This post is brought to you by Children of Blood and Bone, which is my current read. I’ve talked a little bit about this in my review of The Broken Earth series by N. K. Jemisin (which btw, if you’re looking for diverse or just good fantasy and you’ve not read it, what are you waiting for?), but I want to take the time and discuss it properly.
As I said, I’m currently reading CoBaB and the more I read, the more I come to realise, and I know I’ll probably get stoned for this, that this is one of those books that suffers from diversity hype syndrome. Where a book is hyped to heavens for no other reason than being diverse. Listen, I love seeing diversity in media. But I also like good media. I like good stories, good characters. I don’t see why there needs to be a trade-off and I don’t think a book should be called good just because it is diverse. Diversity does not a good book make. And I am willing to bet a finger that if CoBaB were about a bunch of white people in a medieval European setting, same characters, same story, just not diverse, it would have got a big collective shrug from the book community because it is mediocre at best.
It really bugs me when this happens because it tells publishers and authors “Well, people are going to buy bland, mediocre, unoriginal books as long as they’re diverse.”. And as a reader, that is NOT the culture I want to promote in the book industry. Because we as consumers, are ultimately what shapes the industry. What shapes every industry. I want good diverse books. That’s the culture that I want to promote.
Another thing that really annoys me is when a book is hyper-aware of its diversity and is basically pointing a big red arrow at itself that says in neon colours “DIVERSE!”. Every other page, you’re just reminded about how diverse this book is. You’re reminded that Jimmy has the biggest crush on his army buddy Paul or that Rajesh’s skin is dark brown at least once a page lest you forget for a split second that THIS IS A DIVERSE BOOK. It’s good to write diverse books and you can be proud of having written a diverse book, but the story and the characters should still be the main focus of your book if you are writing a novel. You want to send a message, okay good. Do it through compelling storytelling. Not by stating it on every page.
For example, take Black Panther and CoBaB. Both are trying to convey pretty much the same message about racism and the oppression and horrors that black people have gone through and are still going through. One of them does it well, the other doesn’t. Black Panther has a compelling story, great characters, great action, great setting, great dialogue, compelling villains, it packs a mean emotional punch and it states its message loud and clear. There’s no trade-off. And Black Panther is a 2 hour film. CoBaB is 500 page novel. It has way, way more opportunity to do all those things than Black Panther did. Granted I’ve only read about 250 of them at the moment, but that’s half the book. If the first hour of Black Panther were dull, had zero character development to the point where the characters were interchangeable, had an evil, mustache twirling villain nobody would watch it.
My objective in this post was not to drag CoBaB. It was just an unfortunate victim of circumstance because that’s what I’m reading right now so it most easily lends itself to me for examples. The Hazel Wood. Another example of a book that screams at people about its diversity. Admittedly, it’s not as diverse as CoBaB so it has less opportunity to do so, but it still does it and it’s still annoying. I just really want good diverse books and I really want people to stop calling mediocre books great just because they’re diverse.
I understand that there are people who identify with those characters. Who have gone through things that I, as a while, straight, first-world inhabitant, I’ve not experienced. But my question is why should they have to identify with mediocre, cardboard characters instead of good, well developed ones? Like I said before, it’s us as readers that shape the book industry. So let’s promote a culture of diversity, but not one of mediocrity.