Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: January 3rd, 2017
Synopsis: For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire–a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two “uncivilized” nations remain perpetually at war. Most citizens tour the Continent to see the spectacle and violence of battle–a thing long vanished in the Spire. For Vaela–a smart and talented apprentice cartographer–it is an opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.
But an idyllic aerial exploration is not to be had: the realities of war are made clear in a bloody battle seen from the heli-plane during the tour, leaving Vaela forever changed. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, she has no illusions about the true nature of the danger she faces. Starving, alone, and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must find a way home–but first, she must survive.
Despite the beautiful cover (which is the only reason why I even gave it one star) I am sorry to say that The Continent is one of the most poorly written, badly executed, and downright offensive proverbial train wrecks I have ever had the misfortune to read. After numerous complaints and even a petition were sent regarding the racial stereotypes that are prevalent in this book, Harlequin Teen actually have moved the publishing date up from when they originally planned. Which begs the question: how the HELL–sorry for swearing but I haven’t been this ticked off about a book since I read Fifty Shades of Gray–was this even okayed by an editor to begin with? Supposedly the “new” version will have the more offensive parts taken out, but even with that, the entire story is so badly written that in my opinion the author would have to start from the very beginning to make this novel worth buying or even borrowing from a library. The first of my many issues is the world-building, which is to say there is none. The story is supposed to be set in this utopian-like society known as the Spire. There, people from four regions have jobs and benefits and drink tea even if they’re poor. The people and the setting come across more as imperial Britain, with their dialogue and culture. A lot is made of cultural and moral superiority, and it’s all centered around the idea that the citizens of the Spire have evolved beyond the need for war and violence. Of course these so-called cultured and refined people think the ideal vacation is to go watch people massacre each other so they’re obviously not as civilized and superior as they think. Although there’s some vague explanations by Drake on how they achieved this enlightened state, there isn’t much in the way of specifics. As for the characters, at best, they are bland, boring and devoid of any personality. But, as if this isn’t enough of a turnoff, they’re all racist, including the main character, Vaela. Words like: “uncivilized”, “unclean” and my personal favorite, “savages”, are verbally vomited copiously from the characters mouths until I started getting nauseous just from reading. According to Drake, in a somewhat apologetic note to her readers on her website, one of the warring tribes, the Topi are supposed to be more representative of the racist Uruk-Hai (orcs) from Lord of the Rings. But see, I’m not buying this. They’re described as having “reddish-brown” skin and wear “bright colors and headdresses”. Hmm. Doesn’t really sound like an orc to me. It seems to me they’re more like the worst kind of stereotypes of Native Americans and their culture. The other tribe, the Aven’ei is an obvious and insulting representation of Japanese people. One of the secondary characters, Noro, is from this tribe and described as being a “ninja assassin” who has “almond shaped eyes”. In addition to Noro, other members of his tribe are have names like Takashi, Yuki, and Keiji, yet Drake claims the Aven’ei are not representative with the Japanese people or any other Eastern Asian country. Uh huh. And I swear it gets even worse! The Native Americans, ahem, I mean Topi, decapitate their enemies, get drunk, and try to rape the MC. And that’s just in one night! But, Vaela is rescued just in the nick of time by Noro, the aforementioned “ninja assassin” and after he brings her back to the Aven’ei they fall in love rather quickly, as in literally a handful of pages! The book ends with Vaela promising Noro she will return with her white civilized and enlightened friends to save him and his tribe from the “savage” Topi. Here’s a quote that just had me wanting to bang my head against the wall:
Oh Noro. I would never be parted from you. I give you my word that I will return. And when I do, I will bring peace to the Continent. One way or another, I will bring peace.
So after 300 plus years of these two tribes battling it out, Vaela and her fellow white saviours are going to swoop in and put an end to it all. Seriously? WTF?! I could keep going, but honestly, what’s the point? This review is already too long and I want to try to scrub this story from my brain, which unfortunately I think is going to be easier said than done. I do want to say it pains me to no end to trash a novel this thoroughly, particularly as The Continent is Drake’s debut novel and it’s the first book in a planned series, but EVERYTHING about this is just so wrong! I can’t even fathom what was going on in her head that she thought the way she depicted the Topi and the Aven’ei was acceptable. The problem is, even if her intentions were pure, the outcome is not. When a book like this is published that is so blatantly racist it has the power to affect thousands of people. Words matter! If you’re on social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook, take a look at some of the postings. Numerous Native-American readers are commenting on how deeply hurt they are by how they’re represented which I find heartbreaking. And on the other side you have disturbed individuals who are threatening reviewers and bloggers who are writing negative reviews, with some being told they should be “jumped and stabbed”. I kid you not. All this simply for calling out a racist novel. Let me finish by saying that in my humble opinion, the publication of The Continent should be cancelled. There is just no way Keira Drake and Harlequin Teen can fix this. To be honest, even if this was completely rewritten, so many reviewers were sent eArcs, that it’s a little like closing the barn doors after the horses have escaped. I don’t usually do this, but I urge you to stay far, far away from this book. I certainly wish I had.