For avid fantasy readers, you may be familiar with the work of Jay Kristoff, who has written many bestselling books, such as The Lotus War series, The Illuminae Files, Nevernight Chronicles, and Aurora Rising. His upcoming novel, Empire of the Vampire, is set to be released in 2021. Kristoff announced that Empire of the Vampire will be receiving four different editions of advanced reader copies (also known as ARCs). The purpose of ARCs is for authors to be able to get their book (before it is released to the general public) out there, and be able to generate reviews by the time the novel fully comes out. Some authors are not even offered physical arcs; some only receive the promise of digital books, while some authors do not get them at all.
With the announcement of these four ARCs, many authors on Twitter took to protesting, pointing out Kristoff’s long history of appropriating other cultures in his writing, while also refusing to acknowledge his own role in playing into stereotypes and offensive tropes into his books.
A lot of Kristoff criticism has come from Twitter, with writers and readers alike pointing out the ways that he has appropriated Asian culture. One Twitter thread revealed his appropriation of the Japanese imperial sun flag in his novel Stormdancer, the first book in his Lotus War series, and his debut novel. A more in-depth analysis was made by Lynn D. Jung, a speculative fiction novelist, on YouTube, which can be found here. Stormdancer, as described by Jung, is a “steampunk sort of thing, with a flavor of Feudal Japan.” She notes that there is no historical basis in the novel, but seems to be rooted in anime alone. She also goes into the explanation of the appropriation of the imperial sun, as well as explaining the imperialistic undertones of the imagery that Kristoff has picked, noting that he doesn’t seem to understand the actual consequences of his imagery.
Kristoff, in an interview, states that his world isn’t meant to be Japan, only Japanese-inspired, which “gives him more freedom to move,” in his own words, or to shamelessly steal whatever he likes, and to leave the rest behind, which has led to multiple inaccuracies in the book, drawing criticism from readers. One of the reviewers also points out, in their review, that Kristoff said that his book was informed by Wikipedia and anime, while drinking sake; the website that this reviewer has linked to this interview has since gone private.
Several Asian authors and readers have noted his sexualization of his own characters, many of whom are underage Asian girls (re: Stormdancer and Nevernight). The use of Asian aesthetics in his book has only been seen as a novelty to him, as he neglects to speak on Asian hate, especially in the light of the last several weeks. Kristoff has also been noted for his blatant anti-Semitism in his novel Nevernight, with a character named after the Hebrew God (Adonai), who practiced blood work, and is portrayed as the villain of the series. For a simple explanation of blood libel, and its roots in antisemitism, click here.
Another user, Luna Plath on Twitter, made a thread about the same character, pointing out how albinism is further stereotyped and how people with albinism are affected by these ideas. Kristoff has also been noted for criticizing those who have left critiques on his book, such as calling a Black woman blogger “worthless noise” on Twitter (the original Tweet having been deleted to prevent further harassment), for calling out the whitewashing of a cover. Ellen Oh, author of the book Finding Junie Kim (set to release on May 4, 2021), wrote about her experience meeting with a close friend of Kristoff (who she has chosen not to name). When she attempted to bring up the issues that Asian Americans had with his novels, she was promptly shut down and ignored.
There is a lot to be said about an author who does not properly acknowledge the issues that he has caused, or will even apologize for the things he has said. Kristoff has used Asian aesthetics in order to make something that he likes, even being listed on the Popular Asian Fantasy Books on Goodreads, even though he, himself, is not an Asian author, and his book has been criticized by multiple other Asian readers and writers. A 2018 study has shown that a large number of books were still written by white authors — even books about characters of color. On average, Black, Latinx, and Native authors combined made up seven percent of new children’s books. Other stats included that only 29 percent of books about African/African-American people were actually written by Black people, and only 39 percent of books about Latinx folks were actually written or illustrated by Latinx people.
White writers will constantly be enabled by their readers, who will continue to ignore the issues brought up by the marginalized groups affected. Why should white writers be writing our stories for us, when we’re more than capable of writing them for ourselves? The publicity that Kristoff gets from these four ARCs, especially given his history, only proves that they won’t see any consequences for their actions. Any remorse that an author like Kristoff might feel will only come about when his paycheck is affected. There can’t be an outcry for people of color to share their voices, when they are either ignored or completely sabotaged. The publishing industry is just a reflection of real-world issues, in which authors of color will consistently be ignored in favor of their white counterparts. Kristoff is only a symptom of this — to support authors of color, it’s important to uplift actual authors of color, and to give them an opportunity to share their stories.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Carina’s Books