Normally, I start these reviews with a photo of the book and a star rating. Today, I am not going to do that. The Black Witch is the most dangerous, offensive, book I've ever read. It's racist, ableist, homophobic, and is written with no marginalized people in mind.
Before I get into this review wholeheartedly, I want to address the supporters of this book. Yes, I read the whole thing. Yes, I understand that it's supposed to be a redemption story in which deeply seated prejudices are uprooted and the main character learns. But here's the thing. She doesn't learn. Even with 100, 50, 30, pages left, Elloren Gardner was still saying and doing racist things. Additionally, it takes 350+ pages before that redemption arc even starts, and those pages before it are filled with some of the most vile hatred and vitriol I've ever seen from a protagonist.
This book was ultimately written for white people. It was written for the type of white person who considers themselves to be not-racist and thinks that they deserve recognition and praise for treating PoC like they are actually human. It holds no regard to the feelings of marginalized people, which is evident in the way that the book portrays racism, homophobia, and ableism.
Elloren Gardner is the worst protagonist I've ever read. She's supposed to be a gentle apothecary who loves the violin, but she's petty, mean, selfish, entitled, homophobic, and racist. She was raised by her Uncle in a small village so that she could be protected from the world, but her uncle, who is supposed to be seen as a kind man, did nothing to teach Elloren anything about the racism of her people. Yet later in the book, he is cited as the reason for Elloren's subversion. Her narrative voice is incredibly childish, yet she's supposed to be seventeen. She acts more like a 11 year old child than an almost-grown adult.
The book gets right into the "plot" when Elloren's Aunt Vyvian comes to visit. She's a mage on the High Council and she is pushing for Elloren to "wandfast" to someone. Wandfasting is essentially a magical arranged marriage in which you are literally magically bound to someone. Women are wandfasted as early as thirteen years old, but Elloren, at seventeen, remains unbound. Immediately, the world that she lives in is set up to be sexist. Women typically aren't as powerful as men, according to Elloren, therefore men rule over women. Her uncle refuses to force her to marry, and tells Vyvian that he's sending her to university instead to become an apothecary.
Vyvian refuses to pay her tithe while she remains un-wandfasted, and so Elloren will be forced to work in the kitchens to pay for her tuition. Vyvian and Elloren plan to head to the university in the morning, but before she does, Elloren is visited by a mysterious white bird. These birds appear throughout the book and are known as Watchers. Elloren follows the bird into the woods where she meets Sage Gaffney, a missing girl from her village who broke her wandfasting to mate with a Kelt. Sage gives her a legendary White Wand and tells her that she's supposed to have it. I'm gonna tell you something...we never find out why she has this wand. She uses it once, maybe twice throughout the book, and never herself. Sage warns her against the Council and tells her that they want to kill her baby, as she has given birth to an Icaral.
The world-building in this book is so spotty, it's hard to really describe what Icarals are. People of any race can be an Icaral, and anyone can give birth to one. Yet they are also seen as true Evil, demons created to attack The First Ones. Later, we find out that Icarals are just people with wyvern/dragon blood, which is why they have wings. It really doesn't make sense how a child of a Gardnerian and a Kelt would have wyvern blood in it to become an Icaral. The High Council is convinced that Sage's baby is a prophesied Icaral who will become The Great Winged One.
Elloren and Vyvian travel to Vyvian's home, and she learns about all the eligible men that Vyvian wants Elloren to fast to. She's particularly intrigued by a man named Lukas Grey, who we later meet. Vyvian sets up a date for Elloren to go shopping with some girls at her university, and we meet Elloren's rival for the first time. Fallon Bane is the epitome of catty mean girl. She's like a Malfoy plus Regina George. She hates Elloren for literally no other reason than Lukas seems to like her, and makes it her mission to make Elloren's life miserable at university. She's also a powerful Level Five mage (whatever that means) and is rumored to be the next Black Witch. The other girls she meets are truly so inconsequential that they aren't worth mentioning. One girl is even really nice to Elloren but she doesn't really appear much once she gets to school. This entire book is riddled with girl-hate.
We meet Lukas Grey at a ball in Vyvian's home. He swoops in while she's playing a faltering violin piece and accompanies her on the piano. He's gorgeous, charming, and interested in Elloren. He sends word to her that he's interested in wandfasting to her but Elloren refuses because she simply doesn't know him, and she made a promise to her Uncle to wait until she graduated University. Her aunt is shocked and appalled, and tells Elloren that if she doesn't fast to Lukas, he's going to fast to Fallon, who seems to claim him despite his disinterest in her. Even though Elloren isn't really interested, she can't stand the thought of Fallon with him. Lukas Grey is another horrible character. Sure, he's gorgeous, but he's also incredibly cruel and possessive. Elloren asks him for a magic demonstration, and he uses his magic to literally force Elloren to press closer to him so he can kiss her. He also threatens an entire kitchen staff, kills a familiar, and sexually assaults the main character, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Once we get to university, the next 400 pages are just filled with racist thing after racist thing. Elloren meets many different people of many different races, and she is racist against every single one of them. And that's actually hard to do, since there are about a billion races in this book, and every single person is identified first by their race, then by their appearance.
Here's just a few:
- Urisk. Always servants, they are literally colored people. Their skin ranges from pink to lavender to green.
- Vu Trin. Powerful Asian coded sorceresses
- Amazakaran (or Amaz). An all-woman warrior race (sound familiar?)
