YA Book Comparisons + Discussing #OwnVoices & Diverse Books {Book Blog Discussion}

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!

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

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).

Nocturna by Maya Motayne

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? ✨📚

*Corrections/additions:

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)

18 thoughts on “YA Book Comparisons + Discussing #OwnVoices & Diverse Books {Book Blog Discussion}

  1. To be honest, I picked up THE GILDED WOLVES because of the SIX OF CROWS comp title. They are definitely two very different books, and the only similar thing is there is a heist and it involves a group of teenagers. I thought it was weird when people started saying they didn’t like TGW because it wasn’t like SoC. Well, duh, it wasn’t–they’re two different books. I haven’t read Nocturna but it’s on my shelves.

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    1. Agreed, I think some overlook the fact at how different they are because of some surface-level similarities. & Yay! That’s amazing that the comp. title got you to pick it up! Again, I don’t mean to say those who discovered it through the marketing easily compared them, I mean for those who have read both but *clearly overlook important discussions and elements in TGW & Absolutely!! They are completely different stories and its always difficult to see when people ignore that…Nocturna was a really fun YA Fantasy, hope you enjoy it!! Thank you so much for checking out the discussion Nicole 💕

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  2. Brilliantly put! i was nodding along to all your arguments because this is exactly how i feel, I’ve read and love both Nocturna and the ADSOM series and I never got the comparisons, they were both so distinctly different that i never thought they could be compared, more than any boy/girl magical worlds novel could….it’s frustrating though that this keeps happening with aoc.

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    1. Thank you so much Nini, I’m really glad the post resonated! I’ve been the most frustrated about Nocturna & ADSOM because there are honestly not many Latinx YA Fantasy’s out there and one we do have is being compared unfairly 😭…Also yes, that’s exactly why I needed to talk about this, because AOCs put so much work into their books and their always critiqued much harsher! Again, thank you so much for checking out my post!! 💖💖

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  3. Okay seriously this read like a freaking bomb essay and I loved reading it! I haven’t read SoC or ADSOM honestly and I feel like a lot of people do compare a white author’s work with a POC author’s work, and a lot of times, the POC author’s work is deemed “less than” or whatever. Which is usually crap when they actually list their reasons why. This was such a great post and I’m so glad you got your thoughts together enough to share with us.

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    1. I’m crying at your kind words Leelynn, thank you!! I’m so glad it came across as a wonderful essay! 😭💖💖 Agreed, the comparisons I felt stood out much more this year to me for some reason and I’d been wanting to talk about it for a while. I also see this discussion happening a lot on twitter, but I felt a blog post about this is something people should read too, bc I don’t think there is one (also I really wanted to share from my personal POV). Thank you again, I’m hoping to make another discussion post like this or in the vein of a similar topic, but we shall see! 😂❤

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  4. Thank you for this post.
    I haven’t read The Gilded Wolves and Nocturna yet (though I have seen the reviews, and I was… puzzled by how almost every negative TGW review said that TGW either wasn’t enough like Six of Crows or was too much like Six of Crows) but I have seen this happen recently, with Renée Ahdieh’s The Beautiful. I’ve read it and I don’t think it has anything in common with Twilight apart from the fact that it involves vampires and has a (hinted-at) love triangle, but I’ve already seen so many reviews say that “it’s just historical Twilight”, as if representation, themes and message didn’t matter at all. It is really frustrating.

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    1. Yes, its really frustrating to see especially when non-poc authored books that were also compared to SOC didn’t get nearly as low ratings as Gilded Wolves. Also, how can people be comparing Twilight w/ The Beautiful, they sound nothing alike? Also, isn’t Renee’s a historical fiction/fantasy? 😑 Yes, its really frustrating to see and that’s why I really wanted to share this discussion, I’m glad others agree! Thank you so much for checking out my post Acqua! 😄❤

