For those of you who don’t know, I had the opportunity to moderate Sarah’s Raleigh event last night. In addition to that, I spent some time with her talking about her inspiration and the way she approached the disability representation. I have a lot to share, so bear with me here.
First of all, I’ve seen a lot of unfair accusations thrown her way. I’m not here to defend everything, and everyone’s experience will be different, so please keep that in mind as you read through this review. Also please remember that discussion is great, but please keep it kind and civil!
And also, I want to give a big shout out to Sarah and the team at Bloomsbury for taking care of me and making me feel so welcome! I can’t say enough positive things about my experience. You guys are amazing.
Moving on! (and please forgive my aweful grammar! I’m totally exhausted and drained this week)
New Culture with the Southern Continents
One of the highlights of my evening was getting to ask Sarah about her inspiration about the Southern Continents. Her answer actually really surprised me, and I’m excited to pass it along. Sarah mentioned she spent a long time reading and researching Ghengis Kahn, and spent a long time in front of the audience describing how he ran his empire. Despite being seen as a ‘villainous’ figure in history, his empire was founded on the acceptance of all religions. She talked a lot about how he valued education and reading and such. I’ve seen people throw the ‘culture appropriation without research’ accusation at Sarah, but she credits Ghengis Kahn in the end of her book, and it was really neat to hear about the time and effort she spent studying him.
Chaol is the only white person in the whole book (unless I’m missing something), and the new cultures and characters were such a breath of fresh air. A majority of the book is spent world building and the development of new characters that will play vital roles in the next installment. I can’t speak to the accuracy of how these characters are represented, but I really loved how strong and courageous they are. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the Southern Continents are lead by the khagan and his royal family. The new princes and princesses are literally SO cool and easily became my favorite characters. There are also ruk riders which I won’t touch too much on, but holy crap, they are going to bring a whole new level of epic to the series.
Chaol + Disability Representation (spoilers in the last paragraph)
This is such a touchy subject, and I was debating whether or not to share my feelings towards the matter. But *breathes heavily* here we go. As you can see by my photos, I have some experience with being in a chair. Some days I am able to walk, but more often than not, I simply don’t have the strength to stand, or I’m too dizzy or sick due to the disease I’m battling. So my experience isn’t the same as others in the disabled community, and I’m speaking for myself and my personal experiences here.
I was nervous to see how this would be handled. As you know from Queen of Shadows, Chaol lost the use of his legs. He cant move them or even feel them. He’s in a wheelchair. Yep, you heard me… A fantasy hero in a wheelchair.
He begins the journey as very resentful and upset and it takes him a long time to come to terms with what has happened to him not only physically, but emotionally. A lot of people accuse his character of being ‘ruined’ and trampled on. I disagree. His attitude and outlook are totally and completely (and painfully) relatable to me personally. I hate having to rely on others. I hate not being able to get up and take care of myself. It’s so difficult to not see myself as ‘less’ of a person because I’m not always able to do simple things. The first time I was in a wheelchair in public, well… it came as a bit of a shock to me. It’s almost like being invisible, or like you have some type of contagious disease. People either give you sad looks or avoid looking at you altogether. You’re skipped in line, tripped over, and ignored in many cases. (There’s so much more I could add to this but I’m going to refrain for now.)
I’m generally positive, but on the hard days, it really is difficult. Its easy to fall into the ‘I’m useless’ or ‘I don’t understand why this happened to me’ pit of despair. As you read through Chaol’s emotional path to healing, keep in mind that these are feelings people battle every single day. Not to mention, Sarah goes IN DEPTH about the actual physical struggles of Chaol’s movements (more on this below.)
He knew—Chaol realized the guard knew just how it felt to have the chair touched, moved, without being asked.
I had the chance to talk to Sarah about this face to face. I told her I finished, and I thanked her for how she handled Chaol. Guys, she broke down in tears in front of me. I’ve never seen this type of dedication from an author to a disabled character in a fantasy novel. She shared how she spent months with sensitivity reader(s), and a little bit about her journey writing Chaol this way, and why she chose to end it the way she did. I can’t even begin to describe to you all what it meant to see this in a book, to read his journey and how raw and honest it was. The accuracy and detail was astounding.
“He could still speak with dignity and command whether he stood on his feet or was laid flat on his back. The chair was no prison, nothing that made him lesser.”
(Spoilers in this paragraph alone). But what meant the most was how Sarah chose to end his journey of healing. A large focus of it was on coming to terms with what happened, forgiving himself, and his outlook on his own worthiness and value. The central message is reflected over and over. You are not less, you are not less, you are not less. So for those of you who want to know, Chaol does indeed have his legs restored, only to have his spine broken again at the end of the novel. All his physical healing and battling was for not. But his emotional journey was complete. The man he becomes at the end of the novel is one that I respect and adore. His emotional journey is on par with ACOMAF and Heir of Fire.
“And I am as much of a man in that chair, or with that cane, as I am standing on my feet.”
“Chaol was right. Whether he stood or limped or sat … it did not change him. Who he was.”
So here is my request of the book community. Please do not blindly label this book as ableist. If you have gone through these experiences yourself, your voice is important whether its positive or negative in regards to Chaol’s story, but for me personally (as well as another dear friend of mine), it was a really big deal. This is one of the most powerful emotional journeys and story of healing I’ve ever read in a book, and the message brought me to tears.
He supposed he’d learned that strength could be hidden beneath the most unlikely faces.
Phew, okay. Moving on…
The trauma of any injury requires some internal reflection during the healing and aftermath.
As you might have guessed, Yrene Towers (from the Throne of Glass novella) makes a reappearance! She’s another main voice in the novel, and her story is quite the emotional one. Sarah mentioned Yrene is lightly inspired by her grandmother, who is her hero. I’m not going to go into the whole story, but Sarah broke down in tears on stage as she shared the story of her family and her grandmother as a Holocaust survivor, and how after being tossed from place to place, she ended up in the United States and the effect seeing the Statue of Liberty had on her. Anyway, what I loved most about Yrene is she’s a different type of strong. She may not be the ‘badass’ fighter, but her compassion was astounding. Her emotional journey is hand in hand with Chaol, and I absolutely adored their dynamic.
If he had not broken, then she would not break—not in seeing him as anything but what he was. What he’d served.
Now since I’ve practically typed a novel in this review, I’m going to leave the rest to highlights:
- New ships! (And probably my favorite series ship omg)
- The royal family is literally THE BEST
- Representation of all kinds
- New prince (Sartaq) is hands down my fav
- Yrene pushing the princess in the pool
- HOLY CRAP SERIES PLOT TWIST (you really can’t skip this book, guys. VITAL information here)
- The first half is quite slow with the world building, but the last half really picks up with heart-pounding action
- Ruk Riders. (Winky face here)
- Borte. Hasar. I have crushes on them both
- The horse named Butterfly LOL
- Library cats are a thing
- The sexual content was very tame compared to her last few books, in case anyone is wondering. As usual, I’m happy to provide a page number if you’d like to avoid reading it.
- The last chapter… I did not expect that. Sarah how dare…
And some other fun facts Sarah answered during the interview:
- Nox will be making a reappearance in the future! (She thinks its funny how much fans ask about him)
- If Aelin & Co had a band, they would be called ‘Boss Bitches’ (lol) and Rowan + Aedion would be the backup rappers
- If Rowan had a twitter handle, it would be generic and he would never use it, but Aedion would post at him just to annoy him
- Aelin would be the queen of selfies
- Advice to writers – never give up!