- Elves, which can be split into MANY different sub-races. There's even a Snake Elf character covered in scales
- Lupines, who are (shocker) shape-shifting wolves
- Icarals, who are many different races, yet discriminated against by all of them
- Kelts, who are a "barbarian race"
- Gardnerians, or white supremacist mages. They are described MANY times as having dark hair and green eyes and skin that "shimmers slightly in the dark." A few Wiccans have pointed out to me that there is an actual Gardnerian race of witches with a history of racism as well.
Elloren's appearance and heritage makes her a target to all of the people of other races, which reinforces her prejudices throughout the book. That, paired with friends who are "good people" who also buy into the racism allows Elloren to go unchecked and unchallenged throughout nearly the entire book.
Now that I've set the stage, lets get into the nitty gritty. It's time for quotes. Because this is a 600 page book in which every few pages has some kind of racism or misogyny or ableism, I'm not going to put every single thing that I come across. I'm mostly going to stick to the racist bits, because every single word that comes out of one characters mouth is catty girl hate.
pg. 20. "I have never heard of a Gardnerian girl, especially one of Elloren's standing, from such a distinguished family, laboring in a kitchen. That's work for Urisk, for Kelts, not for such a girl as Elloren."
pg. 23. "Icaral Demons! Attending University? How could that even be possible? Keltic peasants and Elfhollen half-breeds are one thing, but Icarals!"
"'It's not surprising, really,' my aunt comments, her voice disgusted. 'the Verpacian Council is full of half-breeds. As is most of the University's hierarchy. They mandate an absurd level of integration, and, quite frankly, it's dangerous.'"
Pausing to say that at one point she thinks she sees two dark figures on horseback. Those two dark figures are never mentioned again
pg. 48. "'If it was up to him, I suspect we'd all be slaves again, or half-breeds.'"
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.
pg. 60. "The thought of Icaral demons is so jarring in the midst of the comforting warmth, the sweet kittens, the luxury cushioning me all around."
pg. 71-74. "'Lupines don't ever marry, did you know that? They simply grab whomever they like and mate with them in the woods.'
'Like animals,' Echo chimes in, with great indignation."
Ok pausing again to say that they already established that marriage is called wandfasting so why is this word being used?
"'Their blood is polluted with all kinds of filth—Fae blood, Urisk....even Icaral.'"
"'Look out for Urisk women,' Fallon warns as a side note. 'They may look all innocent, but they love going after our men.'"
"The fact is, Urisk women don't have any men of their own to go after. The Gardnerian government killed all their males during the Realm war."
The rest of Part One is just more catty rivalry between Fallon & Elloren, the introduction of Lukas, etc.
pg. 139. "Most Gardnerians are as distrustful of mixed-breeds as the Alfsigr Evles are. It's understandable—we were almost wiped out several times. Of course we want to keep our race pure and intact."
She's heading to the university, and she gets stopped by a Vu Trin sorceress. Her people are "mysterious" and she has deep brown skin. It's very heavily Asian coded language. She even carries metal stars strapped on her chest.
pg. 153. "Commander Vin is before me. She stares me down, her eyes narrowed to hostile slits."
Vin then asks her if she's been trained in martial arts and other weapons training.
pg. 160 Fallon trips Elloren and is helped up by a young man. She finds out he's a Lupine and is afraid of him, yet curious about his people.
pg. 163. "The Kelts are not a pure race like us. They're more accepting of intermarriage, and because of this, they're hopelessly mixed."
Yes, you just read that with your own two eyes. This is one of the times my jaw dropped in horror and I had to walk away from this book.
pg. 164. "This Yvan Guriel doesn't even know me, I lament, glaring resentfully at him out of the corner of my eye. He has no reason to be so hateful."
She has so much cognitive dissonance. She just called his race hopelessly mixed, but doesn't understand why he would have negative feelings toward her.
pg 179-180. "'They're all the same, Bleddyn agrees. Bunch of black Roaches.' I flinch at the racial insult. It's a horrible name that mocks the black of our sacred garb."
I'm gonna stop and unpack that one a little bit. Bleddyn and Iris are Kelts that work in the kitchen. The first time they meet Elloren, they trip her and beat her. This only serves to further her prejudices against the Kelts. Additionally, this so-called racial slur is something akin to calling a white person "mayonnaise." Here's a great real-life response to this. And yes, I know and understand that this is supposed to be a fantasy world, but since Elloren is supposed to be coded as white, it's important to mention.
The very next scene acts to further her prejudices as well. She heads to her lodging, where she finds out she's supposed to be lodging with a Gardnerian and an Elf. When she gets there, she finds out that they are Icarals, and they lock her in the closet and threaten to kill her. She goes to her aunt and begs her for a new room, and she agrees on the condition that she wandfasts to Lukas. Elloren refuses, so she's stuck in the Tower, but she does decide to enlist Lukas' help against the mean old Kelts and Icarals.
pg. 206. "'Verpacia is bound by international treaty to surrender only male Icarals to Gardneria. Becaouse of the Prophecy.'
'And she's not male.'
Lukas nods resignedly. 'Imprisonment of female Icarals is still voluntary, and at the discretion of the Icaral's family. For now. There are some on the Mage Council who hold romantic ideas about Icaral rehabilitation, but they're slowly being voted out."
After this scene, Lukas goes with her to the kitchens to stand up for her. I'm not going to type out this whole scene, because it's quite long, but here's a summary. This is pages 210-212. Lukas asks Iris about her family's farm.
