Penguin Random House’s Delacorte Press has confirmed that Amélie Wen Zhao’s embattled fantasy YA debut, Blood Heir, has been rescheduled for publication this November.
The book’s Goodreads page features an updated synopsis and a new publishing date of November 19, 2019. According to Publisher’s Weekly, the revised version will receive an initial print run of 150,000 copies.
In her announcement of the new date, Zhao discusses the origins of the novel’s worldbuilding in the real-world history (and present) of human trafficking and indentured labor, which draw on her perspective as a chinese immigrant to the US. She wrote:
“Through important dialogue that occurred recently, it became clear to me that my book was being read in a different cultural context than my own, so I decided to take the time to make sure the hallmarks of human trafficking were being incisively drawn.”
Numerous local and national outlets have picked up the Associated Press article announcing the publication date. This article
is terrible leaves much to be desired, so I’m offering a quick recap of events here.
The controversy over Blood Heir developed while I was on hiatus, so I did not write a post about it the way I did with A Place For Wolves, which was withdrawn similarly only weeks later, but I was following the conversation closely. (I also recommend the Slate article from January.)
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Zhao explained that she “sought to interrogate and critique… the modern-day epidemic of human trafficking and endured labor,” particularly in the context of past- and present-day Asia. (She has consistently identified this as the context for her worldbuilding since before the controversy.)
After a number of positive early reviews, several criticisms of the book’s racial politics appeared on Goodreads in December.
Some critics objected to the death of an allegedly black-coded character and the synopsis’ description of a world where oppression is “blind to skin color.” Others insisted that the book was actually inspired by/based on the history of American slavery of Africans, and that as such, the analogy to the supression of people with magical powers was insensitive or racist.
“This book is about slavery, a false oppression narrative that equates having legitimately dangerous magical powers that kill people with being an oppressed minority, like a person of color,” reads a since-deleted Goodreads review.
YA author L. L. McKinney similarly accused the book of “anti-blackness,” and claimed the book was “pretty much about slavery and oppressions suffered by the Black community,” tweeting:
In a since-deleted tweet, Ellen Oh (founder of We Need Diverse Books) also took issue with the use of the phrase “color-blind” and repeated the claim that the book was anti-black:
“Dear POC writers, You are not immune to charges of racism just because you are POC. Racism is systemic, especially anti-blackness. And colorblindness is extremely tone deaf. Learn from this and do better.”
Months out from publication, the book received numerous one-star reviews on Goodreads, many from reviewers who admitted to not reading the book.
Some bloggers and reading influencers claimed that Zhao was screenshotting criticism of her book.
At Zhao’s request, the publisher suspended (not cancelled, as some outlets erroneously reported) publication. On January 30, Zhao addressed the controversey in a tweet (which would be the last tweet from this account until the announcement of the new publication date):
The controversy did not end there, of course. The announcement only sparked debate about whether the choice was capitulation to an online mob or a courageous attempt to learn after being called-out.
Zhao’s agent and a representative for Penguin Random House both issued comments of support for Zhao’s decision and said thay they looked forward to continuing their work with her.
I will update this post as the controversy develops.
Feel free to comment or reach out if I’m missing something or you have questions!