On Wednesday, Amélie Wen Zhao, author of the upcoming YA fantasy novel Blood Heir, announced that she asked her publisher, Delacorte Press, “not to publish [the book] at this time.” Blood Heir was born from a Twitter pitching event for marginalized creators, and it secured Zhao both an agent and, eventually, a six-figure book deal. The novel was going to be published in June, but amid rumors of racial insensitivity (and, to a lesser extent, plagiarism), Zhao ultimately issued an apology and put her debut on an indefinite hold.
The controversy surrounding Blood Heir has since spread outside the impassioned YA community, with some supporting Zhao’s decision, others decrying it as the result of a “Twitter mob.” Here’s a guide to what happened, so you can decide for yourself.
What is Blood Heir about?
Blood Heir is—or maybe I should say was—the first book in an intended fantasy trilogy. The story is a loose retelling of Anastasia, only with magic and more racially diverse characters. In the fictional Cyrilian Empire, Princess Anastacya Mikhailov has been forced to live in secrecy because she shares the same blood and powers as the empire’s enslaved population, Affinites. When Ana is framed for her father’s death, she sets out to find her father’s killer.
Why are so people so mad about it online?
In a nutshell, some YA influencers in the Twitterverse accused Zhao of racial insensitivity, among other things. This led to both a Twitterstorm and one-star Goodreads reviews, including one in particular that accused the novel of “anti-blackness”.
Hold on, what is a “YA influencer,” exactly?
They’re YA authors and fans with substantial followings who are attuned to trends in young adult fiction and often push for better representation and diversity within the genre. Some of them receive Advanced Readers Copies, or ARCs, so that they can preview books similar to professional critics before they’re published.
How did the Blood Heir controversy begin?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment, but last week, Twitter user @LegallyPaige accused Zhao of compiling screenshots of people who weren’t fans of Blood Heir ahead of its release and harassing them: “I’ll tell you which 2019 debut author, according to the whisper network, has been gathering screenshots of people who don’t/didn’t like her book and giving off Kathleen Hale vibes: Amelie Wen Zhao.” (@LegallyPaige has since made her account private.)
This opened the floodgates, with others accusing Zhao of plagiarism and of her book being offensive to African Americans. YA novelist L.L. McKinney voiced her displeasure with this particular description of the book:
In a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin color, and good and evil exist in shades of gray…comes a dark Anastasia retelling that explores love, loss, fear, and divisiveness and how ultimately it is our choices that define who we are.
The description led McKinney to also state that the book was “pretty much about” the oppression and slavery faced by the African American community.