He says "It would be a shame if our military decided to requisition your parents' farmland. It would also be a shame if something went amiss during military training exercises, and your parents' home was fired upon...by accident, of course."
He then asks Bleddyn about her ailing mother on the Fae Islands (which are a labor camp, btw).
"'It would be bad for her it if were found that she had been distributing Resistance propaganda amongst the other laborers,' Lukas says smoothly. 'That could be grounds for getting her transported to the Pyrran Isles. It's difficult to survive there if a person is of a healthy constitution. Your mother might not fare well in a place like that."
And finally, he addresses Fernyllia, the Urisk head of the kitchens. He asks about her granddaughter, who is not allowed in the kitchens. On cue, the little girl walks in.
"'A child her age, with hands as small and nimble as hers, would be a very useful laborer on the Fae Islands.'"
Throughout the entire exchange, our great heroine Elloren is standing in silent shock. She is upset at the way Lukas is talking, but she not once, but twice, justifies it to herself.
"But they hit you, I remind myself. They beat you and threatened you. And Fernyllia did nothing to stop them."
"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 neice and favored by Lukas Grey."
This scene is absolutely horrifying. Not only does Elloren feel fully justified in the way that Lukas threatened an entire scene of workers, when she later apologizes (at the VERY end of the book), Fernyllia completely forgives her, even though she threatened to send her granddaughter to a labor camp. Forgiveness by PoC coded fantasy races is spread throughout this entire book, but I really don't buy it. Elloren doesn't change enough to deserver their forgiveness.
On page 216, we finally meet Ariel, the Icaral who threatened Elloren in the closet. I tabbed this page because her description is just so over-the-top, I was genuinely baffled as to why it was included. This sounds like something Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way would wear, and unfortunately, her descriptions never really improve. Ariel is mean, hateful, spiteful, and unbalanced. Her character is where the majority of the ableism comes through.
After this scene is probably one of the most embarrassing lines of the entire book. Elloren storms over to their table and says, "The denizens of hell do not get to eat cake!"
I cringed. Also, there is no hell inn this world-building, and I'm not sure why she'd say this. There are quite a few anachronisms, but hell comes up quite a few times in the book so maybe I'm just wrong here. There is never talk of heaven and hell, just Cursed and Blessed Ones.
pg. 220. "'Elloren, you have to choose what side you're on," he says, shaking his head. Dominate, or be dominated. Those are your choices.'"
After Lukas says this, she asks to see his magic. He uses his magic to BIND her FORCEFULLY to him so that he can kiss her. Gross.
She goes back to the tower to confront the Icaral roommates. She threatens Ariel and forces her to give up her bed.
pg. 224. "I strip the bed of Ariel's sheets, disgusted by the idea of sleeping on anything that's touched an Icaral's skin, and toss them forcefully in her direction."
pg. 231. Elloren is eating lunch with her brothers, Trystan and Rafe, and her friend Gareth, who if you remember has silver-tipped hair and is not pure blooded.
"'Aren't you going to eat with us?' I ask.
She peers over at Gareth uncomfortable, her hands clutching a leather-bound text. 'I...can't. I have to go.'
Her faint smile evaporates as she casts and unfriendly look at Gareth before leaving."
pg. 232. "I watch as Damion [Fallon's brother] grabs the arm of a passing Urisk serving girl and jerks her backward. She lets out a startled cry of surprise and nearly drops the large basket of muffins she's carrying. Damion smiles unkindly and leers at her as Fallon and Sylus pick out some muffins, the two of them chatting and ignoring the girl completely."
This is a cafeteria scene and there manages to be 2-3 different racist things all in one short scene. Fallon trips Wynter, the other Icaral girl that Elloren lives with. Her brother Rafe goes to help her. An Elf yells at him for touching her and tells him to leave her alone.
Miffed that he was berated when he was trying to help her, Elloren says "I guess that's what you get when you try to help Icarals"
Everything in this scene leads up to this conclusion by Elloren, "'It's best to stay away from non-Gardnerians.'"
pg. 244. One of her professors is an Elf. She's expecting the white-haired prissy kind, and is appalled when she finds out he's a Smaragdalfar. A Snake Elf.
"Snake Elves are mine Elves. Deep-earth Elves. Dangerous, criminal elves. A depraved hoard locked in their underground cities by the Alfsigr and controlled with mine demons and pit dragons.
And I've never seen one. Ever.
How did this one get out? How did a Snake Elf come to stand in front of a lecture hall? In professorial robes?"
And yes, it says hoard, not horde. The Elf, named Fyon Hawkkyn, allows anyone uncomfortable with his class to leave. Half of the class walks out. I think this guy is supposed to be a Snape insert or something, because he sees Elloren and calls her out for being a "celebrity."
He tells her "There will be no preferential treatment here, Mage Elloren Gardner." but ON THE VERY NEXT PAGE, he says "Beginning next class, I'll group you according to Guild apprenticeship and tailor your Metallurgie study accordingly....Mage Gardner, you'll work directly with me."
Her next class is History, with a Gardnerian professor.
pg. 248. "I'm braced for more hatred when I enter the sunlit lecture hall built just of the Gardnerian Athenaeum—braced for ice magic and eviscerating stares and yet another well that Fallon has preemptively poisoned.
Instead I'm immediately enveloped by goodwill—solitary scholars and convivial groupings slowly realizing who I am, blinking, murmuring and then blessedly smiling warmly at me.
