I discovered The Continent because of a fake news Washington Post article, which accused author Keira Drake of using “racial slurs” in her fantasy book, which actually had completely unique and imaginary peoples within the book. The Post, of course, took the most salacious of bully posts from Goodreads, where Drake was the latest in a string of authors to get harassed and bullied, before her book even hit the stands. All the outrage mob wants to do is destroy careers and get outraged over anything, and that’s what the fake new WaPo failed to report, which is not surprising.
Drake made a big mistake in agreeing with the bullies, apologizing for her “representation” and went back to her publisher with the already printed book to actually do a full rewrite on it. She thought she could take the complaints as ingenious, and make peace with the mob. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen time and time again, she was wrong.
After the article, I monitored what was going on with the release of the book over the last several weeks, and saw that she quickly learned a painful lesson: never apologize, never give an inch to these outrage bully mobs on the internet. They aren’t there out of some genuine concern, they want to destroy you and any other author they can sink their teeth into. When they smell blood, they’ll keep going for the kill.
The book was hit with several fake one-star reviews on Amazon, calling Drake a racist, etc., saying her revisions were “not enough”. I’d already pre-ordered the book in solidarity with her, but with this, I moved the book up to the top of my very extensive to-read pile to see what the fuss was about, and if it was a solid book I could recommend to my readership, as we try to support bullied authors around these parts.
The Continent is the story of Vaela, an aristocratic girl in a fantasy society that seems to be modern-ish. They don’t use computers, so I would date them as 1940s or so if this correlated to the real world. They do have “heliplanes” to tour the continent, of which they visit but never set down upon. The Spire, the mainland, has abandoned war, and won’t have anything to do with anyone who is involved in war. They’ve achieved peace between four nations, and it’s somewhat of a Utopia.
Vaela gets chosen to go to the continent with her connected family for a tour, and, as the blurb states, crash lands on the continent. There she meets two peoples—the Xoe and the Aven’ai. The Xoe we don’t see much of other than the fact that they’re quick to violence and slaughter, but the Aven’ai are a pretty well-rounded people, with a very in depth culture.
The story progresses as Vaela gives up hope of a rescue, and starts to live among the Aven’ai, and the threat of a looming war with the Xoe grows ever the nearer, until the Aven’ai are faced with certain doom. I’ll try to keep that the limit of my spoilers for now, but it’s pretty obvious from the blurb that the plot would go similar.
What’s the REEEEEE About?
The fake news WaPo says in the original version the groups were very clearly drawn from an Indian tribe and a Japanese feudal society. I guess that’s offensive to internet outrage people. But again – these are not real. It’s absolutely idiotic to go crazy over that. Especially when the Aven’ai Japanese-ish people are very cool. From my understanding, some of the descriptions changed but their culture was not shown to be negative at all. Less advanced, certainly, but that’s what happens when you don’t have technology, you ARE less advanced. There’s nothing wrong with presenting that, and it has nothing to do with race.
In this revised version, I saw plenty of spots where Drake obviously inserted things like “that doesn’t make your culture any less valid!” after a character said something that was perhaps insensitive, but entirely realistic. These points detract from the book, to be honest, and to have honest characters would have been a bit more refreshing..
Drake also went out of her way to describe several of the more civilized peoples as “dark skinned” to try to appease these folks. At the end of the day, this book was completely innocuous and had nothing for anyone to complain about, even if these moments were obvious, there weren’t all that many of them.
Was There A Message?
If there was any message in this book, it certainly wasn’t some racist, xenophobic, cultural appropriating nonsense that the outrage mob likes to shout. It was a couple of simple things:
- Do what’s right even if it’s out of your comfort zone and against the grain of what the elites in your society tell you to do.
- Expand your horizons by trying to see other people’s viewpoints.
There’s some unintended thoughts in there that might have to do with positively portraying interventionist policies, but I don’t think it was intended. Reading into things to try to force a 21st century immediate politics narrative is destructive, and you have to reach to come to that conclusion with this book in my opinion. Her points above are the most explicit, and they’re very innocuous messages.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I actually messaged Drake about a third of the way in to offer my condolences to her and to give my feedback that the pace was very slow – and for the first third, it is. She spent too much time setting up the trip to the continent, which the real book and action only start once Vaela’s there.
That said, once it does get there, the book’s nearly impossible to put down. There isn’t a ton of action up front, but the looming sense of dread keeps you invested, and Vaela’s growth and transition from spoiled aristocrat, to someone who can manage her own house and work was very excellently done. We saw her hard work and change, and those domestic scenes were some of the best I’ve seen. I was especially glad that she wasn’t just some magical warrior girl able to fend off the Xoe singlehandedly, as it would have been very tempting to do in this situation. She is presented very realistically, can’t stomach war at all, and it’s really great to see her in that context and grow. The character work on her was just brilliant.
Noro was also a great character, the main Aeven’ai warrior lead. He’s basically a ninja assassin, and we don’t see him do his work on screen because it’s Vaela’s perspective, but he’s a hard working man that young men can look up to. I appreciate that in a lead. He is full of honor and loyalty, also very well developed.
The world is wonderful too. Very detailed. Vivid descriptions. The setting and conflict stakes are very well defined. It’s one of the better YA Fantasy worlds I’ve seen so far. The countries in the spire being named “North, South, East, West” might be a little lazy, but that doesn’t bother me at all, and everything else was very well detailed. The Xoe and Aven’ai are the center of what matters, and very well imagined.
Overall, the story went very well. There’s a couple points where I think Vaela’s solutions are kind of dumb and naïve – but I am fine with that, as she’s a 16 year old girl. Her solutions -should- be dumb and naïve from that perspective. It’s fitting with the character which makes for excellent storytelling.
The main conflict isn’t completely resolved, and I look forward to a sequel, which I will certainly be reading. After the opening, this is about as good as it gets for YA Fantasy.