Saturday, April 2, 2016

Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Ack, darn work for getting in the way of my review writing, how dare you make me tired after 8 hour workdays and make it hard to focus! So a quickie for a book I don't have much to say about anyway, that seems fair

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Lee has an unheard of power, while there are stories of people who can find water underground she can find gold and once she senses it she can't stop until she digs it up. It's a talent that has kept her family afloat in rural Georgia as everything seems to keep getting worse, and with news of the gold rush in California everyone starts wondering if they should pull up stakes and move. But before they can decide death strikes and Lee is on the run, if there's nothing left for her in Georgia but a dangerous uncle then the best place to run is towards a gold rush 3,000 miles away. Traveling by wagon train isn't the safest thing but with no other options Lee 

To be forthright, there was a fairly bland book and I didn't really latch onto any of the particulars. The setting is a bit unusual, I can only think of two other series with a magical, wild west in the era of the wagon trains setting off the top of my head (one I haven't gotten to yet and Patricia Wrede's Frontier Magic books which more fantastical than historical, the opposite of Walk on Earth a Stranger) but sadly setting alone doesn't make a book interesting. The book also had the very common element of Lee cross-dressing to make her way west and, while yes there are quite a few stories of real life women dressing as men in this time period, the sheer frequency of the trope in YA fiction has made me just, tired of the idea. 

While there wasn't anything I especially liked per-say about the book, there were two points that I actively disliked, the villain and the Native Americans. For the villain, I'm sorry it's such a boring complaint but he was just too over the top for the setting! He was practically dripping with slime and, while I'm not a big fan of that to start with, his characterization also felt at odds with all of the other characters. All of the other characters except the Native Americans that is. 

I had already heard that this book was bad at representation but I think even if I hadn't seen someone say it (ie, actively wondering what it was and half looking for it) I still would have noticed. There is one half-Cherokee character, Jefferson, who's as fleshed out as any other important character in the cast, but the few non-white Native Americans who show up are as flat as the paper the words are printed on. I remember two, especially bad instances: in on a group of Native Americans walk into the settler's camp and imperiously demand that they trade and basically take whatever they want. I that was one of several interactions with Native Americans then no, it might not have been a problem. Then you could say "oh it's because they're individuals and some of them are crappy people," this being the only actual contact the white settlers have with them gives a different impression. 

The settlers also come across a few graves on their travel and say that they think the graves were disturbed by Native Americans and so, when they go to bury their own, they make sure to put blankets with cholera germs in as well. There is a way to write that well, to make it clear that this is a rumor and not a fact, however the way it comes off here (with everyone, even Jefferson agreeing) makes it sound like it really did happen, there is no difference between what the characters think and what the book as a whole suggests. The blog where I originally saw this complaints said that no, this didn't happen, now all of these readers are going to think this was a historical fact as well which I do think is sadly likely considering the book aims to be more historical than fantasy as a whole. So not only do those moments feel off but they also feel socially irresponsible on the author's part, hurray!

Writing this out has also reminded me of something, while I liked The Girl of Fire and Thorns, the first book in Carson's previous series, I found myself liking the other two books much less. The reason was that there is a revelation that the "magic" actually appears to be science of sorts and that the (white IIRC) main characters are actually humans, humans from Earth who came to another world and then fought and genetically modified the indigenous inhabitants to be more like them, and I disliked it since I really don't like the "magic is actually science" trope and yeah the implications were awkward (and the story could've totally worked without them too!). However, now that we have two different series from Carson and they both feature troubling depictions of local natives (the "white" characters aren't always great but there is variety among them that you don't really see in the natives), yeah that makes me nervous! So, since I've enjoyed each of her books steadily less than her first one (which is a shame since Girl of Fire and Thorns is fantastic) I think I'll be avoiding her works in the future unless I hear absolutely stunning reviews of them.

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