It's all Gardnerians here, no hateful Kelts. And no Gardnerian military apprentices."
The first time she feels comfortable in this school is when she's surrounded by people of her own race. That is incredibly telling. Her professor is Priest Mage Simitri.
pg. 255-256. The male Lupine is in her next class. Her friend Aislinn is upset. "'I can't take a class with a Lupine male, Elloren. Father'd never allow it. He'll make me leave University.'"
She then talks about her love of books and libraries (I think we're supposed to identify with her bookish friend or something) and talks about an Elven technique for book painting. She stops abruptly and says,
"'Don't tell anyone you heard me talking like this.'"
'Why?' I question, confused.
She stares at me as if it should be obvious. 'Because Elves are heathens, of course. It sounds as if I'm...glorifying their culture.'"
pg. 257. "'They're [Lupines] wild, Elloren. Like animals. And the males are immoral and dangerous. I don't know what to do."
pg. 265. "Tierney Calix is, by far, the ugliest Gardnerian girl I've ever laid eyes on. Reed-thin, her face is sharp, her nose unevenly bent, her back twisted to the side, trapping her into and odd, unforgiving posture. Like a spider protecting her webby lair, she seems to shrink down at the sight of me, drawing around her experiment protectively as she glares up at me through resentful eyes.
I set my bookbag [another anachronism] down and force out a perfunctory hello as I adjust to her unpleasant appearance."
Elloren is so catty, judgemental, racist, and mean that she literally has to adjust to an ugly person. Later, we find out that Tierney is actually an Elf in disguise as a Gardnerian so she can escape persecution, which is why she's ugly. Apparently, every other Gardnerian is naturally beautiful.
pg. 278-279 TW: ASSAULT
Lukas & Elloren are kissing and they feel this odd shock of magic.
"Lukas holds on to me, his eyes full of surprise. 'I don't know,' he says, his voice deep and ragged. 'I've never felt anything like that before.' His expression shifts from shock to hunger. He lunges at me, claiming my mouth, and pushes his body hard against mine.
I try to move away from him, to push away from the black fire, but he tightens his hold on me. I wrench my mouth from his.
'Lukas,' I force out. 'Stop. I want to go.'
He pulls back, just barely, and gives me a look so feral that it fills me with serious alarm.
My eyes dart nervously toward the exit.
Abruptly, Lukas steps away, eyes predatory."
Again. Lukas proves to be a horrible person. You'd think that after this, Elloren would be done with him, tell Fallon she can have his entitled ass, and move on, but nope. That doesn't happen.
pg. 282. Wynter's brothers, two Elves (Named Rhys and Cael), are waiting for her at her tower. They ask Elloren to have some compassion for Wynter, as she is mistreated by her own people. Elloren refuses, because when Ariel was taunting her that first night, Wynter did nothing to help.
"Cael stiffens and anger flashes in his eyes 'I should have known better than to expect compassion from a Gardnerian.'
My blood boils at his words. 'You should have known better to expect that I would roll over and play dead when abused by Icarals.'"
This defensiveness, this absolute belief that nothing Elloren ever does could possibly be wrong, this never changes. Once she starts learning not to be racist (remember y'all, we're 280 pages into this book and her redemption arc hasn't even started) she still gets personally offended when anyone questions her motives.
On the next page, we find out that Ariel has adopted a chicken. This is important for later.
pg. 287 TW: SELF HARM, ABLEISM
"Every night Ariel hovers protectively about her chicken. If I even get near the animal, she screams something unintelligible about cages and setting me on fire. She's completely unhinged, and I catch her doing mad, confusing things, like listlessly taking a knife to herself, slowly pushing the blade into her flesh until blood comes, adding to the rows of long scars up and down her arms. If she catches me looking, she hisses and screws her face up into a frightening scowl before throwing the knife on the floor and turning herself over to face the wall, her rancid wings lying on the bed like rotting, wilted leaves."
The idea that self-harm makes you dangerous is so incredibly damaging, harmful, and ableist.I don't understand why this was even included. Ariel is already established as a "scary Icaral," why bother making her "crazy" as well?
pg. 291-292. "He nods in grave understanding and squeezes my arm. 'Stay strong, Elloren. The Golden Age is coming. The Black Witch will rise, and she will smite them all. The Icarals, the Kelts, the shapeshifters—all the infidel races."
pg. 293. "I'm momentarily overwhelmed by how handsome he [Yvan] is. I remind myself that he's a Kelt, likely no different than the boy who seduced Sage into breaking her wandfasting."
She completely fetishizes Yvan, who can't stand her (for good reason). His personality exists solely in his eyes, which flash angrily, look conflicted, etc...
"A surge of hateful jealousy courses over me, seeing them like this."
I still can't figure out if we're intended to sympathize with her. She's jealous of ANY other girl getting attention.
Speaking of petty, mean, spiteful things...
The next scene she arrives back to her tower to find that Ariel's pet chicken has destroyed a portrait of her family. She retaliates by taking her pet and putting it outside in the cold, where it will most likely be taken back to the poultry yard or eaten by predators.
She tells herself that Ariel deserves it. When she arrives back to the tower, Ariel has burned to Elloren's quilt from home, her most prized possession.
Even after she saw how Lukas "helped" her with the kitchen staff, even after he assaulted her, she goes to him and demands that he help her get rid of Ariel. She knows the consequences. She's trying to get her expelled, which will force Ariel back into an asylum. They decide that the only way to get her kicked out is if she is so angry that she attacks Elloren.
