settings and presenting traditionally marginalized characters at the center of them. We live in a diverse world and we should not overlook the #OwnVoices/Marginalized authors representing that!
As I stated above, this discussion is one I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I hope that with my post here today it offers a bit more clarity on why (negative) comparisons like this can do more harm than good.
Any additional thoughts you’d like to share on this discussion or on the opinions I’ve shared? ✨📚
1. Gilded Wolves is Historical Fantasy (set in 1889 Paris), while SOC is a spin-off of the original Grisha Trilogy still set in the Grishaverse (Oct. 25, 2019)
2. “Marketing” is mentioned in this post, but upon reflection and further research I meant to say “buzz” (generated by early reviews) (Oct. 25, 2019)
3. Since writing this post, I wrote another Article revisiting this topic in early December (Dec. 2020)