I don’t know how I got roped into this, but it appears I’m reading more P.C. Cast. I blame Cynna, Olivia, Maverynthia and Paige for my pain and suffering. I will be joining them on the Papercuts Podcast to discuss this atrocity we have all endured.
Because this book is just so very… typical. It was utterly awful in several ways.
I think to understand a lot of the PROBLEMATIC awful elements of this book as opposed to the awful WRITING elements of this book and the awful CHARACTER elements of this book it is necessary to look at how this book treats race
A very very very very simplistic reading of this book would suggest there are no POC in this book – but I think that’s largely because an editor (yes, I actually believe this book may have gone near an editor despite all evidence to this contrary) looked at this and said “you’re going to make them POC? Nooooo, stop this Save the Pearls awful!”. This means the book is very very very very careful not to outright label skin colour of anyone. There’s one reference to Earth Walker skin colour:
“The dirty, earthy colour of all Scratchers”
Which pretty much makes their dark skin confirmed in the most utterly racist way possible.
Even if it were ambiguous and it is rarely mentioned, that doesn’t mean the racialisation of the Earth Walkers and the Tree Tribe aren’t clear. The physical descriptions have several markers – the Earth Walkers have black, coarse hair, broad noses; the Tree Tribe has blond hair, small noses. And these are just some examples – Mari spends most of the book hiding her mixed race identity using dark hair dye and darkening her skin and disguising her features with mud – which screams darkening her skin. Sure she could be disguising herself by being the person who is literally and clearly blathered in mud all the time
But… really? I mean can someone even live like this? She thinks the tribe ostracises her – but if she is this filthy all the time is it any surprise everyone backs away from her. Ultimately, another character openly comments that her skin is a different colour. It’s hard to avoid the idea that the Earth Walkers are not a POC analogue even if not POC themselves
And we know that with some extra really problematic tropes that have been dropped on them. The Earth Walkers are cursed – at night if they are not “washed” in moonlight the women become passive, despairing, depressed and suicidal while the man become animalistic, violent, savage rapists. So much so that even washed they cannot live with their wives and daughters because big angry rapey men – with POC coding this isn’t just problematic, this is disgustingly racist. Seeing this the Tree Tribe kills the animalistic men and enslaves the women – assuming they’re helpless, pathetic, incapable of helping themselves and the good noble tree tribe HAS to enslave them for THEIR OWN GOOD
Seriously, this white saviour narrative is so strong Cecil Rhodes would ask you to steady on a little. Not only are these magical slave/slaughter traits disgusting in and of themselves, but they’re also used as redemption for the Tree Tribe’s slavery. One thing this book does manage is to make it clear that enslaving the Earth Walkers is wrong – but this narrative of woo-woo JUSTIFIES them, it absolves them. They’re not evil, they just didn’t understand that this entire race of people they were murdering didn’t want to be murdered and enslaved. They’re killing them FOR THEIR OWN GOOD.
The woo-woo which causes the POC to rape and be enslaved is an appalling, insurmountable part of this book which pollutes my tablet with its presence. But it’s not the only issue – the way the Earth Walkers (coded POC) and the Tree Tribe (coded white) are described is utterly awful. The Earth Walkers are ugly – coarse, rough featured, plain; while the Tree Tribe are “refined”. This is the objective description of the two people – the beautiful blonds and the ugly, coarse POC who are rapists and enslaved.
This is awful – and a lot of this awful comes from Mari, our protagonist. Oh how I hate her. The only reason she isn’t the most hate of protagonists is because The House of Night and the hot mess of Zoey exists and give this heap of wasted trees 12 books I’m sure I’ll loathe Mari as muchl
Mari is half tree tribe, half Earth Walker. She was raised by her mother, Leda, an Earth Walker. She has never ever met her father who died when she was born. She doesn’t seem to have ever met a member of the Tree Tribe before this book. She knows of them only as brutal slavers and the heritage which forces her to hide inside and plaster herself in
mud. She is not as product of Tree Tribe culture at all
So why does SHE think the Earth Walkers are all the ugliest, coarse plainness while the Tree Tribes are so pretty? Where has she even got this beauty standard from? Who taught her to call her OWN MOTHER ugly while putting the murdering tree people on a pedestal of blond, green eyed beauty? How does someone grow up, ostracised in a society, having to hide their features and decide EVERYONE in that society is grossly ugly except her precious self? I don’t care what kind of self-confidence you have, this is not how things work, even if you are so self-centred small planets should orbit you?!