On page 299-301, she comes back to the tower to find that Lukas had killed Ariel's chicken, driven stakes through its breast, and staked it to the door. She finds out that the chicken was a "kindred" or familiar, and that Ariel could speak to it with her mind. She's broken, sobbing on the floor at the loss of her companion. When she sees Elloren, she attacks her. Her eyes start flashing different colors and it seems like she's going to "turn." Turning is never expanded on, but we're not supposed to like it.
Wynter grabs Ariel and drags off her, and we find out that she's an Empath and can see things when she touches people. Elloren runs away with the help of Wynter.
And here it is, on page 302, the first time Elloren ever truly empathizes with another race. She thinks of the way that Ariel cared for her chicken, and thinks, "Is she really completely evil?"
So after having her kindred killed, when confronted by Professor "ethnic cleansing" Simitri, she lies, and says she simply tripped.
pg. 304. "Something irretrievable has broken between us. It was too much, what he did. I don't think I can ever forgive him."
These are pretty words that don't actually translate into what happens. She convinces herself that this is the truth however, and therefore feels absolved. She steals another chicken to replace the one Lukas killed, and apologizes, not to Ariel, but to Wynter. She forgives her, even though she has no right or authority to do so. Again, Elloren receives no consequences for her actions from any of the people she's wronged.
Something I really hate about the writing in this book is how the scenes are set up. Elloren is talking to Aislinn, who asks her how it's going with the Icarals. Elloren tells her that Ariel showed up in her Mathematics class the other day, and she launches into the story. The story changes tenses constantly and it's so frustrating as a reader.
We're introduced to yet another character, her Mathematics teacher, a Gardnerian named Klinmann.
pg. 309. "I'm always uncomfortably aware of the glint of cruel bitterness ever present in his cool green eyes when he looks at anyone of another race."
She has this cognitive dissonance from her own racism and prejudice that's just simply astounding.
Then this exchange happens:
Now that Elloren has taken the first step into being not-awful, the cruelty by other Gardnerians increases. This adds distance from Elloren's own racist actions in comparison to the other people of her race.
pg. 312-313. While in class with the Lupines, Jarod and Diana, Aislinn finds out that Jarod likes poetry via notes passed in class.
"Aislinn turns to me, her silver Erthia sphere necklace catching the light, her expression riddled with conflict, as if faced with a world suddenly turned clear in its head. 'There's been a mistake. There has to be some mistake.' Her eyes flicker to where Jarod stands with his sister. She looks back to me and shakes her head, but her gaze is full of certainty. 'Elloren, it's impossible to be evil and uncivilized and love the poetry of Fleming. I'm sure of this."
She no longer sees him as an evil uncivilized animal...because he likes poetry.
pg. 316. Tierney notices that Elloren has an odd affinity for wood. When she touches something wooden, she can view the source tree it came from. Apparently plants will also "curl lovingly toward her finger" sometimes, a fact that is mentioned only once, and never given any practical use.
Elloren has also noticed that Tierney has an affinity for water.
"I've been forced to come face-to-face with the truth of it—like Gareth, there's no doubt that Tierney and I have tainted blood. Fae blood. For a long moment, Tierney and I stare at each other in silence."
Can we not have a narrative in which the white racist narrator finds out her blood isn't as pure as she thought? Here is a twitter thread that breaks this down better than I could.
pg. 319. Elloren finds herself in Fallon's room with Tierney. Diana, the Lupine, is sleeping naked on her bed.
"'I can't do this anymore!' Echo cries with a morally outraged wave of her hand toward the naked Dina. 'She's disgusting. Look at her! We can't be expected...we're Gardnerians! Not filthy, heathen whores!'"
Elloren is hiding behind the door while Fallon sits there talking shit about other girls in front of Tierney, Echo, and Paige (the two girls who were so inconsequential I didn't mention their names)
Fallon makes fun of Tierney, talks shit about Elloren not realizing she's there, and decided to teach Diana a "lesson." Diana swiftly wakes up, attacks Fallon, and threatens her. Diana is basically a werewolf form of Wonder Woman. She speaks in this odd, formal way, she doesn't care about what Gardnerians think of her. Where she falls short is how she, too, believes that she's the superior race.
I don't understand why every single person in this book has to be racist somehow. After this scene, Tierney tries to confess being a water Fae to Elloren but she cuts her off and tells her not to say anything.
She then gets a letter from Lukas asking her to the Yule dance (a dance that doesn't even happen by the end of this 600 page book).
pg. 327. "The sheer arrogance of him.
How could he possibly think, after what happened with Ariel, that we could still go to this dance together? And yet...it's flattering that we could be so at odds, and still he's trying to pursue me."
I understand that this is the first boy that's ever really given her any attention, but that's ridiculous. She still plans on going with him to a Yule dance, despite all that.
Now that Diana has accepted Elloren, she becomes a prominent character in her acceptance of other races. Elloren runs into Diana completely naked after a run in the woods, and they argue about the propriety of it. Her brother joins their conversation, and he convinces Diana to put clothes on. They go and have a long conversation about their different customs, and the three talk about rumors they've heard about the other races. Diana very quickly turns some of the Gardnerian customs (like wandfasting at age 13) on their head and she rights some of the rumors about her people. In the end, Diana invites Elloren to visit her pack. We also find out that Aislinn and Jarod have gotten very close.
We're on chapter 25, page 346.
