A When the publisher screws up, and hands reviewers a book that wasn't ready.
The hot story this week in the publishing industry was Amélie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir. As the Guardian and the NYTimes report, the debut novel of an up and coming YA author was pulled after early reviewers (after getting advance review copies via NetGalley) pointed out the problematic depictions of slavery.
I have not read the book myself, so I can't comment on it, and I probably won't be able to comment on it because the book has been canceled. Sure, it is still listed for pre-order on Amazon and scheduled for a June release, but the official word is that it will not be published. This has caused screams of outrage among the permanently triggered, but it also piqued my curiosity and inspired me to seek out reviews.
What I found was that almost everyone has gotten the story wrong. This was not a case of the Twitter mob run amok; this was a situation where critics pointed out that a bad book was indeed bad, and eventually the negative publicity forced the publisher to pull it.
As I see it, the publisher screwed up, badly. They fell for the same hype that had earned Blood Heir a four-plus star rating on GoodReads, and forgot to do their jobs.
I have found two reviews that suggest this book is less the next great novel than a NaNoWriMo project that should have been stuck in a drawer.
From The Ramblebee:
The premise in itself is interesting, though not unique. I liked the magical setting inspired by historical Russia, but I found the world building rather slapdash. The writing had all the same issues I had with Children of Blood and Bone. The plot was slow-paced and the narration kept meandering off, so I found it hard to stay invested. Truthfully, if this hadn’t been an ARC, I would have DNF’d it, but I kept hoping that it would improve. I hoped in vain.
The characters kept running in circles, having the same staggering revelations over and over, only for the emotional arc to double back to a previous development. It was frustrating and repetitive. I’ve seen allegations of plagiarism and while I can’t speak to all of them, there were some striking similarities to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, which I only read after Blood Heir, as well as to Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, funnily enough.
The cast of characters was ethnically diverse, but the book does have issues with racism. Using prejudice against magic powers as a stand-in for racism is problematic, especially if that prejudice targets white people as well as people of colour, which will always read as an implicit “reverse racism exists.”
This book is one disastrous and insulting mess. The character development is terrible. The characters decisions are terrible. There are so many flashbacks, I read more flashbacks than actual present plot and story. Characters will be introduced and suddenly give sage advice—no one says these things to someone they just met. The romance is horrendous and barely existent and should really just be removed so readers don’t have to endure this start and stop. A lot of exposition is repetitive (especially flashbacks). There is murder and deaths that are simply done for shock value and don’t further the story in any way. The mood and feel of the book is always at a five on the emotional spectrum, no matter what I was reading I didn’t care. There was no build up to the twists and deaths and climax of the book. It all fell flat.
Folks, you can be as angry at the book's critics as you want, but it's quite clear that the publisher dropped the ball. They did not bother to give the book the developmental edit it needed, much less hired a sensitivity reader to give a second opinion on the elements of racism and slavery.
For once the critics were right. This was a poorly-written book on several levels. Its problematic depiction of slavery was just one of its serious issues, and unfortunately it has obscured the fact this book, in its current form, was destined to be the biggest disappointment of 2019.