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  5. Such a great blog post! The Gilded Wolves is one of my favourite books, so I’m always enraged to see people saying it’s a rip off of Six of Crows. They have some of the same tropes, that are VERY popular at the moment, but not too much else in common. Nocturna, I do see more similarities such as the guy can walk through doors between places, the dark magic that infects people, but I enjoyed both ADSOM and Nocturna and found them both to be superbly unique. The fact is, that even 5 years ago there were FAR less YA fantasy novels and these days, when #ownvoices books are finally popular and loved, there IS less unique territory to explore, and it is absolutely unfair to compare books that were easier to market and sell, to ones that are finally finding their footing and might not have been received the same way before, just because they share similar, popular tropes. There are so many other books that share the same tropes as SOC and TGW, written by white people, that are getting no lash back. Of course, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone regardless of race, but the fact is that people do say these things more towards recent books written by people of colour than white people. Oops, I ranted, but thanks for writing this awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for checking out my post (& for your kind words) 💖💖 & ha! Its okay, sometimes rants are necessary 😂 I agree with your points too, that’s exactly why I felt this discussion needed to be talked about, because there’s most likely similar books to the popular ones as well (like SOC) but don’t get as harsher ratings in my opinion compared to POC/#OwnVoices-authored books. Agreed, its often really difficult to see that because certain readers can’t look past surface-level similarities that in the end, don’t even take into account how different these books are from each other! & YES, I ADORE The Gilded Wolves too!! Its one of my favorite 2019 reads!! 💞✨

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  6. This is such a well written and argued post, and I commend you for diving into this! I have the memory of a goldfish, but I honestly don’t remember The Gilded Wolves being marketed as a comp title to Six of Crows, I am fairly sure it was another early reviewer who simply called it a rip-off and started a hate parade. Which makes me so sad because I loved The Gilded Wolves (and ironically have DNF’d Six of Crows three times); it is one of the most effortlessly diverse books I’ve read and tackles issues of colonialism, cultural erasure, and racism with so much nuance. It’s a masterpiece.

    The thing that drives me absolutely bonkers is that once a book is kind of a breakout, people only associate it with that book. JK Rowling didn’t invent wizards or wands, but she seems to own the market on those stories?

    The fact of the matter is that ownvoices authors and readers deserve to have stories that reflect their experiences. And I honestly don’t see these plagiarism claims being thrown towards white writers. Tropes and plot devices aren’t owned by any one book. Leigh Bardugo doesn’t own heist narratives; V.E. Schwab doesn’t own morally grey characters, JK Rowling doesn’t own wands.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words 💖 I’m so glad this discussion resonates with people because I’ve really been wanting to talk about it for a while! & Yes to your point about TGW/SOC comp. (I corrected it in my post to clarify, I mixed up marketing/buzz 😅) Agreed, with all your points about The Gilded Wolves, its one of my absolute favorite books of 2019 and really digs into topics that SOC really just skims the surface of (in my opinion). & YES! I absolutely agree with your point! Its often frustrating to see who these claims of plagiarism are often thrown towards 😑 & again thank you Kal for checking out my post, hopefully I’ll make a Part 2 or go about this topic from a different angle, because I feel like there could be more to discuss!

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  7. ah what a great post! it really got me thinking. i think a lot of it comes down to publishers not giving the correct type/amount of marketing to books by authors of color. a lot of times instead of pointing out what the book does that’s new and *exciting*, they instead give a half*ssed and lazy comp title and say something like “buy tgw if you liked soc!” this doesn’t let the book stand on its own merits and instead kind of automatically sets it up for failure. when you look at massive successes, such as children of blood and bone, they didn’t have marketing which heavily relied on comp titles and instead had marketing which emphasized how unique they were/are. but i digress…

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    1. That’s so true, though when I looked back at this post (for TGW specifically) I added a note saying what I had meant was the comparisons made by early reviewers…though at this point at can’t remember which was more accurate 😂 But true, this does tend to happen a lot with books, I can definitely see both the pros & cons for that! Agreed, then it really does make it difficult to let the book stand on its own & let the books plot speak for itself (if all they use are comparisons). Thanks so much for checking out my post Lila! ❤

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