"We're supposed to be Gardnerians, the Blessed Ones, the First Children, blameless and pure. And all of the other races are supposed to be the Evil Ones, the Cursed Ones. But more and more it seems as if life has the disturbing habit of refusing to align itself into such neat columns."
but on the next page, she's upset because Rafe and Diana have been spending time together in the woods. She's ranting to her brother, Trystan about it.
"'Rafe can't become interested in a Lupine. He'll bring the wrath of two powerful races straight onto his head. And hers, too.'
"'Well, she can be infuriating. And arrogant.' And brave. And kind. But she's placing our brother in potentially serious danger. 'And she runs around naked half the time!' I insist. 'And now she's trying to steal our brother from us.'
There are things I'm growing to truly like about Diana, admire even, but I push them roughly to the back of my mind. I know I'm being wrongheaded, and I'm ashamed of my words even as I say them, but this is a road that could lead to disaster."
She does this consistently. She says horrible things, but since she feels "bad" about them, she feels absolved.
pg. 350-351 TW HOMOPHOBIA
"You can't be this way. You just can't. You have to change."
On the next page, she muses
"'I seem to be collecting them these days, you know.'
'Icarals, Lupines—" A hidden Water Fae. "—and now you.'"
pg. 358. TW COLONIALISM
This, quite literally, the argument for the oppression of many groups of Native/Indigenous people. This is incredibly damaging and harmful. I think by now we've established that the Gardnerians are racist. Why are we still adding horrible things to the world? We get it. This isn't even the last of it. Elloren has barely scraped the surface of her people's oppression and bigotry.
We keep adding to the pain of the oppressed people, and it's all there simply to further the plot and redemption arc of one teenage girl. It's not sincere, it's completely unnecessary, and it's hurtful. We are only 358 pages into a 600 page book and it's managed to hurt so many people.
Priest Simitri goes on to say "Urisk children are not like Gardnerian children. They are not First Children. They need structure and hard work to reign their baser instincts. They lack the intelligence, the sensibility...the soul of our people."
In the next scene we meet Professor Kristian. He was the professor that defended Ariel when Elloren stole her spice cake. She bluntly asks him for the truth of her clothing's origin, and he has a blunt and honest conversation with her about the ways her people have oppressed others. After she finds out her clothing was made by slaves, she stops wearing her fine silks.
She goes back to him the next day to ask him for the "true" history of Gardneria. We then have this exchange, where Elloren finds out her race isn't actually pureblood, but is a race that descended from Kelts and Fae Dryads.
pg. 365-373. "He tilts his head. 'Haven't you ever wondered where you get that slight shimmer to your skin?
'It's the mark of the First Children,' I tell him. 'Set down on us by the Ancient One in blessing.'
He lets out a short, unsurprised laugh. 'A lofty notion, indeed. And complete fiction. It's more likely your people are descended from the union of Kelts settled at the Northern Forest Border and Fae Dryads.'
I gape at him, stunned. 'What? The Tree Fae?' That's ridiculous. We're a pure-blood race."
Earlier in this review, I linked to a thread that talks about why this is problematic. He then goes on to tell her that the founder of Gardneria, her grandfather (six generations ago) was a "half-breed born into Keltic society, one of the despised Kelt-Dryad Mages."
Her grandfather, Styvius was incredibly powerful and overtook the Kelts, then committed mass murder on all the Kelts in the village and surrounding villages. Her grandfather became a religious zealot and claimed that they were Chosen Ones and began the years and years of oppression and genocide.
She hears this and thinks "This has to be a biased account."
She's not listening. She's not learning.
She asks about the Icarals and he tells her they have wyvern blood. We get to Elloren's grandmother, the famous Black Witch, and he tells her that she colonialized Keltania, became a religious zealot, and tried to wipe out all other races.
This professor is really the only person to be blunt with her. She takes home a stack of history books written by non-Gardnerians so she can read non-Gardnerian biased accounts. She occasionally does do something right, but it's always overshadowed by the casual microaggressions that never cease.
We're finally nearing the end.
pg. 386. "Six heathen Mages are aligned with High Mage Worthin and his increasingly profane ideas—static borders that allow infidel races and shapeshifters to hold on to Mage land, a relaxation on the ban on intermarriage, trade with the perverse Amazakaran, support of the race-polluted University. And perhaps the most heinous of all—the allowing of Icaral demons to even exist!"
pg. 402. Elloren argues with Jarod about his own people's ways. She heard a secondhand account of a girl she just met a few months ago and takes it to be truth over the words of someone from that culture.
She leaves feeling confused about everything she's been told.
pg. 415. Elloren warns Jarod away from having feelings for Aislinn. "It's one thing to wish Jarod was Gardnerian in the abstract. But he isn't. He's the son of his people's alpha, and aislinn's from one of the most conservative families on Gardneria. Our people hate each other."
pg. 417. "I wonder what's wrong with me. How can I be so drawn to a Kelt?"
pg. 418. "Let it go Elloren, I tell myself. You're a Gardnerian. He's a Kelt. These thoughts need to stop."
I guess her racism education hasn't really expanded past abstract concepts like "Maybe literally every other race isn't evil."
pg. 420. "Aislinn's smile instantly becomes as strained as mine as we glance down at the traditional Garnderian harvest cookies. They're in the shape of Icaral wings. Before eating them, it's to first break the wings in two, symbolic of the breaking down of the wings of the Evil Ones by the Gardnerian First Children."
