Zoe Marriott, author of The Swan Kingdom and other YA titles, is facing criticism related to her newest novel, The Hand, the Eye, and the Heart, a fantasy with a non-binary protagonist inspired by the story of Mulan.
In the author’s Goodreads review, Marriott says that the book is “heavily inspired by several different versions of the Ballad of Mulan” but that she does not consider it a direct or definitive version. The story takes place in “an imaginary place called The Land of Dragons or the Red Empire” influenced by Chinese history and myth.
Zhilan was assigned female at birth; despite an unusual gift for illusions, they know they will live out their life in the perfumed confines of the women’s quarters. But when civil war sets the country aflame, Zhilan is the only one who can save their disabled Father from death on the battlefield.
By taking his place.
Surviving brutal army training as a male recruit – Zhi – is only the first challenge. Soon Zhi’s unique talents draw them into an even more perilous fight, in the glittering court of the Land of Dragons, where love and betrayal are two sides of the same smile. The fate of an Empire rests on Zhi’s shoulders. But to win, they must first decide where their loyalty, and their heart, truly belongs.
On the subject of the author’s perspective and its relation to representing marginalized communities or other cultures, Marriott says this in her author’s review:
I identify as queer, yes. But I don’t really think that writers should have to offer up a list of their marginalised identities on demand as part of discussion of their work, so even though I’m happy to talk about my queerness at other times, I’d prefer not to go into it now. I will say that the book is not #ownvoices.
In the same review, she also mentions that she wrote the book with “advice and support from several trans and non-binary people” and worked with a number of sensitivity readers, some of whom were trans and/or “of Chinese and East Asian heritage,” including a friend “who is not only Chinese, but also an English professor at Singapore university.”
I will be continuously updating this post as the story evolves, keeping track of developments in criticism of this title.
The book, released on April 4th, has only 20 Goodreads reviews as of this writing (4-13-19). So far, the negative response has mostly come through Twitter.
Criticism of the novel have focused primarily on Marriott’s use of a Chinese-imspired fantasy setting and East Asian cultural myths as a white author.
Marriott made this response via Twitter on 4-12:
YA author Christi Daugherty has also come under fire for her response to the controversey. Her Twitter account is locked as of 4-13.