3 Things About This Book
| Monsters VS Humans | Queer Characters within a Diverse Social System | Not Reverse Racist |
I got this ARC before the whole issue with potential racism, reverse racism and “black royal siblings oppressing poor white people” erupted, and because I’m trying to be someone who will try things out first before passing judgement, I decided to read this anyway despite my wariness.
Now, that I’m done, I’m on the side of those who label this book as not reverse racist (specifically of “black people oppressing whites” as I’ve seen in many reviews and comments).
To begin, here’s the definition of reverse racism:
“Reverse racism, sometimes referred to as reverse discrimination, is the concept that affirmative action and similar color-conscious programs for redressing racial inequality are a form of anti-white racism.” – Wikipedia
As a Malaysian, the forms of racism I’ve witnessed and experienced are tied to the races within my own country. In this case, it’s slurs, the “go back to ____ country”, the prejudice and stereotypes against ethnicities. Racial discrimination is even embodied within the policies here. I don’t know much about what racism is like outside my country, but I’ve seen the horrors done to POC by white people on the internet. The shoot first, ask questions later. The instant prejudice and wariness against a POC, etc.
With the above in mind, nothing in this book can be specifically labelled as anti-white or anti-any colour. Yes, the main character is pale and yes, the siblings who are to rule the country are dark-skinned but there is no majority race on either side. The third member of the royal sibling’s entourage is, in fact, “dark haired and dark eyed” with pale skin (page 30). On the other hand, the witches are divided into a few covens and in the case of the Skra, “the only difference was their hands; on brown and pale fingers alike, their fingernails ranged from deep gray to the barest tint” (Page 10).
On the other hand, the siblings’ parents are a witch mother with dark skin (page 120) and their father a pale human (page 87). Their father figure after the death of their parents is a pale human with red hair (page 105). Skin tone and hair colour are, refreshingly, not constantly mentioned in this book. Moreover, to say this book is reverse racist because black rulers are oppressing poor white people would be incorrect too. The black people don’t make any ruling decisions throughout the book. The cut-off trade, the poaching, etc, are done by others (some of the notable leaders of these opposing parties are pale). The only time the siblings do make a ruling decision, it was to unite the people in the end.
Rather, if anything is to be deemed as racism in any way here, then it’d be the dislike of witches toward humans and the dislike of humans toward witches because that’s what fuels the unrest between the people in the book. ‘Monsters VS humans’ is the primary, constant focus here and we see it both externally through the conflict between humans and witches, and internally through Ranka as she struggles with the perception of what a monster (that is, what she views herself to be) truly is. What enriches this exploration of the theme is the diverse characters within a diverse social system, making The Ones We Burn a well-written debut novel.
My only issue with the book is how long it is as the story felt like it was being dragged on in the middle. Nevertheless, I do appreciate how carefully crafted the story is. If you’re a fan of the complexities related to the theme of ‘monsters VS humans’, and if you’re interested in a book where skin tones are minimally, passively focused on, The Ones We Burn is a book you should try reading.
PS: If I come off as ignorant at any moment, then I’m really sorry for that 🙇♂️🙏🏻 (Also ngl, writing all this here is terrifying as I don’t want to accidentally offend anyone, but I also want to be honest.)
Thank you so much Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for providing me a copy of this in exchange for an honest review!