Even their COOKIES are racist. I mentioned this a lot while I was live-tweeting this book, but the only races that Elloren has really accepted are ones where someone has been nice to her. She still harbors resentment toward the Kelts and the Urisk, but she's accepted Icarals and Lupines.
The basis for treating another person like a human shouldn't be whether they are nice to you. Unlearning prejudices does take time, but it's like she has to be held by the hand through every single prejudice and it's quite exhausting to read.
pg. 421-422 We have a very heavy-handed lesson where Aislinn's older sisters tell their young children that Lupines are evil and bad and I guess it's supposed to show us how kids are indoctrinated to hate other races in Gardneria.
At the same time, we're supposed to believe that her Uncle Edwin wasn't quite as bad, and yet she still holds all those same prejudices. Elloren wants to step in and say something but she doesn't want to deal with the backlash of saying positive things about a Lupine.
pg. 432 Jarod kisses Aislinn. She's distraught because she liked it. She thinks it makes her an abomination. Jarod shows up and tells Elloren he's in love with Aislinn. It's all very dramatic.
So now we have a POC-coded character in love with a White-coded character with conservative parents. How original.
pg. 438-440. A lot of this book is told in interrupted anecdotes, so Elloren will be talking to one character one minute and telling a story the next. It makes the book really bogged down and confusing.
Elloren tells Aislinn that Diana moved in with her. There's a funny bit where Diana threatens to eat Ariel's chicken.
Elloren pointedly tells Aislinn that she doesn't approve of her brother spending time with Diana because she's a Lupine.
Abruptly, she sees Yvan go into the woods and decides to follow him.
pg. 443. "I harshly remind myself that I'm not a Kelt. And I can't be having these thoughts about a Kelt. He shouldn't be so focused on me, either. It's a stretch for Yvan and us to even be friends, and it would be impossible for us to be anything more."
pg. 446. TW HOMOPHOBIA
She's talking to Yvan.
"'I'm not really what you think I am, and neither are my brothers, for that matter.'
'An unfriendly grin plays at the corner of Yvan's mouth. 'Yes, your [gay] brother Trystan does present a bit of a dilemma for your illustrious family, doesn't he?'"
THIS. GUY. IS. SUPPOSED. TO. BE. A. GOOD. GUY.
Yvan shows Elloren a camp of dragons. He wants to free one that's "unbroken"
pg. 451. TW ASSAULT
This is the scene that upset me so much, I had to walk away because I started sobbing. I'm not going to type this one up, but I'll post photos of the pages. I can't read it again.
ABUSING AND ASSAULTING SOMEONE JUST SO THE MAIN CHARACTER CAN """""RESCUE"""" HER IS NOT GOOD FUCKING CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.
I'm shaking so hard and I didn't even re-read this fucking scene.
After Elloren saves the Selkie, they go back to the tower to give her medical help, and we have the one exchange in this book that I didn't fully loathe, in which Diana tries to kill the groundskeeper and the rest of the crew has to calmly explain why that would have consequences.
pg. 460. "'According to them, this mad did nothing unlawful. Repugnant maybe, but not unlawful. You two, on the other hand, have broken multiple laws. Do you really want to throw murder on top of that?'"
Quickly, I want to mention that it's never really made clear to us whether the Selkie is an animal or a human, but seeing as many of the creatures in this story are shapeshifters with human and animal skins, it's safe to assume she's human. She has a human body, but she speaks no human languages. Wynter, who is an empath, can read her thoughts though.
So there's this entire species of literal slaves within this book, and Elloren's aunt wants the Selkies to be executed on sight because she thinks it's unseemly that Gardnerian men buy them as sex slaves.
pg. 464 Elloren overhears Rafe and Diana talking. They've fallen in love. Now BOTH Lupines are in love with Gardnerians.
"My brother, the Gardnerian, and a shapeshifter. All my suspicions about them completely on the mark."
Why, if she's so enlightened, does she still refer to everyone by their race?
pg. 473. Elloren lusts over Yvan. He acts like he can read her mind. She's suspicious. His eyes continue to be the entirety of his personality.
pg. 486-491 The group has a pointless and long theological debate about which race is superior/right and religious tolerance. They name the Selkie Marina and decide to look for her skin so she can return to the water.
pg. 492. Elloren decides to start wearing the Gardnerian silks made by slave labor to blend in. She even wears the white armbands that other Gardnerians have started wearing in support of Marcus Vogel's appointment to the Verpacian council. There's some major Nazi imagery here, like this book needed anything worse.
pg. 494. "'Ah, Mage Gardner,' he [Simitri] observes with obvious relief. He's been dismayed for weeks by my dark brown, barely acceptable woolen garb, his vocal support for Vogel mirrored by his own ribbon. 'You now stand in courage,' he tells me. 'Even though you have been forced to labor with Kelts and Urisk, and to live with Icaral demons, you have the courage to stand apart. To let your dress proudly declare both your faith and your support of our beloved Priest Vogel. I applaud you.'"
Yvan is upset that she's started wearing the silks and even the armband. Elloren is offended that people infer her beliefs based on her clothing.
Wow, that must be really hard to be judged by simply your appearance...
This is another thing about Elloren that bugs me. She is constantly affronted when her motives or goodness is challenged.
pg. 497-498. Lukas sends her a gorgeous violin, a priceless one.
