My YA literature class this spring asks us to read a “banned or challenged book” that we haven’t read, and coincidentally, right around that time I won a Twitter book giveaway and a signed, original ARC of the Continent, before the rewrite, landed on my doorstep. I couldn’t help myself. I knew the drama around it, but I also knew it was now on sale in bookstores around the country and some people had changed their minds. Some hadn’t. I don’t let other people think for me, and frankly, I was intrigued, so I picked it up. Somehow it was both better than I expected and way worse.
Vaela Sun is a citizen of the Spire, a futuristic/but also kind of antiquated society that is “beyond” war. They are the union of 4 nations (East/West/North/South) and haven’t taken up arms in two centuries. She’s also an aspiring cartographer. For her 16th birthday, her parents gift her a tour of the Continent, a foreign land consumed with war that Spirians like to fly over and look at, for whatever reason. The rush of violence, for education, as a reminder, for joy, whatever. Anyway, something goes wrong during her tour, the heli-plane crashes, and Vaela is left stranded on The Continent, where two warring groups, the Topi (clearly meant to be “native Americans”) and the Aven’ai (clearly meant to be the Japanese) are going at each other with no end in site. Eventually, after a brush with death, Vaela is rescued by an Aven’nai native, Noro, and taken back to his village. There, she has to learn how to take care of herself without the luxuries she is used to and ultimately, she decides to attempt to play White Savior and get the Spire involved to help the Aven’ai and Topi end their war.
I haven’t read a LOT of reviews about this original ARC of The Continent, nor have I read the rewrite, but I see a lot of the problems that people talked about in regards to racial stereotypes and just straight up White Savior-Lady problems. I won’t unpack them too much because it’s been done a thousand times and it’s almost enough to just say WOW they are there, but the Topi are called “savages” and “child-eaters” and of course wear fringed garments and bone helmets and don’t speak a lick of English/sense in the narrative. On the other hand, the Aven’ai all have kind of aggressively-Japanese names for a “fictional” fantasy world and also speak 19th century English, very stilted and perfect and there’s an entire conversation on the word “indolent.” Also Noro, the male love interest, is basically a ninja. Yeah….he’s an “assassin” and as they enter the village, which Vaela makes some awful remarks about, he’s described as dressed in “all black” as opposed to his counterparts. It’s thinly veiled and it’s kind of lame, honestly. I don’t know how she fixed the stereotypes, but I don’t think you do yourself any favors as an author by buying into stereotypes and racial derogatives to tell a “message” in fantasy.
Yes, the racial stereotypes suck, but the thing I could not for a second get past in this book was how STILTED and UNREALISTIC the language was. I don’t know what time this is supposed to be set in. The future? A better past? Anyway, Vaela talks like a Jane Austen villain and not like a 16 year old in any world. Not only is the vocabulary weird and unrepresentative, the sentence structure itself is bad. Therefore it sucks that this entire book is in the 1st person. Yes, you don’t like Vaela as a character, but that’s because she’s stuck up and naive and you as a reader know that, but still it sucks to suffer through the language. The language is especially weird coming from a so called “savage” set of “natives” who haven’t had contact with the rest of the world for two centuries. Also,a ten-year-old uses the word subterfuge. It’s just kind of a mess all around. It’s trying to hard, that’s what I’ll say. It doesn’t embrace it’s “YA-ness” like it should.
So, what did I like about this book? Well, it was less of a fantasy than I thought it would be. Fantasy-lite, if you will. No vampires, faeries, magic, wizards, talking animals, etc. Other than the other-wordliness of it all, there’s nothing fancy. The most “advanced” part of the Spire, besides the lack of war I suppose, are their heli-planes which tbh, just seem like private jets with glass escape pods. So I was pleasantly surprised with that aspect. I wasn’t turned off as quickly as I might have been if it relied on more fantasy elements. Also, the pacing was pretty good. I was interested in the story for the most part and didn’t get too bogged down in time. Also, it’s spread out more. She doesn’t heal from her leg wound over night, she spends months in the healing hut or whatever. Similarly, she skips months of time easily and doesn’t feel the need to make the entire story happen over the span of a week or bog us down with Day 4–nothing new. Ate some soup type stuff.
Okay, guys, I need to know. Have you read the Continent? The ARC or the new version in stores? Thoughts? Should I read the updated version too?