November 19th, 2013
Prophecy by Ellen Oh
When it comes to the book "Prophecy" I admit to be a bit biased. I bought the book solely on my following and love for author Ellen Oh. I think authors of color are at times afraid to speak up about the racism in publishing, and don't want to stick out. On many occasions, I've gotten the chance to read her articles and really felt for what she was writing on the page. I felt as if I could connect that much with her just reading her articles, why not take a chance on her books. It was a double edged sword, as I would've still liked her even if I didn't like the book, but I was somehow praying I would. Well my prayers were answered!
Prophecy centered around a girl who's ostracized. Not only because she has gold eyes, super human strength/speed and the ability to kill demons(a talent that earned her nickname "demon slayer") but because she's a woman. And being a warrior and a woman aren't generally spoken in the same sentence.
What Im about to say, I may not say for a long time. It's not a secret I am a huge Legend of Korra/Avatar: Last Airbender fan. Since it's release, since many tv shows and movies don't satisfy my long waits between re-watching or waiting on new episodes, I've been on the lookout for books with similar themes. Mostly I've been disappointed. It's difficult to find a magic similar to LOK or TLAB,some do nothing but highlight elements without culture, some have small elements of unique culture outside of European groups, but loose a part of the elemental magic side. Prophecy has been the only book I've read since the end of TLAB and the start of LOK that I felt could see that series.
I liked that the first book is short. It keeps the pacing at a good speed, and doesn't spend too much time dumping info back and forth. Im still not 100% sure about the consistency, due to length, as some of my questions have gone unanswered, so I must wait for it's sequel, and hopefully that will put some of my questions to rest. The world-building? Too good to be true. The author must live there in a secret universe, where she only comes to Earth to sell us her books and take Earthling currency. It's set in what I believe is a fictional ancient Korea. I saw some elements of other cultures(Japanese? a little Chinese? maybe more) but for someone who isn't very educated on Korean culture and myths before K-Pop and Bi-Rain, looking up the creatures and the like lead me straight to mythical creatures in Korean myth. That was pretty cool. It's not predictable yet. I think there's one element mostly everyone will figure out, just because of what the book is about, but there are twists and turns in many places.
Kira, the main character was easy to relate to, but mainly because I relate strongly to girls and women in books who don't need men to save them. It's definitely nice to have someone you can count on, romantic or not. But I related to Kira more due to her strength. One can say her ostracization can be compared to how many women, especially of color, feel when compared to men or white women. Were often not seen as the same type of human, because we don't fit a default of what a "person" and a "woman" should be. I related to her in more ways than I cant write in this little review. I think the book is definitely much different than mainstream fantasy fiction. Especially ones involving cultures that come from the continent of Asia. Being American, it also seems as though ethnic groups fall into a default of mostly "Chinese" culture, with "Japanese" being a close second. Korea has such rich culture, myth and folklore, long before it became South and North Korea. Im ashamed to admit I don't know much about Korea before splitting.
The book has plenty of conflict, seeing how Kira is hated or feared by many. Even members of her own family. Being a woman shouldn't hold her back, but even her cousin Prince Taejo, one of her closest friends, and the boy she's watched over since he was two, has doubt that Kira can be the one of prophecy since she is female. And this is not to insult, it is just the way of things. A lot of the major conflict is that the land was once ruled by "The Dragon King" but since his death, his children couldn't decide who were best to rule, so they split into seven kingdoms. So essentially every King in each kingdom are related and heir to the Dragon King legacy. They're being killed, and it's setting the prophecy in motion faster, and it's hard not to put down the book to stop to find out why. The backstory is good, at times it goes into it and doesn't give enough though. Next book will probably be different!
I dont find anything overtly wrong with the dialogue. Most people in the book are men or people of power. No one talks a "certain" way. It meets an industry standard as well, I have no complaints with editing. The POV is very clear as well, hard to miss it. I found that the balance between beats and dialogue worked for me as well.
As far as diversity, or multiculturalism, outside of the goddesses we meet later in the book, Im assuming everyone is Korean or at least Asian. And even the goddesses could bare perhaps, Korean features despite their skin,hair and eye colors. To be honest, I really liked this. In the US, people of Asian descent tend to be the invisible minority. I have no Asian ancestry, but I relate well with Asian characters. Being Afro-Cuban American, I often feel invisible. Perhaps I have a bias? But I found most characters to be believable and well written. As far as research, I see what's research and what's given to widen the spectrum of the term fantasy. I think it's ok to tweak culture a little bit for the sake of fantasy, to make it work with a story, and I recognized that and thought it was cool. It didn't seem forced at all either. Since I pictured everyone Asian, Korean to be more accurate, it was refreshing to see that Kira's possible love interest was a hunky Asian man. When she described him as perfect looking, instantly Bi-Rain popped into my head! Asian men get such a bad rap, it was nice to see that an Asian man was being empowered for once.
I think that the cover fits, but I would've loved to see an Asian girl on the cover. The ruby represents something important in the book, but it's a rather plain cover. The title is to the point, plain but gets the job done. Character names I have very little experience deciphering common and uncommon names in Korean culture. I liked them, definitely wont take off for it, I just don't know if they're common names of not. Character descriptions? Kira herself outside of the unique points of her features I had a hard time picturing her. She reminded me of Korra from Legend of Korra, so I kept picturing her with gold eyes. Korra doesn't favor any Korean features that I know of, so I think I would've liked a better description. Her brothers were also described as dark skinned, but Im guessing maybe this means dark to an different standard? I hear dark I think Black. Im kind of wired to. And Im more than positive they weren't Black, so maybe a different choice of colors would've soothed my ease.
Overall, if anyone is a Legend of Korra or Avatar Last Airbender fan, this is one of the few books that incorporate culture so delicately with culture from a marginalized group. Sequel's already pre-ordered. Cant wait!
Who I saw as my favorite characters:
Arden Cho as Kira
Bi-Rain(Ji-Hoon Jeong aka my boo) as Jaewon