Any my gods is she self-centred and hateful. Especially to her OWN people, the people who raised her, her mother’s people. She refers to the Earth Walkers as “Scratchers”, a slur the Tree Tribe uses to denigrate the Earth Walkers… how does she even KNOW this word? She has no exposure to Tree Tribe culture, so how has she heard their slurs? And why, good gods, why, is she using it all the damn time? Why has she absorbed this level of contempt for her own people that she psychically learns insults about them?!
More, when her people need her to “wash” them so the women don’t fall to depression and die and the men don’t become violent rapists, she REFUSES. She decides that her people don’t deserve her help and she’s just going to leave them all to rape and murder and die. She hates them that much… yet this is the same book that, when she finds Nik, a Tree Tribe, one of the people who literally enslave and murder her people… and suddenly she’s a sweet angel of mercy determined to preserve this poor slaver’s life.
Why does she hate her people so much? It’s never really explained. She’s even shocked that any Earth Walker other than her can actually produce art. She hid her heritage from them constantly assuming they’d hate her but we have seen no evidence of this. Literally every single Earth Walker who has learned she is half-tree tribe has accepted her without reservation. At very least one scene where Mari realises “hey, my assumption my people would hate me is perhaps unfounded and maybe I shouldn’t loathe them all” would be nice!
Also, there’s Sora. Mari hates her and she’s a terrible person. How do we know? Because female and DARES TO LOOK AT MEN how dare she, the sluthussyjezebel. Because everyone knows in P.C. Cast’s world any sexual woman is made of evil. She’s only redeemed when she crawls and begs Mari for help and acknowledges Mari as her superior (and can we talk about how Mari decided she was totally entitled to inherit the leadership of her clan when she spent her entire life cowering at home caked in mud?)
This covers a lot of the awful of the book – but I really have to cover that this book is some of the most terrible writing outside of a House of Night book. This book is long. So very long. But looking back on it there just isn’t nearly enough story to justify this many dead trees (thankfully my copy is not paper). It just rambles on repetitively over and over and over again with lots of really convoluted world building. We open this boring book with a dreadfully ridiculous info dump where Mari and Leda, her mother, describe how their people pick names. No, really. They just sit down and decide “hey let us discuss naming conventions because why not!” The whole beginning of the book is filled with the most splurged info dumps – the whole conversation between Mari and Leda nearly made me put the book down. We have a separated interlude where we talk about Purple Kale
No-one cares about your kale
No-one in the history of mankind has ever cared about kale
Caring about kale is the sign of a deeply damaged soul.
We even have a scene where she does the “I describe myself in the mirror” scene. She even infodumps, aloud, to herself WHILE SHE’S ALL ALONE. Seriously, she’s alone, alone and she’s still monologuing to herself.
This continues the whole book, people will just drop vast chunks of what I will dubiously call world building about the tree dwelling dog people (don’t even get me started – no wait, I will start because it’s classic Cast bullshit. For some reason questioning why someone’s skill, talents and contribution to the tribe is completely irrelevant if they don’t have the right kind of pet is deeply wrong – so only deeply wrong people do this. This is utterly terrible writing – if people can’t disagree with your character/world building/whatever unless they are proven objectively wrong them your writing is lazy. People can disagree with political systems legitimately. And, no, disagreeing that your skills should be discounted because you don’t have a dog is not unreasonable! It’s terrible that we never actually explore these points or the potential of them because Wrong People Wanting Wrong Things is Wrong Guys!!!)
Sorry, this is the kind of book where random frustrated tangents are demanded frequently. Speaking of – the poetry. Whyyyy is there poetry. They’re “warning rhymes” to help people remember… really?
“Fear Canines – flee felines – take to the ground or you will be found”
This is not only objectively terrible, who the hell needs a mnemonic to hide from danger!? Especially when you live in caves in the ground IN ORDER TO HIDE?
“Be safe! Concentrate! Where old logs lie there are dangers to spy! Always prepare to beware!”
Seriously if this is how you’re teaching your children you need to be convicted of child abuse. These are not hard warnings to teach the next generation. Prepare to beware? I take it back, no way an editor read this book – or if they did they’re now a broken, desperate person who no longer believes goodness or joy exist.0
“Of Cities beware – skin stealers are there.”
Do I have to talk about the Skin Stealers? The evil evil people of evilness who are evil? (we know they’re evil because they opening scene involves sex and only evil people have sex). Honestly they serve no purpose at all in this book except to interrupt our regular scheduled awful with more awful. In a book that is already too long, already full of irrelevant, having some extra irrelevant scenes just makes it drag on even longer and more painfully. Save it for the second book.
Oh gods there’s going to be a second book.
For more diversity we have a gay minor character whose relationship is mentioned once and is pretty obscure and 2 lesbians. One of which dies. Of course she does. At least it’s a mercy killing because she won’t be in this book any more.
I am not looking forward to the second book in this series.