When I started the Throne of Glass series, I wasn’t impressed (Here’s my original review, in which I rant about Celaena being dumb and Nehemia being awesome). But there was so much hype and so many people I knew loved it, so I kept going. I ended up getting really invested in the series. I’m not ashamed to say that the end of Heir of Fire made my cry, it was such a powerful and emotional moment. Was I sad that one of the only main characters of color was killed off at the end of the previous book? Yes. Was I still angry about the cultural appropriation and stereotypes of people of color in the prequel novellas? Absolutely. But at the time, with my rose colored glasses on, these weren’t a deal breaker for me.
Over the next few years, two things happened. First, the mistreatment and post-hoc canonization of POC in the books got worse (remember that whole “Manon isn’t given an explicit race so you can totally see her as Asian!” thing? Here’s a Twitter thread that explains why it’s so harmful). I got tired of this kind of self-congratulatory behavior for “leaving the door open to other interpretations”. Sorry, you don’t get to take credit for the diversity and inclusivity of your books if you aren’t going to be explicit about respectful towards the cultures you are representing in your work. The other thing that happened, besides me just growing up, is that I started interacting with more POC in the book community and I felt like my frustrations were finally being validated. I can’t change the fact that younger me enjoyed parts of the series and got really emotionally invested despite the harm towards characters who look like me. I can say, however, that as I grew up and listened to other POC voices, I learned to respect myself enough not to settle for this kind of lackluster “representation”. I think since my younger self was mostly interacting with white readers, I felt pressured to keep reading the series because everyone I knew loved it so much.
I’ve stopped reading the series because 1) life put me through some shit and now I have the confidence to not doubt my own opinions and to stop caring what other people think 2) There are so many other books by BIPOC that I wanted to read. I’ve been reading many more books by marginalized authors over the years, and I think the quality of the stories I’m consuming has definitely gone up. I also feel like I relate better to these stories, where identity is complicated and informs how the rest of the world interacts with you.
I don’t mean to give credence to those white people who say they don’t relate to other cultures, therefore they aren’t going to read books by BIPOC. There’s no rule that you have to look like someone to understand where they’re coming from. The difference between a POC not seeing themselves in mass media vs a white person not seeing themselves in a story by POC is the power imbalance. There are certain aspects of our experience and identities that are erased or misunderstood on a daily basis, and telling our stories is a way to combat that. Meanwhile the media is already saturated with what an ideal all-American family looks like.
I’m also not trying to shame people who do enjoy SJM’s books. She is just one of many authors that I used to really like but no longer find compelling. Maybe you still are emotionally invested, and like younger me, that’s enough of a reason that the other stuff isn’t a deal breaker. There’s no shame in loving characters, as long as you’re at least aware of the issues with the way certain characters or cultures are portrayed.