October 12, 2016 by Zoë
#CritYourFaves is an event proposed by Aentee at Read at Midnight. The concept of this event is that throughout the month of October participants will post critiques of books, series, or authors that they love. You can read my contribution below, but definitely go and check out other people’s posts as well!
I read my first Tamora Pierce book when I was ten. it was Sandry’s Book, and it really shaped the reader that I am today. From the Circle of Magic, I moved on to the Tortall books; I joined message boards; I went deep, deep into the worlds she built. Even today, when I’m a new Emelan book comes out, I’m all over it. I didn’t enjoy Battle Magic that much, but you can bet that I read it as soon as I got my hands on it.
Now that I’m older, I can definitely see that Tamora Pierce was (and is) trying to do specific things in her books. Obviously she wants to give girls books bout strong women, be they Alanna the warrior or Daine the animal lover. But she clearly wants to do more than that. Look at what she’s done in terms of sexual identity, particularly in the Emelan books. Look what she’s done in terms of including a cast that isn’t all white.
This is what I want to talk about, though: she’s done a whole lot, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it works. Particularly in the Protector of the Small books.
Before I dig into this, let me also say that the Protector of the Small quartet is my favorite of the Tortall series. I like Kel a lot. I appreciate that she doesn’t have any magic. And I really like the fact that she doesn’t end up with a guy.
But here’s what I want to say: I think the whole Yamani thing is pretty problematic. When I re-read the books now, this really stands out to me. The Yamani Islands are obviously supposed to be Japan. Their culture is obviously supposed to be Japanese. But honestly, all you really get in the books is the sense that they bury their emotions, think about nature in order to do this, and have fans that double as weapons.
When I first read the books, this didn’t bother me at all. Much as with Christianity in the Narnia books, I didn’t really pick up on the Japanese thing. Re-reading the books, though, it does bother me. Maybe Pierce did do her research, but to me it does feel like she exoticizes Japan without any substance beneath it.
I’m not as much of a fan of the Aly books so I haven’t re-read them in a long time, but it strikes me that there are also problematic things going on with the Copper Isles and with the plot of those books in general. Feel free to chime in down in the comments about that.
To wrap this all up, I think these issues in Tamora Pierce’s books exemplify the need not just for more diversity within YA (or even adult) fantasy, but also for more diverse voices writing fantasy. Tamora Pierce is important because she’s a trailblazer. She’s opening up paths for other authors. But we also need to hear from authors representing their own cultures so that fantasy books don’t just exoticize non-Western cultures.
Please share your thoughts in the comments, particularly if you’re also a Tamora Pierce fan! I really want to hear what you think about this comment!