In Defense of Blood Heir: When the Road to Publication Becomes a Soap Opera

Blood Heir (Blood Heir, #1)Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

We are all heroes in our own eyes, and monsters in the eyes of those who are different. — Linn

This is another instance of unwarranted hate. It’s sad how Twitter almost crushed the dreams of a promising author who only wanted to retell one of the dark periods in Chinese/Asian history. Overly sensitive influencers disregarded Amélie’s standpoint, accusing her of Black discrimination (and plagiarism). Now that I’ve read the ARC and final manuscript, I feel very indignant. But I’m also glad that the author chose to publish her book in spite of all the drama. If anything, negative publicity is still publicity.

Blood Heir is a fantastical reimagining of Anastasia. Anastacya Mikhailov is the crown princess of the Cyrilian Empire, a place where magic is feared but exploited. Because of her dark ability to control blood, Ana is forbidden to leave the palace and has a terrible childhood. One day, the emperor dies of poisoning, and Ana is the immediate suspect. Before her execution, she flees the palace dungeon and formulates a plan to clear her name. Surprisingly, the only person who can help Ana is a con man named Ramson Quicktongue. Regardless of their different objectives, the exiled princess and the notorious criminal team up and discover a shocking conspiracy.

This book was anything but anti-Black. In the ARC, the Author’s Note discloses the story’s inspiration: Amélie’s identity conflict as a Chinese immigrant.

Dear Reader,

It took me two years to realize that the monster in the story is me. In my time in the United States, I have never experienced the sense of crushing fear about my identity that I have recently. “Get out of my country, communist!” is only one of the slurs I’ve had screamed at me across the street. What I’ve experienced personally has all amounted to a hyperawareness of my foreignness, my Otherness, and the possibility that because I am different, I am not worthy of belonging.

…Ana’s journey examines how one can internalize hatred and fear, how that can wrap one’s core and turn it into something cruel and twisted. But ultimately, her story is one of self-acceptance, and of the realization that we cannot change who we are nor what we are born with, but we can choose what we do with what we are given.

Ana, who is constantly called a monster, signifies the demonization of the Other, which is a derogatory term that typically refers to people from the East. So from the get-go, the “monsters” in Blood Heir aren’t Black. It’s silly to assume otherwise just because the book was published in the USA. Did the bashers read the Author’s Note? I guess not! No offense, but Blacks aren’t the only long-time victims of racism.

As for the plagiarism issue, some parts of the ARC were indeed similar to The Hunger Games. One of the characters died, and Anna sang a nursery rhyme and buried them in lots of flowers. However, the final edition had a different version, probably just to please the haters online. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that Amélie was guilty of plagiarism. Haven’t you guys heard of the words “trope” and “cliche”? If using tropes and cliches were grounds for plagiarism, what would happen to the YA genre?

Now that I’ve refuted the major allegations, it’s time to discuss my actual reading experience. Ironically, I buddy read this book with an influencer. But he wasn’t part of the controversy; I think that he did his best to avoid it. Hahaha. I’ll call him JG for anonymity’s sake. JG and I read Blood Heir for almost a month, and we updated each other regularly on Instagram. It was a cathartic process because I had complaints about daddy-hating Ramson and his slow-paced backstory. Moreover, I needed someone to talk to whenever someone died. Dear Amélie, how could you be so heartless!? LOL

Ana’s blood magic wasn’t new to me because I was familiar with bloodbending in Avatar: the Last Airbender. However, I liked Ana’s active compassion for the oppressed. When she witnessed the corruption outside the palace walls, she promised to do everything in her power to stop it. Also, Ana’s facade of coldness made her vulnerability more remarkable. She genuinely loved her family even though they had failed to protect her. Finally, I loved that she never gave in to her growing feelings for Ramson; there wasn’t a single kissing scene in this book! ❤

JG and I had two favorite protagonists, but I can’t tell you their names because neither of them survived! All I can say is that both of them were very dear to Ana. I expected their demise because a happy ending would be unrealistic. Still, it hurt to see the author confirm my suspicions. If another beloved character dies in the sequel, I might send a love letter to the author. xD

The best part of the book was its colonial discourse. As an Asian reader, I found it very relatable. If you Google “slavery in the Philippines,” you’ll learn that “modern slavery” (e.g., human trafficking and debt bondage) is prevalent in my nation. Many countries in Asia have the same problem, so novels that seek to address it are more than welcome. Slavery is a global dilemma, and the habit of “Othering” makes matters worse.

Blood Heir was one of the most thought-provoking books I read in 2019. It didn’t always please me, but it was worth my time and money. I sincerely hope that book two will have a basher-free publication next year.