So apparently a while back a book called The Black Witch
by Laurie Forest was at the center of some internet drama
which was kicked off by this review
back in March. I hadn't heard about any of the drama when I bought the book and had no idea that it was a book about a racist who learns that her opinions are wrong. (I thought it was going to be a book about someone who doesn't end up being a chosen one.)
So, the story is about Elloren who is basically the granddaughter of Hitler (if the Nazis had won) and the great-great-great-granddaughter of Hitler crossed with a T-Rex. Hitler T-Rex basically invented a religion where their people were the oppressed chosen ones and set off to smite all their enemies. And what Hitler T-Rex didn't do, Grandmother Hitler finished the job and increased the size of their country 10-fold and they became the new local super-power.
Elloren grew up in a country where the victors wrote the history books so she's well indoctrinated in their biased view of history and it's all backed up by their religion. And to put a cherry on top, her parents died in this war so of course she has an interest in believing they are heroes.
Elloren is painfully naïve (and frequently annoying). Her (evil and powerful) Aunt wants her to get engaged to another powerful family to ensure her purity and to make a powerful alliance. Also because if Elloren isn't the latest Hitler, then hopefully she will give birth to the new Hitler (the Titular Black Witch.)
It's true - there is a whole lot of racism in the book (and sexism) and quite a lot of it comes from the main character. It is not subtle. I can entirely appreciate how this is a deal breaker for people.
Elloren is largely clueless rather than cruel, but that doesn't really matter and I think Sinyard's criticism that this is book written for white people is spot on. Though I disagree that it's meant for white people who think they aren't racists so they can get a cookie. Rather, I'd suggest that it was written to allow white people to recognize that they are being racists and to show the harm that comes from it.
This is not to say that the book actually hits that mark, but I think that's what it was going for. It undercuts itself in a number of ways:
Elloren gets treated poorly by a number of people from other races which enables her to feel the victim - it doesn't make me empathize with her (and I think it was meant to) and clouds the message I think Forest was trying to portray.
Elloren also has quite an easy path. Even when she does things that ought to be unforgivable, she gets forgiven anyway. I think this book would have been quite a lot stronger if there had been real consequences to Ell Oren's actions. When you say or do something hurtful, sometimes the only thing you get is the lesson not to do it again. Saying you're sorry doesn't guarantee forgiveness (and it shouldn't)
Most annoyingly, Elloran is still jonsing for Lukas at the end of the book even though he's a jackass.
So, about that review, I agree with some of it, but it also unfortunately cherry picks its quotes. For example in one of the most horrifying scenes in the book, Lukas (the man who wants to marry Elloren) threatens the kitchen workers who have treated Elloren poorly, culminating with threatening to send a child to a work camp where she will be worked to death.
Sinyard quotes the following:"But what's the alternative? To let them bully me? To let them kick me and slap me and threaten me with further violence? No, it's better to make idle threats, if they now fear me.
I may be devoid of magic, but I'm Carnissa Gardner's granddaughter, Vyvian Damon's niece and favored by Lukas Grey."
And concludes "Elloren feel fully justified in the way that Lukas threatened an entire scene of workers"
But the paragraph immediately following the quoted section is:For the rest of shift, I try to cling to my roiling fear and anger to bolster myself and justify Lukas's actions, but it's impossible to hold back a fierce wave of sickening guilt. And I'm careful not to meet anyone's eyes for the rest of the shift.
Elloren feels basically the opposite to what Sinyard asserts - she tries to justify it in her head and fails and feels ashamed and guilty because of what Lukas did on her behalf.
Or when Sinyard describes the scene when Elloren learns of the Silkier trade:pg. 52-54. Elloren sees the Selkie for the first time. She's locked in a cage and is being sold as a pleasure slave. Her aunt explains that she's actually a seal with a human skin and she's just a wild animal, so there's nothing to worry about.
Yes, her aunt does say that, but right from the beginning it's clear that Elloren's Aunt is a jackass. Elloren is very upset to see the selkie in a cage and what actually comforts her is when her aunt says the following:I am completely and utterly against the Selkie trade and am doing everything I can to wipe it out." She pats my hand reassuringly.
But even with this, the shock and horror lingers:I nod silently as my out points out her favorite shops and historical landmarks, but the face of the Selkie stays fresh in my mind, and I can't shake the chill I now feel for the rest of the ride.
It was clear to me that her aunt was deliberately trying to obscure the fact that the selkies were used as sex slaves and it's clear from the text that the aunt's solution probably isn't something that Elloren would actually like. The book isn't suggesting that the aunt's point of view is good, and clearly Elloren remains upset about seeing the selkie in the cage.
I can understand people rage quitting this book, but honestly where I ended up was mostly bored. The world building is thin, the pacing is terrible and Elloren is a pretty annoying Mary Sue.