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I've been sitting on this review for almost a week now, trying to formulate the best way to express how I felt about it without writing thousands of wI've been sitting on this review for almost a week now, trying to formulate the best way to express how I felt about it without writing thousands of words. As I said in my first status update on this book, I bought it after reading an article titled The Toxic Drama of YA Twitter which explains how The Black Witch went from being one of the most anticipated new releases from Harlequin Teen to being slandered as racist, homophobic and ableist. I bought it because I was curious and I am so glad there was so much drama surrounding this book - it might not have made its way onto my radar otherwise!
I would be lying if I said that this book is devoid of racism. In fact, racism and other forms of bigotry are a big part of this book. Before we judge that statement, let's put it into a bit of context. The book is split into three sections, with our main character growing a little more progressive with each part. I'll try to keep this mainly spoiler free and stick to broad strokes, but I'll summarize them a bit for context.
Part One - We meet Elloren (the MC) and learn about the worldview of her people, the Gardnerians. The Gardnerians follow the Ancient One and The Book of the Ancients. This holy book (and their history) enable them to morally believe that they are the rightful owners of Erthia. Elloren has been raised by her somewhat eccentric Uncle far from the center of Gardnerian society, she definitely harbors her own racial prejudices, but they are rooted in fear and ignorance rather than hate and malice. It's worth noting that when other clearly racist characters do horrible things, her inner monologue is against them. Many argue that she should have been more vocal about these attacks - more on that later.
In Part Two, Elloren arrives at the university in Verpacia (which is basically a melting pot of all the races of western Erthia). Here she starts to get a feel for what the other races of Erthia are actually like and she is met with some of the racial stereotypes that she has been told all her life, reinforcing that it is best for her to steer clear of anyone who isn't a Gardnerian. The beginning of this part is pretty rough in the racism spectrum. But, as it progresses, Elloren does begin to form some relationships in unexpected places. About halfway through she is confronted with a rather unsettling truth about Gardnerians and sets out to find out the truth for herself. This is a major turning point for Elloren as she begins to see things from perspectives of people outside Gardenia.
Part Three is basically Elloren makes actual friends and kind of doing things.
Now, back to my comment on Elloren being vocal and standing up against some of the terrible things she witnessed during this book. This is probably one of the biggest complaints that I read in reviews and I totally understand where it's coming from. The timeline is a little vague (and sometimes I think a little inconsistent) but based on some context clues it seems reasonable to assume that the seasons and years are very similar to our own, which would give the book an approximate timeline of late-August to early-December. So we're talking about three months of time for a completely ignorant country-raised girl to go from believing racial stereotypes to being a social justice warrior? That's just not realistic.
I really did enjoy this book and I'm excited for the next one. There were some small issues I had with it - the convenience factor was a little overwhelming at times, the pairing up of her small group seemed a little contrived so early on, etc. But I did read the last 75% in one marathon reading session that lasted until 6AM, so it was definitely readable!
In closing, if this book sounds like something you would like - read it. Don't let the loud opinions of one person (or a group of people who have never read the book) make you feel guilty about wanting to read it. It's a fun book that tackles some hard subjects. It may not be the most eloquent or impactful anti-bigotry book, but I'm confident it has the potential to break through some of those barriers as the quartet continues....more
3 Stars for the Story - 0 Stars for the Audiobook.
I paid $3.95 for this audiobook during an Audible sale. It was not worth it. The narration itself wa3 Stars for the Story - 0 Stars for the Audiobook.
I paid $3.95 for this audiobook during an Audible sale. It was not worth it. The narration itself was good, not in the kind of way that I would run out to buy every book ever narrated by Ralph Lister, but in the way that I wasn't bored listening to him.
However, this audiobook has sound effects. Awful, awful sound effects. At the very beginning of the book, Pinocchio is in a wooden crate and is hearing a discussion taking place outside the crate - the dialogue is muffled and I thought it was clever. But it was downhill from there. We meet Maestro (Bemis' shout out to Jiminy Cricket) who has a chittering cricket like echo imposed over the narrator every time he talks. We have Princess Lazuli, the blue fairy, who has a tinkling noise reverberating over her voice. When Pinocchio stands up there's the sound of gears whirring (he's an automaton instead of a marionette in this rendition). In some of the more action-packed scenes of fights and chaos I felt like I was listening through the sound effects to hear the narration. It was really distracting and took away from the story.
The story itself was a clever retelling of Pinocchio. Similar enough that many of the same ideas still stand, but different enough that Bemis made it his own. The Wooden Prince is a fun, insightful read for the intended age group - but it lacked some depth for me as an adult reader. We got to learn a lot about Pinnochio, but many of the other characters seemed lifeless. Definitely, recommend it for the middle grades, but probably won't pick up the next in the series (and definitely won't pick up the next audiobook). ...more