"An incredulous laugh bursts from me, and a warm spark of affection for Lukas Grey is quickly followed by some remorse. I've been wrapped up in thoughts of Keltic Yvan while Lukas has been pursuing me from afar, and now this."
I guess all it takes is a priceless violin for a girl to forgive someone like Lukas Grey. Lukas, who threatened the families of an entire kitchen, assaulted Elloren, killed an Icaral's kindred, and has shown no subversion from the bigotry his race possesses. Her only conflicting feelings are from keeping a gift from someone she doesn't plan on wandfasting to.
pg. 500. We find out Vogel's plans for when/if he becomes a council member.
- Selkies should be shot on sight
- Execution for anyone who defaces the Gardnerian flag
- Execution for anyone who maligns The Book of Ancients
- A motion to declare war on Lupines unless they give up some land
- Execution for all male Icarals in the sanitorium
- Execution for anyone aiding Snake Elves
- Expand iron-testing for Guild admittance to root out anyone with Fae blood
pg. 501. A council member has died and Vogel has been sworn in as High Mage. That was fast.
Gardnerians are celebrating and everyone else is walking around in fear. The Snake Elf professor has gone into hiding.
pg. 508. Vogel puts out an order of an impending draft for war
pg.510. TW HOMOPHOBIA
"Panic rears its head. 'They don't have to find out.'
He shakes his head side to side, hard against my shoulder. 'Of course they'll find out. When I don't want to wandfast—'
'You'll have to wandfast.' I firmly cut him off, brooking no argument.
Trystan goes very still. He's quiet for a moment, breathing against my shoulder. He raises his red-rimmed eyes to me.
The question hangs in the air like a tunnel with no escape.
'You just will! You’ll hide it. You’ll hide what you are.’
His calm deepens. He looks at me with unflappable incredulity. ‘Could you fast to a woman?’
‘What?’ I spit out, thrown. ‘Of course not!’
There are only 100 pages left in this book.
pg. 512. All Icarals are required to return to their country of origin. Ariel will be imprisoned and Wynter might be executed by the Elves.
Even after all of this, she still defends her grandmother. She only cares about the impact of her family when it directly affects the guy she likes.
This is the part of the book where there is some actual plot so I'm just skimming.
We're in the home stretch.
- The crew decides to help Yvan steal his dragon so that the Selkie and anyone else can fly to some island that's supposed to be accepting of all types.
- We finally pull out the White Wand that we haven't seen for hundreds of pages. It's super powerful, of course.
- Aislinn steals a military grimoire to see if there's any spell that will destroy Elvin steel, which is what the cages are made of.
- We find out that the military dragons are shapeshifters that once had a human form.
- We have a scene where a Urisk girl from the kitchens asks Elloren if she's still "mean"
- The girl falls out of a tree and breaks her leg. Yvan heals her leg, which he shouldn't be able to do. Elloren is suspicious that he's more than he seems.
- Elloren genuinely apologizes to Fernyllia for being ignorant. She is forgiven.
Elloren has this problem where she can't mind her own goddamn business. Once she realizes something is up with Yvan, she makes it her mission to find out what. She tells him that he can trust her, but in the very next chapter, she's discussing what she saw with Aislinn. They decide he must be Fae and do some research on different types of Fae with healing powers. Aislinn casually muses "maybe he's a half-breed." They realize that he's probably a Lasair Fire Fae. The description is ridiculous.
"Powerful fire magic, gifted healers, fiercely independent, nomadic, bright green eyes, extremely dangerous, physically attractive"
pg. 552-554. Diana walks into the bathroom while Elloren is naked. She's angry and yells at Diana to leave her alone. Diana tells Elloren that her family has reservations about her visiting them. Elloren gets personally affronted and is unnecessarily mean and cruel to Diana. I hate this girl so much.
"'It's not possible to be close friends with Diana,' I tell Aislinn stiffly. 'She's just so...different. She'll never understand what it's like for us.'"
- Tierney confesses being a Water Fae.
- Elloren goes to Professor Kristian and asks what happened to the Fae after the realm war. She is suspicious that they were killed.
pg. 558. "He eyes the white band around my arm then shoots me a hard look.
'Really? I say, responding to his unspoken question. 'Do you honestly think I support Vogel?'"
Another example of her being personally affronted when anyone questions her motives, despite her literally wearing the armband in support of him.
pg. 559. TW HOLOCAUST IMAGERY
"They shackled the incoming Fae in Asteroth copper, the metal strong enough to sap them of their strength and power. Then they herded them into huge, stone island fortresses and locked them inside.
And then they rained iron shavings down on their heads."
I want to point out that on page 70-SOMETHING we find out that during the Realm war all the Urisk males were killed, so I'm not sure why this is such a big revelation. It's horrifying, but not really any news.
The rest of the page is a detailed account of a toddler in this fortress, but I won't type that up.
- They figure out how to destroy the Elvin steel
- Fallon confronts her outside her tower and threatens to search her Tower (in which she's hiding the Selkie)
- Assassins impale Fallon from afar (nice) because they think she's the next Black Witch
- They go to free the dragon. We finally find out that Elloren's power is to enhance other people's power. Her enhancement breaks not only the Elvin steel on the one dragon that they want to free, but all the dragons. They all attack.
- Lukas gifts her a necklace. She wears it so that she can stay on Lukas' good side but she feels a flush when she thinks of him because she still has the hots for him.
- Elloren goes to Kristian to see if he can help her get her friends out of the country. Turns out he's part of the Resistance!
And the book is finally over.